The population of Galapagos penguins and flightless cormorants, two species endemic to the remote islands, has seen a record increase, according to study results released on Friday.
The Galapagos penguin is one of the smallest species of penguins in the world, measuring up to 35 centimetres (14 inches) and the cormorants on the islands are the only type to have lost their ability to fly. They have developed diving skills instead.
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“The number of cormorants has reached a record number, according to historical data dating back to 1977, while the number of penguins is at the highest since 2006,” said a statement from the Galapagos National Park, which carried out the census.
The population of Galapagos penguins, the only ones living on the earth’s equator, increased from 1,451 in 2019 to 1,940 in 2020, it added.
Flightless cormorant numbers increased from 1,914 to 2,220 over the same period.
The Galapagos Islands lie 1,000 kilometres (625 miles) off the coast of Ecuador and are home to species found nowhere else in the world.
The study was carried out by the park and the Charles Darwin Foundation in September. The main colonies present on the Isabela and Fernandina islands and the Marielas islets which are to the west of the archipelago have been classified as a natural heritage site.
Paulo Proano, Ecuador’s minister of environment and water, said the census results reflect the “good state of health of the population” of the Galapagos’ birds.
The park said the presence of the La Nina climatic phenomenon, which helps to provide more food for the birds, had contributed to the increase in their populations.
Another factor was the coronavirus pandemic, which has reduced disturbances to their nesting areas because of the drop in tourism, the park added.
The islands, which served as a natural laboratory for the English scientist Charles Darwin for his theory of the evolution of species, takes their name from the giant tortoises that live there.