Ecosystems

What are the main dangers of tourism on the Galapagos Islands?
Answered by Science Channel
  • Science Channel

    Science Channel

  1. It's a place whose beauty charms visitors and whose biodiversity inspired Charles Darwin, and while tourism is one of the Galapagos Islands' greatest sources of revenue it is not without its dangers. The high numbers of people visiting the islands, both for tourism and for permanent residence, have had a significant effect on the availability of natural resources. Alongside the natural dangers of overdevelopment, tourists and new residents also bring with them new species that compete with the natural wildlife for food and habitat space. For example, in the 1800s, a small number of non-native goats were introduced to the Galapagos ecosystem and now there are an estimated 100,000 goats on Santiago Island. These goats consume a large amount of native vegetation and have begun to compete directly with the islands' emblematic, native giant tortoises, even driving some to extinction.

    The islands' mockingbirds, too, are in trouble. The smart birds that so intrigued Darwin face threats from species that were not native to the islands, such as cats, rats, goats, pigs and burros. The rats and cats kill the birds and wreak havoc with their nests; and the latter three species ruined the mockingbirds' favored cactus-forest habitats. It's also thought possible that chickens brought to the islands carried with them diseases that were fatal to the mockingbirds [source: Galapagos Conservancy].

    Furthermore, marine traffic, including not only cargo ships but also private vessels and those tied to tourism, has increased among the islands. The trouble with the influx of boats in the Galapagos waters is that the hull and anchors of such craft could bring with them invasive new marine species that could harm the local marine ecosystems [source: Galapagos Conservancy].

    Though conservation efforts are ongoing, the challenge of protecting the Galapagos Islands' habitat is daunting when you look at the numbers. The islands have seen the introduction of 36 new vertebrate species; about 750 plant species; and 543 non-native insects [source: Galapagos Conservancy]. The geographical remoteness of the islands makes them especially vulnerable to harm from new species.



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