Population Pressure Threatens the Galapagos


The Galapagos Islands lie 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. When Charles Darwin visited them in 1835 he saw that many of the plants and animals were slightly different from their relatives on the mainland, different even from their relatives on the other islands. The gradual accumulation of subtle differences suggested to Darwin a mechanism for what he aptly called the mystery of mysteries; that is, the appearance of new forms of life. Today the Galapagos Islands are a world heritage site and the waters around them a marine reserve, but the ecosystem is staggering under the weight of a human population much larger than it can support.

The Galapagos are unique among oceanic archipelagos in that they still have 95 percent of their unique forms of life, but many populations are in danger and there may be a wave of extinctions on the islands in the next hundred years. The Galapagos Islands were the laboratory where Darwin figured out how evolution works, but if current trends continue, they will be the laboratory where we study how species go extinct.

We spoke with Howard Snell about conditions in the Galapagos.

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