Turtle (its actually a tortoise) good generic 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins )
The exotic Galapagos Islands, which lie on the equator about 1,000 kilometers
off the west coast of South America, are a treasure trove of unusual animal
species because of their isolation for thousands of years. They have eroded over
the millennia, making them much smaller today, but they still provoke much
curiosity and wonder. The islands, which are owned by Ecuador, prompted Charles
Darwin almost two centuries ago to formulate some of the central principles of
his theory of evolution after he visited and studied the creatures living
Now Ben-Gurion University of the Negev will help preserve the
biodiversity of the Galapagos Islands. Prof. Ariel Novoplansky of BGU’s Jacob
Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research recently signed an agreement recently
with the Galapagos National Park to promote the conservation of the endangered
biological diversity of the islands.
The BGU experts, invited to the
islands by the Ecuador’s ministry of environment and the directorate of the
national park, held meetings and went on field excursions with managers,
rangers, policy-makers, farmers and conservation experts. The visit ended with
the signing of a cooperation agreement to figure out the best ways to minimize
the detrimental effects of invasive species to the biodiversity, natural
habitats and agricultural areas of the archipelago.
Novoplansky, who was
accompanied by several Israeli colleagues, explained that in addition to the
fact that the islands offer a comfortable climate, wild vistas and excellent
conditions for a variety of nature and sport activities, they are also rare
natural laboratories where the special ecological conditions and extreme
isolation create unique and stunningly beautiful biological
Their biodiversity, however, is neither greater nor more
unique than that of other archipelagos such as the Hawaiian or the Canary
Islands. What makes these islands unique is their recent history – while most of
the major archipelagos around the world had been discovered by the 16th century,
most of the other archipelagos were rapidly settled by man, and their ecological
systems had been rapidly degraded, or even totally devastated.
that time, the Galapagos Islands were rather neglected – occasionally frequented
by whale hunters and pirates, which hardly affected its unique
Since Ecuador annexed the Galapagos 180 years ago and only
started to settle it less than a century ago, its rare natural treasures have
been mostly preserved until very recently. But the relief from human
intervention has abruptly ended and in spite of over 50 years of dedicated
management and conservation of 97 percent of the area of the archipelago and its
surrounding waters by the authorities of the Galapagos National Park, the
conservation policies must urgently change.
“In spite of excellent
management and meticulous policing of eco-tourism, a full-blown ecological
disaster is unfolding before our eyes, inflicted by the devastating effects of
invasive species,” said Novoplansky.
Rising demand is pushing for
ever-increasing rates of development of the local tourism industry, which
encourages greater imports of various goods, food and fresh agriculture produce
from the mainland. Without any external intervention, labor and production costs
on the islands are much higher than on the mainland, dictating the abandonment
of most of the island’s farms and the transition of most of the islands’
workforce to the tourism industry. These processes expose the unique and
sensitive biodiversity of the islands to the extremely destructive effects of
invasive species such as feral domestic animals, aggressive weeds, various
insect pests and alien marine organisms.
Increasing numbers of such
organisms arrive at the islands through the delivery routes from the mainland
and multiply with great vigor in both natural ecosystems and abandoned farms,
overcoming the local fauna and flora and changing entire ecosystems existing
nowhere else in the world.
Competing for the same natural resources,
agriculture and nature conservation are usually considered competing and
antagonistic forces, but not so in the Galapagos.
“The current project is
based on a new premise, whereby agricultural developmental is not necessarily
used as a powerful toolbox for increasing food production, fighting poverty and
improving standard of living.
In fragile places like the Galapagos,
sensible conservation strategies may take advantage of carefully-crafted
agricultural practices to combat and prevent the destructive effects of invasive
species to unique ecosystems and endangered biodiversity, the fate of which we
are all so anxious about,” concluded Novoplansky.