Arlington, Virginia – The unique flora and fauna of the Galápagos Islands –
as well as the economy of the archipelago – is profoundly threatened by climate
change and requires specific strategies to prevent irreparable damage to the
World Heritage Site, scientists announced today.
The first major scientific workshop on the impacts of climate change on the Galápagos biodiversity made a
number of recommendations ranging from building “apartments for penguins” to the
creation of an early warning monitoring system to identify ecosystem changes and
projects to promote sustainable use of natural resources by the islands’
population – which relies heavily on tourism and fishing.
“The Galápagos Islands are both iconic and biologically important. This
conference has shown that scientists, resource managers and local communities
are united in their desire to protect this exceptional place and where possible
we have offered concrete solutions. Now we need the political will on the part
of global leaders to invest in adaptation measures to tackle the impacts of
climate change,” said Dr. Giuseppe Di Carlo, Marine Climate Change Manager for
Conservation International (CI).
The conference – which was convened by CI with the support of World Wildlife
Fund (WWF), the Government of Ecuador, the Galápagos National Park Service and
the Charles Darwin Research Station – identified that the unique animals and
plants of the islands, which inspired Charles Darwin to devise his theory of
evolution by natural selection, face several major threats. They are likely to
face increased competition from invasive species and disease, a reduction in key
food sources, and damage to coastal habitats from warming oceans and rising sea
Dr. Emily Pidgeon Director of CI’s Marine Climate Change Program said: “If we
want the unique biodiversity of the Galápagos to survive for future generations
we have to help it to adapt to climate change. This workshop is hugely important
because it brought together key players who can help to make that adaptation a
The islands’ charismatic Galápagos fur seals (Arctocephalus
galapagoensis) appear to one of the species most at risk from climate
change because of an expected fall in fish numbers [their main source of food]
and increased threat of diseases. Galápagos penguins (Spheniscus
mendiculus) may require “apartments” which would recreate their preferred
nesting conditions and provide shade and protection from introduced predators in
areas outside their usual nesting sites.
The islands’ coral reefs are also
threatened by changes in ocean temperature
and acidity, which is weakening reef structures and causing mass bleaching in
reefs around the world. Additionally, warmer waters are stressing fish and are
causing the migration of more tropical Pacific fish species into the northern
part of the Galápagos.
Residents of the Galápagos are likely to face reduced commercial fish stocks
because of changes in ocean currents and upwelling areas, while damage to the
unique flora and fauna will reduce the attractiveness of the islands to tourists
– which in turn may lead to a decline in protection afforded to the islands’
biodiversity by local communities as it becomes less important as a source
revenue for them.
Diseases such as malaria, dengue and yellow fever are also likely to become
more prevalent as the islands’ human
population increases – especially if conditions to support disease-carrying
invasive species are created.
The workshop concluded on a high note with the signature of the Declaration
of Santa Cruz, where the Government of Ecuador together with partners and all
participants agreed to support and invest in future climate change research for
Galápagos and on the need to translate the recommendations proposed during this
workshop into adaptive management actions to protect the Galápagos biodiversity
and the islands’ communities.
IN DEPTH: Galápagos and