Giant Galapagos tortoises have been forced to compete with goats for food [Reuters]

The Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean are facing increasing pressure from tourism and have been placed on the United Nations list of endangered world heritage sites.

 

The UN declared on Tuesday that giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies unique to the archipelago were being threatened by "invasive species, growing tourism and immigration".

 

The warning was issued by the Unesco World Heritage Committee in Christchurch, New Zealand where it was meeting to consider new additions to the prestigious list as well as endangered sites.

 

More humans

 

"The number of days spent by passengers of cruise ships has increased by 150 per cent over the past 15 years," it said.

 

Growing tourism has been identified as a
major threat to archipelago's wildlife [Reuters]
"This increase has fuelled a growth in immigration and the ensuing inter-island traffic has led to the introduction of more invasive species," it added.

 

A site is thretaened with losing its world heritage status if an endangered listing is not followed by conservation efforts.

 

The cluster of 19 volcanic islands about 1,000km off the west of Ecuador's coast, boasting a unique wildlife, was the first ever site to be placed on Unesco's list of World Heritage sites in 1978.

 

The islands also inspired the formulation of the theory of evolution by British naturalist Charles Darwin.

Non-native species

 

A major factor in the decline of the Galapagos ecosystem has been the introduction of non-native species including dogs, cats, goats and donkeys.

 

Growing tourism has attracted thousands of workers from the poor mainland to work in construction, restaurants and cruise ships, some bringing goats which compete for food with centenarian tortoises.


Over the past three years, UN workers teamed up with park authorities to eliminate as many as 80,000 wild goats.

 

Linda Cayot, a science adviser with Galapagos Conservancy, a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting conservation, said the UN listing was good for highlighting the islands' problems and would "push not only Ecuador but conservationist groups to support work there".

 

Unesco says blue-footed boobies unique to the
Galapagos are being threatened [Reuters]
Maria Espinosa, the Ecuadorean foreign minister, said the committee's statement "will help the government's efforts to solve the complex problems of the Galapagos".

Unesco's decision came despite steps taken in April by Rafael Correa, the Ecuadorian president, to limit the pressure of tourism on the Galapagos archipelago.

Correa signed a decree declaring the islands to be "at risk and a national priority" and issued orders limiting tourist visits and residence permits for non-natives.

 

Graham Watkins, chief of the Charles Darwin Foundation research group, said invasive species threaten the future of large numbers of native plants and animals.

 

"Studies show that 60 per cent of the 1,880 local plants are threatened. We have discovered 490 insect species that have been introduced as well as 53 new invertebrate species, 55 of which are particularly invasive," he said.

 

"The first thing is to shore up the ecological barrier by limiting the ports of entry: one heliport, one port and a quarantine declaration," Watkins added.

 

The Unesco committee also placed Niokolo-Koba national park in Senegal on the
endangered list because of the threat of poaching and a proposed dam on the Gambia river.

 

It is considering 45 applications from 39 countries to join the World Heritage Sites list, which contains 830 sites.

Source: Agencies