The Galapagos Islands

Main threats and issues facing the Galapagos Islands

Where are the Galapagos Islands

Basic Facts

  • The Galapagos Archipelago forms a group of volcanic islands straddling the equator about 600 miles west of Ecuador
  • The Galapagos are a province of Ecuador and were declared a national park in 1959
  • The Galapagos national park and marine reserve are unique and extraordinary ecosystems, recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites
  • The Galapagos’ population has increased from roughly 3,000 in the 1960s to about 30,000 today

Weather

  • The climate is equatorial, but greatly influenced by the cold Humboldt Current
  • December to May is the better season when the weather is pleasantly warm, with an average of 28°C/82°F, and the winds are light
  • The water around the islands is surprisingly cold and the meeting of the Humboldt Current and the warm air sometimes causes mist over the land
  • Occasionally the Humboldt Current is replaced by the warm El Niño current, a phenomenon that can affect weather conditions in the entire South Pacific – and occasionally its effects are felt throughout the world

Charles Darwin

  • In 1835 the islands received their most famous visit, from HMS Beagle and Charles Darwin.
  • The way different species have evolved in isolation from the rest of the world, was one of the major observations made by Darwin on his visit, which led to his theory of evolution.
  • Darwin noticed that the finches on the different islands showed wide variations in their size, beaks and claws from island to island. For example, their beaks were different depending on the local food source.
  • He concluded that, because the islands are so distant from the mainland, the finches that had arrived there in the past had changed over time.

Flora and Fauna

  • Humans came late to these volcanic islands, so their biodiversity was remarkably well-preserved over the centuries
  • The islands’ unique wildlife includes many endemic species of both land animals and birds, living amid barren volcanic scenery

(Click on picture to enlarge)

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Environmental Challenges

In 2007 the islands were classed by UNESCO as World Heritage in Danger.

Following work by the authorities to regulate the growing human population and tourist numbers, the islands are no longer classed as such. The threats remain real, however.

Burden on resources

  • Illegal fishing with longlines, catching sharks for their fins only
  • Growing human resident population
  • Increasing numbers of visitors

Invasive Species

  • There are now more introduced plants than endemic ones in the Galapagos
  • Animals introduced by humans, including goats, pigs, dogs, cats and rats, are also a problem
  • Populations of iconic species such as the Blue-Footed Booby have declined sharply

Pollution

  • Plastic debris entangles marine animals or is mistaken for food
  • ‘Ghost’ lines lost from fishing vessels can trap marine creatures
  • Waste from human populations onshore is not properly managed

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