Saturday, April 21, 2007

Tourists to Galapagos reduced

Tourism to the Galapagos Islands may be heavily restricted after fears that the archipelago’s unique ecosystem is under threat, the Ecuadorean President said yesterday.

Rafael Correa said that the islands are in “imminent ecological danger” in a statement that coincided with a visit by a Unesco delegation investigating ways to preserve the archipelago.

Arguing that “to assume our responsibilities we do not need studies from some international organisation”, Mr Correa has ordered government ministers to consider restricting tourist and residency permits, and reducing the number of flights.

The isolated islands are famed for their unique fauna — including giant tortoises and marine iguanas, left, — species that helped to inspire Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

In 1979 Unesco declared the Galapagos a World Heritage Site, but last month it gave warning of threats to the ecosystem of the “fragile and delicate” island chain.

The plans will include a full census of the islands’ permanent population. About 15,000 Ecuadoreans are official residents in the Galapagos, but an estimated 5,000 live there illegally.

In addition, each year 120,000 tourists visit the islands, which sit 625 miles (1,000km) off Ecuador’s Pacific coast.

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