We’re currently studying ecological sustainability in Biology, including a case study of the Galapagos Islands. I’m quite ashamed to admit that I thought these spits of tropical land off the coast of mainland Ecuador were the same now as they were when Darwin found them; perfect, serene and untouched. I was bitterly disappointed to discover that the human handprint has been pressed firmly down on these lands, like virtually everywhere else.
Part of our independent study was to watch an episode of David Attenborough’s current documentary series Natural World, which focussed on the Galapagos Islands. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; humans strewn across the beaches like I’ve seen in Majorca, where tourists also crawled and choked the earth.
Many of the natives on the islands complained of the wildlife, saying that the sea lions hindered their daily lives. Once again, I felt a stab of intense dislike towards members of my own species. The oldest islands in the Galapagos, South Plaza and Española, have been surfaced above sea level for millions of years. The first permanent human inhabitant arrived at the beginning of the nineteenth century, yet mankind still believes it has the right to cause irreparable destruction for its own personal gain.
My objection is not that humans colonised the islands, but the fact that they sought to completely transform the land, disregarding the wellbeing of the current inhabitants. As a result, many endemic species found nowhere else in the world, such as the Mangrove finch, are now under serious threat due to the impacts of overfishing, habitat disturbance and the introduction of foreign species such as goats, rats and feral dogs, and the parasites that they bring with them. Goats in particular have outcompeted native giant tortoises for food, and significantly changed the habitat by grazing, which has reduced the availability of suitable space for tortoise nesting sites.
There have been mass goat culling projects on the island of Isabela. This did successfully eradicate the goat population but naturally, many people object to the massacre of thousands of animals purely because they are introduced and not native.
Surely there must be an alternative that suits the welfare of both species. I am relieved that actions are being taken, but I hope that we can one day develop methods to recover endangered species without forfeiting others.