I hate stories like this.
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS, Ecuador — Armed with spray guns and tanks of herbicide, 15 Ecuadoreans descended into the crater of an inactive volcano to beat back one of the Galapagos Islands’ most voracious foes: the blackberry.
The first blackberry seedlings were introduced by a farmer a decade ago. But now the thorny thickets are spreading from island to island, crowding out native flora by soaking up water, sunlight and soil nutrients.
“This is one of the most aggressive plants,” said fumigator Fernando Correa, as he held up the tip of one branch that had nestled into the ground and was already sprouting roots. “It’s out of control.”
More than 150 years ago, the singular ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands inspired Charles Darwin to conceive his theory of evolution.
Today, however, rising numbers of human settlers and tourists, overzealous fishermen and the introduction of alien species to the archipelago inspire nothing but angst among environmentalists.
Pigs and dogs brought here by humans eat turtle eggs and compete with endemic animals for food. On one island, 200,000 feral goats gobble nearly everything in their path, forcing park officials to organize hunting trips with helicopter-mounted marksmen.
Overfishing in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, a partially protected area covering 51,000 square miles, is reducing the numbers of shark, lobster, grouper and other sea life. In the past three years, two tankers carrying diesel for tourist boats have run aground, spilling thousands of barrels of fuel into the sea.
Because of high birth rates among residents and the arrival of illegal settlers, the islands’ human population has shot up from a few thousand in 1990 to more than 25,000 today. Experts say the population will likely double over the next 20 years.
“That’s terrifying,” said Howard Snell, director of science at the Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora, the largest town on the Galapagos. “More people means less biodiversity.”
The islands’ extreme isolation meant that, over millions of years, flora and fauna evolved largely on their own. Nearly all of the reptiles, half of the insects and birds, and a third of the plants have adapted to their ecological niches so well that they bear only a faint resemblance to their mainland cousins.
Of the islands’ 5,000 plant and animal species, 1,900 are found only on the Galapagos.
The down side to all of this is that many of these species are fragile and will be quickly threatened by nonnative invaders. A new predator can wipe out a population in short order.
Fishermen are now pressuring the government for permission to use long lines, contraptions that send out multiple, hook-filled filaments that stretch across miles of ocean. Long lines are the scourge of ecologists, because they often hook more birds, sea lions and turtles than targeted fish.
To press their demands, fishermen have killed some of the island’s famous giant tortoises and kidnapped park workers. In 2000, Ecuadorean special forces had to rescue the Darwin station director after he was chased into a mangrove swamp by irate fishermen, who later ransacked his home and burned park offices.
I want to have sympathy for the fishermen, who are just trying to feed themselves, but they’re making it hard for me.
I don’t have any good ideas about this. I’m just sad to read about it.