The Galapagos Islands: Priority or Part of the Past?

The Galapagos Islands are a chain of 19 volcanic islands off the coast of Ecuador. Over 200,000 people each year are drawn to the enchanting and mystical isolated UNESCO World Heritage site. What do the Galapagos Islands have to offer? Why are they so alluring? And most importantly, why are they being threatened?

The Galapagos Islands are uniquely situated in a remote area at the intersection of three oceanic currents. The Islands’ isolation, in combination with the mix of marine species from the different oceanic currents, have created one of the most diverse and richest ecosystems for plant and animal life. The Islands’ hold unique species of plants and animals that are found nowhere else in the world.  The pristine environment and unique wildlife of the Islands’ illustrate the natural wonder of what the world has to offer.

Although the Galapagos Islands are a priceless treasure and showcase immense diversity, they are not adverse to environmental threats. The Islands’ are in danger of being tarnished through ecosystem degradation caused by climate change, tourism, population growth, pollution and invasive species.

The ecosystems in the Galapagos Islands are heavily influenced by the unique climate. With the ever-growing effects of climate change, the Islands’ potentially face abnormal effects from unusual El Niño events, changes in oceanic temperatures and irregular rainfall that all contribute to affecting the biodiversity of the ecosystems. The balanced ecosystem of the Islands’ can easily be disrupted by changing climates, and therefore disturb the pristine balance in animal and plant life.

Tourism and population growth are unique examples of issues that can harm the Galapagos Islands. Although tourism can be seen as positive for the economy, there are negative sides associated with construction, pollution and increased resource needs. With increased tourism and population there is a need to enhance the built form to accommodate hotels, commercial venues and recreational attractions. Increasing the built form leads to deforestation, reducing biodiversity and disrupting the environment to accommodate capital ventures. Additionally, increased tourism and population leads to amplified numbers of flights, cars and waste that pollute the environment. Tourists that visit the Islands’ also have the possibility of bringing invasive species along with them. Invasive species pose a huge risk for all living-beings in the Islands’ ecosystem, as they could harm native species by competing for water and nutrients, while spreading disease. The fishing industry has also contributed to harming the ecosystem through overfishing that puts species at risk of being endangered. The fishing industry places a large amount of pressure on natural resources and harms the fragile state of the balanced ecosystem.

Environmental threats to the Galapagos Islands have become serious issues that need to be addressed in order to protect the pristine and irreplaceable ecosystem. The Ecuadorian government and several organizations have completed various initiatives, enacted laws and enforced regulations to reduce environmental threat. Some examples include, but are not limited to, the introduction of limits to the number of visitors to Galapagos Islands, creation of a marine sanctuary and countless conservation efforts. These efforts resulted in the Galapagos Islands being removed in 2010 from the UNESCO list of sites endangered by environmental threats or overuse.

Although admirable steps have been taken, we need to further look at what more can be done to preserve such a unique treasure. What more can we do as a society to save a rich ecosystem that one day could be lost and just part of the past? Not only do we have to examine what we can do for the Galapagos Islands, but we need to start thinking about what needs to change to keep the global environment healthy. The environment is independent of us, but we are dependent on the environment, and thus cannot live without it. A paradigm shift, accompanied by intensive education, is necessary to ensure that future generations will be able to live-well and experience diverse ecological world wonders.

Images from Wikimedia Commons

By Earth Restoration Service Blog Write Lela Pacitti