Galapagos face ecological disaster due to tourism

In Americas, News Headlines

Mosquitoes brought into the Galapagos on tourist planes and boats threaten to wreak “ecological disaster” in the islands, central to Darwin’s theory of evolution, a study said Wednesday.

The insects can spread potentially lethal diseases in the archipelago off Ecuador’s Pacific coast, used by Charles Darwin as the basis of his seminal work “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection”.

“Few tourists realise the irony that their trip to Galapagos may actually increase the risk of an ecological disaster,” said Simon Goodman of Leeds University, one of the study’s co-authors.

“That we haven’t already seen serious disease impacts in Galapagos is probably just a matter of luck.”
The study found that the southern house mosquito, Culex quinquefasciatus, was regularly hitching rides on planes from the South American mainland, and island-hopping on tourist boats between the different islands.
Species threatened by diseases such as avian malaria or West Nile include the islands’ best-known residents, its giant tortoises, as well as marine iguanas, sea lions and finches.
Arnaud Bataille, another researcher on the eight-page study, said: “On average the number of mosquitoes per aeroplane is low, but many aircraft arrive each day from the mainland in order to service the tourist industry.”
Worse, “the mosquitoes seem able to survive and breed once they leave the plane,” he added.
Goodman noted that Ecuador recently introduced a requirement for all aircraft flying to the Galapagos to have insecticide treatment, but said similar moves are needed for ships, and the impact needs to be evaluated.
“With tourism growing so rapidly, the future of Galapagos hangs on the ability of the Ecuadorian government to maintain stringent biosecurity protection for the islands,” he said.
The study, co-authored by Leeds University, the Zoological Society of London, the University of Guayaquil, the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation, was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society, Britain’s de-facto academy of sciences.
Some 10,000 people, mostly fishermen, live on the volcanic Galapagos archipelago, which rose from the Pacific seabed 10 million years ago and became famous when Darwin visited to conduct research in 1835.

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