Situated 1000 km from the South American continent, the Galápagos Islands are described as a “living museum and a showcase of evolution”. These volcanic islands house some of the most diverse species in the same ecosystem. Brought to fame by the work of Charles Darwin, the Islands has been a hub for research for the fields of study of evolution and division of species into taxonomic groups.
The greatest asset of Galápagos is also the weakest link to the grace of the place, i.e. the extreme diversity.
The ecosystem is at a delicate balance on the islands. The slightest external stimuli disturb the status quo maintained by the 56 fauna and numerous strands of flora.
The dangers to Galápagos
It is at no stretch to say there has been no shortage of damaging elements over the years. These are ranging from researchers to pirates and poachers to invasive species such as domesticated fauna introduced by humans taking over.
There is more introduced flora than indigenous, causing major changes to the geological characteristics. Compared to the 700 introduced plant species, there are 500 native strains which creates a skewed condition hardly conducive to the integrity of the island.
Non-native animals include common animals such as dogs, pigs, goats, cats, or poultry. These are introduced by settlers willingly or unknowingly. The canines attack native birds and tortoises. Pigs effectively destroy vegetation and destroy food sources in their search for nutrition. They are almost single-handedly responsible for the vulnerable condition of the once abundant land iguanas.
The waves of European settlers looking for a simpler life had increased in the 1920s and 1930s greatly disturbed the balance. The settlements were owing to the financial troubles and the willingness of Ecuador, the political country of Galápagos Islands, to sell to a suitable buyer to alleviate its own financial difficulties.
Early Restoration Attempts
Although, as mentioned, the protection laws were legislated in the 1930s, the enforcement of the same didn’t take much effect till the 1950s. This happens to be the same time when the Galápagos was declared a Park and tourism was initiated.
In 1957, UNESCO along with the government of Ecuador organized a research mission to study and protect the Galápagos. By the time the 100th anniversary of the publishing of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, most of the area was declared to be a national park to protect and preserve the native ecosystem. The same year, the Charles Darwin Foundation was formed.
The CDR is the greatest driving force in the attempt to protect the ecosystem of Galápagos. Formed with this sole purpose in mind, it conducts research and maintains statistics on the islands. This is provided to the government to take necessary steps to uphold the integrity of the serenity of the life of the native species. The Galápagos National Park service is greatly aided by the endeavors of the same.
There have been numerous restoration projects over the years, in an attempt to restore some of the balance so cruelly robbed from the living museum. These include eradication of introduced species, planting of native vegetation, and protection of native species by encouraging growth in numbers and researching on conditions that promote their growth.
How Galapagos maintains its ecosystem in recent times
Up until the early 1990s, the human population had increased unbridled, which reduced in recent times. Hostile encounters ensued and members of the Park Service were held hostage besides killing the giant tortoises.
UNESCO had placed the Galápagos under List of World Heritage Sites in Danger due to the extreme tourism and overfishing which greatly harmed the aquatic biosphere. The eventual preservation efforts had paid off and UNESCO had taken it off the list, restoring its former title of World Heritage Site.
Despite the best intentions and efforts, numerous species are endangered in the Galápagos still in danger of being extinct, although there is great promise shown by recent statistics regarding the same.
The islands are currently well-protected by a team of conservationists. The environment is maintained and protected as much as possible from the harmful effects of man, for the first time since they were discovered half a millennia ago.
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