The conservation and environmental management of the Galapagos Islands ecosystem is "at risk and a national priority" due to the anarchy and lack of institutionalization that prevail in the archipelago, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa declared Sunday. The President pledged new protective measures by the end of April.
The Galapagos Islands, in the equatorial Pacific about 1,000 kilometers (650 miles) from the South American coast, are a globally outstanding repository of biodiversity with up to 95 percent of the original pre-human plants and animals remaining.
The islands and surrounding waters are inhabited by giant tortoises, land and marine iguanas, unique finches, and the only penguin species which lives in tropical waters. Sea lions and fur seals are found around the coasts, while dolphins, whales sharks and sea turtles are common.
After a fact-finding mission to the Galapagos last week, a joint United Nations - nonprofit team today confirmed serious threats to the Galapagos Islands World Heritage site caused by encroachment by invasive species, uncontrolled tourism and other challenges.
Threats include agricultural pests, predation on giant tortoise eggs and young by feral pigs and rats, and destruction of the native vegetation by herds of feral goats. Originally introduced for food, bands of goats have stripped whole mountainsides of vegetation, leaving the islands’ giant tortoises without food or shade.
President Correa, who took office in January, said that the government, "with no need for prompting from international organizations," has decided to act and is "uncovering a latent problem that is the consequence of years of disregard and neglect by previous governments and that it is now high time to face with responsibility, earnestness and courage."