To Protect Galápagos, Ecuador Limits a Two-Legged Species
PUERTO AYORA, Galápagos Islands — The mounds of reeking garbage on the edge of this settlement 600 miles off Ecuador’s Pacific coast are proof that one species is thriving on the fragile archipelago whose unique wildlife inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution: man.
Tiny gray finches, descendants of birds that were crucial to his thesis, flutter around the dump, which serves a growing town of Ecuadoreans who have moved here to work in the islands’ thriving tourism industry.
The burgeoning human population of the Galápagos, which doubled to about 30,000 in the last decade, has unnerved environmentalists. They point to evidence that the growth is already harming the ecosystem that allowed the islands’ more famous inhabitants — among them giant tortoises and boobies with brightly colored webbed feet — to evolve in isolation before mainlanders started colonizing the islands more than a century ago.
The growth has become enough of a threat to the environment that even the government, which still welcomes growth in the tourism industry, has expelled more than 1,000 poor Ecuadoreans in the past year from a province that they feel is rightfully theirs, and it is in the process of expelling many more.