Galapagos Islands Moved Off Endangered Sites List


Photo via Free Art London

The Galapagos Islands are among the most stunning places on earth. The unparalleled biodiversity and spectacular wildlife makes it a travel destination the world over. But it's also in big trouble. When I traveled there two years ago, I saw firsthand how a number of factors are putting the islands' delicate ecosystems in danger: invasive species threaten the local animal populations, more and more tourists are tromping through, and a burgeoning immigration from the mainland is straining the natural resources there and producing unmanageable waste. The islands were considered a Site in Danger by the World Heritage Committee since 2007. So it was surprising to many, myself included, to see the Galapagos whisked off the list this year, leaving the question -- is it too soon?The 'Sites in Danger' designation is important because it focuses international attention -- and often much-needed funding -- on threatened places. The Galapagos were voted off 15-6 in the most recent World Heritage Committee meeting, Our Amazing Planet reports. But many are overwhelmingly dismayed by the decision. Here's OAP:

The decision goes against the recommendations of UNESCO, the United Nations body that, along with outside experts and scientists, monitors sites on the WHC's danger list.

"The state of conservation report presented by UNESCO did not suggest that the site should be removed from the danger list, that was a decision the committee made," said Sue Williams, a UNESCO spokesperson

In recent years, some of the problems facing the Galapagos were indeed at least addressed -- the number of tourists permitted entry was restricted to a designated amount, recycling programs were instated to control waste, threats from certain invasive species like goats have been mitigated, and the parks are better policed.

If anything, however, the problems have only grown more complex and fundamental -- there's now a growing island population that must learn to live sustainably with severely limited resources, and a bevy of threats from other invasive species remain at large. Here's OAP again:

Johannah Barry, president of the Galapagos Conservancy, acknowledged that President Correa has made some inroads against the myriad problems facing the island, but said removing the area from the danger list delivers a false impression of safety.

"I'm concerned it might appear like everything's all better now," Barry said, "and I don't believe that's the case."Barry cited the alarming influx of alien plants, animals and diseases in recent years, from West Nile virus and parasitic flies that are killing off the islands' finches, to domestic dogs and cats that maim and kill the archipelago's marine iguanas.

Galapagos's caretakers have vowed only to work harder to maintain the islands' biodiversity and pristine habitats -- and if the situation worsens, the WHC says it will reinstate the islands. It will certainly be worth paying attention to how this develops, as the Galapagos is an important global symbol of biodiversity preservation.

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