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Destination: Galapagos Islands Cyber Field Trip

Threats to the Galapagos Islands

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As home to some of the most fascinating bird and marine life found anywhere in the world, the Galapagos Islands are carefully monitored by scientists, environmental activist groups and government organizations. Still, their delicate ecosystems are continually threatened by population pressures, tourism, introduced species, poaching and illegal fishing. Only about 12,000 humans inhabit the islands, and the number of visitors allowed each year is limited. In many areas, tourists are restricted to paths laid out by the World Wildlife Fund and must be accompanied by a naturalist-guide to view the surrounding wildlife.

In the 1960s, the Galapagos International Scientific Project was launched with the mission of studying the ecology of the Galapagos Islands. Since then, laws have been enacted by both international groups and the Ecuadorian government to protect the islands and their non-human inhabitants. Although tourism has helped promote better conservation, the growing traffic of people and goods has increased the possibility of species introduction -- a major threat to the fragile ecosystem. Introduced species, including rats and domesticated animals such as goats and pigs, compete with native species for food and prey on the eggs and young of reptiles and birds.

Several animal species native to the Galapagos Islands are gradually disappearing as a direct result fishing and collecting. Illegal poaching of rare or even endangered species and the harvesting of several prized marine species are both on the rise, as international demand for local products such as sea cucumbers and shark fins has grown. Human presence on the islands has also brought pollution and habitat destruction to this once pristine environment.


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
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