Galapagos Volcano Eruption's Threat to Wildlife Is Small Compared to Man-Made Issues

Man-made threats pose far greater danger, experts say.

“Volcanism and eruptions are a normal part of the evolutionary ecology on the Galapagos Islands,” Steve Walsh, the director of the Center for Galapagos Studies at the University of North Carolina, told ABC News. “We seem to be excited about a volcano, but the Galapagos are under siege by a lot of different things.”

The Galapagos consist of 13 major islands formed by volcanic eruptions that occurred millions of years ago. Since Charles Darwin’s arrival in 1835, the Galapagos have been called a “living laboratory of evolution” because of wildlife found only on these islands. Giant tortoises, pink iguanas, red-footed boobies, and thousands of other unique species can only be found there.

For the first time in 33 years, Isabela Island’s Wolf Volcano erupted on Monday, shooting rivers of lava down its slopes and filling the night sky with a red glare. Technicians at the Galapagos National Park determined the lava is flowing southeast and seems to be sparing the northern section of the island where the world’s only population of pink iguanas lives.

There is no human population near the volcano. Puerto Villamil, the nearest town, is located 115 kilometers to the south.

“There is some loss of vegetation, but it’s an opportunity for other species to grow,” Reuda said, calling the eruption a “natural process.” He added that officials would not interfere with the lava flow, which is beginning to freeze.

"There has been an explosion in the number of hotels and restaurants," said WWF's Arnal, who argued that the increase in tourism is the main driver for expanding trade between the archipelago and the continent, creating more chances for invasive species to reach the pristine islands.

Introduced plants and animals, ranging from cats to avocados, represent a huge threat to native species, which lack natural predators and are defenseless to invasive predators, according to the Galapagos National Park Service. At one point, an estimated 100,000 feral goats lived on Isabela Island and devastated the ecosystem through overgrazing. The park service eventually was forced to adopt a radical eradication plan involving helicopter-mounted machine guns and radio collared “Judas” goats used to locate herds. The plan was deemed a success in 2005 when the last feral goat was removed from Isabela Island, though some 266 “Judas” goes remain for monitoring purposes.

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