The Galapagos rats were able to survive by floating on large pieces of vegetation or debris to reach the islands. In fact, the rats "hold the world record for ocean crossings by land mammals," (Galapagos Conservation Trust 2008).
About 1600 species of insects inhabit the Galapagos including large ones like locusts, butterflies and moths. The Galapagos also has unique species of land snails. Hundreds of fish species live in the warm waters surrounding the Galapagos. The plant diversity on the Galapagos has changed dramatically since the introduction of fruit-bearing trees especially in highland areas. However, indigenous species of orchid and cacti still grace the Galapagos landscape.
The Galapagos Islands have a varied terrain and ecosystem. Elevation levels and locations of the islands determine the local flora and fauna. Some parts of the Galapagos are dry and rocky, whereas others are more heavily forested. The Galapagos does not look like a typical lush tropical island and has a unique climactic system.
Human beings are the biggest threat to the Galapagos. Early settlers and pirates pillaged the islands. Colonialists altered the landscape and ecosystem by farming practices, and over-fishing is also a problem in the Galapagos. Land development and a local residential and tourist infrastructure development within the past century continue to adversely affect the Galapagos. Related problems like pollution threaten the Galapagos, and the effects of global warming on the ecosystem are unknown. The recent shift toward ecotourism offers some hope that human beings can leave as delicate a footprint as possible while still being able to enjoy the fantastic plant, animal and marine life that can be found nowhere else on the planet.
To preserve the remarkable species diversity and limit the ill effects of human contact, the Ecuadorian government must cooperate with international environmental agencies and universities when drafting tourism-related policies and regulating industries like agriculture and real estate. Ecuador, which protects the Galapagos politically, cannot fall pray to greed as a short-term gain. Any immediate financial gains from unbridled growth and tourism will mar the islands and its animals so rapidly as to eliminate any long-term benefits. The Galapagos Islands are especially sensitive because its local flora and fauna had evolved for millennia without getting used to predators. A sudden influx of human activity and foreign plant and animals has surprised the indigenous populations, which had not evolved the defense systems that their counterparts on the mainland might have.
Therefore, protecting the Galapagos requires regulations of the local residential and tourism industries. Those industries must be strictly monitored for their environmental impact including the production of waste and pollution. Also, a moratorium on introducing plants and animals should be strictly enforced. The government of Ecuador can easily regulate the numbers of tourists permitted to visit the Galapagos Islands by limiting grants. The cost of visiting should not be increased, or else the islands would remain only accessible to the wealthy. At the same time, those who visit the Galapagos should go with the utmost respect and reverence for the local ecosystem. A waiting list would weed out those tourists who might spontaneously choose to go just to brag. Similarly, Ecuador should prohibit any new residents except those with direct occupational links to the necessary backbone of ecotourism, basic local infrastructure, and scientific research.
The international community and the university systems can also put pressure on Ecuador to implement a strong strategy for the preservation of the Galapagos Islands. Working together, Ecuador and the international community can create conservation methods that satisfy all who have stake in the islands. Environmental policy writers and scientists can come to reasonable solutions to the problems currently faced by the Galapagos Islands and advise the Ecuadorian government.
The protection of the Galapagos Islands is a global concern. To lose some of the special species that dwell there means lost opportunities for understanding biological evolution and unlocking keys to saving the planet. Similarly, a destruction of the Galapagos ecosystem would be an irreversible travesty.
Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands (2006). "Challenges to Galapagos." Retrieved Dec 20, 2008 at http://www.darwinfoundation.org/en/galapagos/challenges
Galapagos Conservation Trust (2008). Land animals of the Galapagos Islands. Retrieved Dec 20, 2008 at http://www.gct.org/landfact.html
Galapagos Island Species." (2008). Retrieved Dec 20, 2008 at http://www.galapagosdiscover.com/info/galapagosflorafauna.htm