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Environmental Issues in the Galapagos

The Galapagos Islands is a group of islands located off the coast of Ecuador. It is a location renowned for its wildlife, natural beauty, and seclusion. Over time, these islands have experienced negative impacts towards habitats and the environment as a whole. From visitors on Galapagos tours, to climate change, the cause has been a combination of both human and natural influences. Fortunately, there are also ways to solve this issue and many are taking part in various efforts to help preserve the islands and the unique species of Galapagos wildlife.

Human Influences on the Galapagos

The population of the Galapagos Islands has increased over 300% within the last few decades. This has been a result of mainland Ecuadorian citizens migrating there in search of job opportunities. At the current rate, its population is doubling every 11 years. A larger population has put a strain on natural resources and increased garbage being dumped into the environment.

With the exotic nature and wildlife of the islands, tourism has experienced a drastic change as well. Hundreds of thousands of visitors are coming to the islands every year. A secondary airport had to be built to accommodate this amount of people. By-products like oil or paint from planes can contaminate the surroundings affecting the local wildlife.

In 2012, the Galapagos National Park created new regulations which would both protect the environment and improve visitor’s experience. Such regulations included tours which were less invasive to the environment and used a fewer number of boats.

The amount of over-fishing and illegal fishing has both risen in the Galapagos. Some immigrant workers, who have been unable to find employment, often gear towards the fishing industry. It requires little skill and training for them to begin. Both sharks and sea cucumbers have become main targets of fishers. In the 1990’s, fishing for sea cucumbers was banned due to an alarming decrease in the number of individuals of these Galapagos marine species.

Unfortunately, some fishers continued with these activities illegally. Ships from nearby countries also enter the Galapagos’ marine reserve to catch sharks for their fins. These are then served as a delicacy in foreign countries.

Back in 2001, Galapagos also experienced an oil spill which was disastrous. An Ecuadorian oil tanker began leaking during its route by the island of San Cristobal. It leaked approximately 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the ocean. While measures were implemented to control the spill, oil still reached nearby beaches which affected many forms of Galapagos wildlife.

Natural Influences on the Galapagos

While certain environmental damage has been caused by human actions, some has occurred within nature itself. Invasive species have been gradually taking over the Galapagos which out-competed species which are native to the islands. This can, and has, negatively affected the habitat of wildlife.

One such invasive species is the hill raspberry. It has been reported to be growing in humid areas of the islands rapidly. This causes other plants to compete for nutrients, water, sunlight and more. Over time, this kills off native species as they are unable to remain healthy.

Introduced animals from rats to fire ants and flies also pose a threat. Endemic Galapagos species are becoming endangered as their populations have severely declined. These animals and insects often come on board of boats or planes unknowingly. If they carry any pathogens, the wildlife in Galapagos may not have immunity to it.

In 1982 and 1983, Galapagos experienced what is known as an El Niño, a complex chain of weather changes. This event raised the temperature of the ocean and damaged coral reefs. Combined with less predatory marine life from over-fishing, sea urchins weren’t able to colonize either.

What’s being done About it

All is not lost in the Galapagos though. Companies such as the World Wildlife Foundation are taking action to protect these wonderful islands.

One of the first things they have done is help fisheries become more innovative. By promoting safe practices and new fishing rights, local fishers are less focused on large catches over quality ones. As well, the WWF is aiding in live lobster becoming normal for restaurants. While this might seem minor, it has raised their market value and ultimately income for fishers.

Secondly, the WWF has increased their presence and monitoring of the overall marine reserve. The Galapagos National Park struggled with this in the past with high costs and little results. Thanks to the help of other companies along with the WWF, more efficient ways to observe the marine life has been developed. Using radars, satellites, and other technology, illegal fishing is very easy to detect now.

Ecuador has also taken the step to protect the oceans sharks by creating a sanctuary. They stretch upwards to 15,000 square miles, which bans to all fishing and vessels. 32% of the water around Galapagos will be protected because of this. One of the reserves is equivalent to the size of Belgium. The government of Ecuador hopes this will serve as a breeding ground for sharks to help them increase their population.

While both natural occurrences and human actions have affected the environment of Galapagos, it is not irreversible. Tighter regulations with tourism will assure that visits are still enjoyable without sacrificing local habitats. With monitoring at an all-time high, illegal fishing will decrease too. As more join the battle to preserve these islands, Galapagos will continually flourish in the future.

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