Galapagos – World Heritage Site in Danger | July 1st, 2007

Source: Charles Darwin Foundation
26 June, 2007

The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) today indicated its support for the UNESCO decision to inscribe Galapagos as a World Heritage Site in danger. Placing Galapagos on the list emphasises and reinforces the April decision of the Government of Ecuador to declare Galapagos at risk and as a national priority for conservation.

These two declarations are critical steps in moving forward a shared local, national and international agenda to ensure the long term conservation and sustainable development of the islands.

Economic development in Galapagos is growing at an unprecedented rate with tourism as the driving force. The resulting immigration and increased demand for fuel, goods, water, and public services has in turn lead to a more than doubling the numbers of flights in the last five years. The decreased isolation of the islands increases the potential for the introduction and spread of invasive species – the greatest threat to the biodiversity of Galapagos.

“The problems in Galapagos cannot be simplified to the finning of sharks, or over harvest of sea cucumbers; the problems are underlain by an unsustainable socio-economic model that brings more investment, more immigrants, more cargo, more invasive species and does not sufficiently link the local community to conservation” said Graham Watkins, Executive Director of the CDF.

There are now 1,321 registered introduced species in Galapagos whereas there were only 112 registered in 1990. These include 748 species of introduced plants, compared to 500 species of native plants and at least 490 species of introduced insects. The risk of the arrival of pathogens such as West Nile Virus, insect pests, and new predators is now high. Dengue carrying mosquitoes and some avian diseases are recent arrivals to the islands.

Added to this, the greater energy requirements for tourism and the local population increases the risks of repeating the oil spill disaster of 2001. Diesel and gasoline consumption have increased by 20% and 45% respectively in the last five years alone and the number of clients for electricity in Santa Cruz has increased by 35% since 2001.

Despite the fragility and rapidly diminishing isolation of the Galapagos, there is some good news. The Galapagos National Park Service, with support from the Charles Darwin Foundation, has shown they are world leaders in the management of invasive species and restoration of endangered species and habitats.

Within the local communities can also be found proof of what can be achieved: Pescado Azul, a small sustainable enterprise run by a women’s cooperative on Isabela Island, produces value-added tuna products and has recently been recognised as a model effort by being one of this year’s winners of the Equator Initiative. The new cooking school at the Galapagos National College, a public-private partnership, is training local culinary professionals for employment in the tourism sector. The Municipalities are working with the tourism private sector to ensure effective recycling in the main towns in the islands.

“These successes and examples need to be multiplied to ensure sustainability, local benefits and conservation of this unique archipelago,” commented Watkins.

More than ever Galapagos needs effective leadership and strong support to achieve the vision of a sustainable and equitable society living in harmony with nature. It is clear that the development model for the islands requires a change in direction – the declarations by the President of Ecuador and UNESCO are critical initial steps in this process of change.