Galapagos Islands put on danger list

Posted: 24 July 2007

The Galapagos Islands have been added to the list of World Heritage sites in danger. The World Heritage Committee made the decision after considering the results of a joint monitoring mission by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and UNESCO to the islands in April 2007.

The mission found that annual visitor numbers have increased from 40,000 in 1996 to 120,000 today, bringing with them invasive species by plane and boat.

Galapagos giant tortoise
Galapagos giant tortoise
Galapagos giant tortoise. Photo © UNESCO / Evergreen

Introduced plant species now outnumber native ones, and 180 of the 500 native plant species on the islands are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The mission also found that immigration, which increases the local population by 4 per cent every year, is driving development and destroying the integrity of the islands.

David Sheppard, from IUCN said: "The main problems associated with the Galapagos Islands relate to the impact of tourism growth, which is driving immigration and overfishing. Adding the islands to the danger list is a positive way of raising the profile of these threats and highlighting the need for international action."

The World Heritage Committee also added Niokolo-Koba National Park in Senegal to the list of World Heritage sites in danger. The joint IUCN and UNESCO monitoring mission to the 913,000 hectare park in January 2007 revealed high levels of poaching.

Populations of hartebeest, buffalo and waterbuck declined by 90 per cent between 1990 and 2006, and only 10 elephants currently remain in the site. The population of the endangered giant eland, particularly valued by poachers, is down to a single herd of 67 animals.

Removed from danger

More positively, the World Heritage Committee removed Rio Platano in Honduras and the Everglades in America from the danger list. The joint IUCN and UNESCO monitoring mission to Rio Platano in December 2006 found that threats to the property are now largely limited to the buffer zone. IUCN does, however, continue to have some concerns about illegal timber harvest and agricultural activities which are moving towards the border of the World Heritage site.

Two joint IUCN and UNESCO missions have helped stop unsustainable and damaging tourism development in Africa. The Zambian government halted a plan for a riverside hotel and country club on the banks of the Zambezi river near Victoria Falls, after IUCN highlighted the potential negative impacts this would have on the site.

The Tanzanian government also halted plans for a fifth hotel to be built on the rim of the crater in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area after a similar mission.

Situated in the Pacific Ocean some 1,000 km from the South American continent, the 19 Galapagos islands and the surrounding marine reserve are a unique "living museum and showcase of evolution". Located at the confluence of three ocean currents, the Galapagos Islands are a melting pot of marine species. Ongoing seismic and volcanic activity reflect the processes that formed the islands. These processes, together with the extreme isolation of the islands, led to the development of exceptional animal life - such as the land iguana, the giant tortoise and the many types of finch - that inspired Charles Darwin's theory of evolution following his visit in 1835.

Threats to the islands include illegal fishing, inadequate quarantine measures, high immigration rate, tourism, instability of the Park Director's position, delay in the full implementation of the Special Law and lack of enforcement and weak governance. A Presidential Decree, issued on 10 April 2007, declared the conservation and environmental management of the Galapagos ecosystem to be in a state of risk and a national priority. It outlined steps to systematically address the consetation dangers.The government supported adding the Galapagos Islands to the list of World Heritage sites in danger.

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