Inform the wider world (local, national and international) of the invasive species problem in Galapagos, the challenges which their management presents, and advances in their eradication and control, in order to:
The Galapagos, like many oceanic islands, are under threat from the presence and continual invasion of non-native species. Accelerated demographic growth in the Islands over the past 20 years has exerted considerable pressure on the fragile native ecosystems. The increased movement of goods from the continent and between islands poses the steady threat that alien species will be introduced into the archipelago from the mainland, or dispersed within it, thereby altering the composition of plant and animal communities present. Adverse effects vary from human health threats and losses to agricultural pests, to predation on endemic giant tortoise eggs and young by feral animals and the massive destruction of the native vegetation by herds of feral goats. Invasive species also interrupt the natural evolutionary processes that produced the unique flora and fauna present today.
There can be a considerable interval between the introduction of a new species and the appearance of invasive characteristics and the unique character of Galapagos ecosystems makes it difficult to predict the impact of exotic species. Consequently all introduced species in the Galapagos must be considered potentially invasive, given that there is a wide range of habitats and environments available which are typically “disturbed”, in an ecological sense.
The Government of Ecuador has demonstrated its commitment to the conservation of the archipelago, having declared 97% of the land area as a National Park, and created one of the largest marine reserves in the world - exemplary actions that have shielded the archipelago from severe anthropogenic pressures. In April 1998 an unprecedented policy framework was established for the Galapagos with the creation of the “Special Organic Law for the Conservation and Development of Galapagos Province” (SOLG). This law gives provincial institutions the mandate to control population growth and ensure the compatibility of economic enterprises with conservation. It decrees that development in the archipelago be guided by ecosystem carrying capacity and adopts principles to conserve ecosystem integrity, particularly the protection of native and endemic biodiversity. It also includes mechanisms to earmark revenues from Park entrance fees for conservation initiatives in the archipelago – a sign of the Ecuadorian Government's strong commitment to protecting this rich global heritage, despite its fiscal insecurity.
The SOLG lists the introduction of alien species to the islands as constituting the main threat to biodiversity, and advances a “total control” approach to address this concern. This approach consists of a four-pronged strategy that aims to:
Despite this, threats remain, primarily from the past and potential future invasion of alien species which are responsible for habitat degradation, competition with native species and preying on native wildlife. In early 2002 an ambitious six-year project began, ECU/00/G31 “Invasive Species in Galapagos", combining the forces and expertise of key Galapagos institutions to deal systematically with the threat of introduced and invasive species in Galapagos in the long term. This project aims at strengthening the capacity of Ecuadorian institutions charged with conserving the islands, to manage these threats and guard against future ‘bio-invasion’ by taking a precautionary approach to ecosystem management. The principle organisations involved are the Galapagos National Park, the Charles Darwin Foundation (the parent body of the Charles Darwin Research Station), the Galapagos National Institute (the overall planning organisation for Galapagos province), and the Ecuadorian Agricultural Health Service in Galapagos.