The Galapagos Islands are unique – they are probably the only place in the world where we can get an idea of how the world was before humans. There are several key reasons why we should be protecting this archipelago:
The Galapagos national park and marine reserve are unique and extraordinary ecosystems.
These areas with their vast amount of endemic species represent the best conserved tropical archipelago in the world.
These islands are an integral part of Charles Darwin’s theory; his critical studies helped us to understand microevolution and speciation. As a consequence, the national park and marine reserve are an iconic model of conservation, recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.
In 2007 UNESCO added the archipelago to their list of World Heritage sites in Danger.
In common with other oceanic island systems, these islands are fragile.
Biodiversity in the islands is susceptible to invasive species, over exploitation, climate change and major pollution events. Nowadays the biodiversity has been remarkably well conserved as a result of the relatively minimal interaction between the islands and global human processes.
Human activities cause changes in fragile island ecosystems like the Galapagos.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the islands were havens for pirates chasing Incan gold. In the 19th century, whalers and fur sealers harvested for international markets. These interactions resulted in substantial alterations in ecosystems as species, such as giant tortoises, were over harvested and as invasive mammal and plant species were introduced.
Invasive species remain today, as the major threat to native terrestrial biodiversity. Today, a lot of invasive plants (including quinine trees, guava and blackberries) and animals (including goats, pigs, dogs, cats and rats) inhabit the islands. Twenty four percent of plant species and 50% of vertebrate species are still considered as endangered and are problems from earlier times.
Today, there are new demands on the biodiversity of the islands.
Economic growth and unregulated development threaten the fragile ecosystem. Socio-political demands to increase local access to natural resources and public services have grown with the increasing human population; these demands have created new social and political stresses in the islands.
The islands are in an accelerating cycle of economic and population growth driven by the growth in tourism. This cycle has, in turn, increased threats to biodiversity through higher probabilities of arrival of invasive species and more frequent pollution events.
The archipelago is a microcosm of the social, political, ecological and economic changes occurring in the world.
Throughout the world, human populations are increasing and demands for natural resources are consequently changing. Substantial ecological changes are occurring in the resource base, frequently driven by globalization and liberalization of markets.
In addition, it has become increasingly recognized that all of these changes are occurring in a complicated socio-political and cultural environment.
If we can achieve a balance between the needs of humans and the natural world in the islands, we can do it elsewhere and the archipelago can provide a model for sustainability for the whole world.