QUITO - The oil spill last
week in the Galapagos Islands will leave a permanent
mark on local ecosystems, but it is not the only,
nor the worse environmental problem this unique Ecuadorian
natural reserve in the Pacific Ocean is facing.
Beyond the environmental
damage left by the 300 tons of fuel spilled by the
ship 'Jessica,' run aground on the islands, there
are the invasions of non-native species, human over-population,
pollution, excessive fishing, fires and a rising flow
The Special Law of the
Galapagos, which is meant to ensure the conservation
of the unique island ecosystems, has been in effect
only since 1999, and since then major alterations
in the environment have been recorded.
Ecologists attribute these
changes to the fast-growing human population on the
Galapagos, which led to an expansion of cultivated
areas, mining for building materials and pollution
from the poor management of solid and chemical wastes.
On top of this is the impact
of foreign animal and plant species introduced to
By 1971, there were already
170 non-native plant species found there, but today
the total reaches 500. Experts warn that many are
destroying the endemic plant populations.
Isabela Island - where
a 1994 fire destroyed more than 9,000 hectares - has
been invaded by some 30,000 wild goats, which are
devastating the vegetation and threaten the survival
of giant turtles.
fishing has also caused grave damage, leading to the
possible extinction of marine species like the sea
More than 20 tuna-fishing
vessels entered the Marine Reserve area last year,
where there is a ban on fishing, but the boats' owners
were not penalized in any way.
In addition, local environmentalists
stress that it is necessary to regulate the arrival
of the more than 60,000 tourists who visit the Galapagos
Antonio Enríquez, secretary
of the World Tourism Organization, pointed out that
the island ecosystem could collapse in less than 10
years, and called on the Ecuadorian authorities to
take immediate and appropriate action.
The reaction of the government
under President Gustavo Noboa to the running aground
of 'Jessica' on Jan 16 triggered criticisms from environmental
groups, which condemned the lack of immediate measures
that could have prevented the oil spill.
Activists say it was pure
luck that a change in ocean currents impeded the 200-square
km oil slick from harming the 10,000 galapagos, the
giant turtles for which the islands are named.
But they warned that the
islands cannot always depend - as they have so far
- on good luck.
The January accident was
not the first of its kind for the islands. The cargo
ship 'San Luis' ran aground a year ago, and the same
happened last September and December to boats carrying
The oil catastrophe is
a warning that maritime regulations for approaching
the islands must be reviewed, said Fernando Espinoza,
head of the Charles Darwin Foundation.