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Grim reason Galapagos Islands 'in danger' of being destroyed

A petition has been submitted to UNESCO's World Heritage Committee asking it to list the archipelago.

Another UNESCO World Heritage area is facing destruction, environmentalists warn. Following in the footsteps of Australian campaigners who tried to list the Great Barrier Reef, a petition has now been lodged to add the Galapagos Islands to a grim list of 56 other "in danger" sites.

While efforts to list Queensland’s world-famous reef were unsuccessful — due largely to lobbying by the federal government to stifle the move — US-based Center for Biodiversity is confident the World Heritage Committee could vote to approve the Galapagos archipelago when it meets in 2025. A spokesperson for the Center told Yahoo News its petition had been “welcomed” by members of the committee.

According to the Center, the Ecuadorian government is not doing enough to combat unregulated fishing by Chinese-flagged vessels across the archipelago. Hundreds of boats have been recorded anchoring just outside the Galapagos Marine Reserve catching tonnes of fish and threatening the region’s biodiversity.

Tourists in the water at the Galapagos Islands.
An influx of tourists is impacting the Galapagos Islands, according to the Center for Biodiversity. Source: Getty (File Image)

In addition, dozens of vessels have been observed disappearing from radar tracking systems for up to 17 days in the area, which if done intentionally would be illegal.

Other sites the Biodiversity centre wants listed as 'in danger'

  • El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve in Mexico (US border wall)

  • Islands and protected areas of the Gulf of California in Mexico (Illegal fishing)

  • The Pantanal in Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia (Fires and livestock expansion)

Sites already listed as 'in danger'

  • Historic Centre of Vienna (Development of high-rise projects)

  • Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve (Proposed iron-ore mining, arrival of refugees)

  • Rainforests of the Atsinanana (Illegal logging, poaching of lemurs)

Tourism threatening Galapagos biodiversity

While unregulated and illegal fishing are harming the Galapagos, there’s another major issue affecting the region’s wildlife, the Center’s senior scientist Alex Olivera told Yahoo News.

“There are huge problems with pollution and invasive species and these are related to the increase of tourists arriving at the islands. The number of tourists arriving, it's already passing the pre-pandemic levels,” he said.

In 2023, avian flu was detected on the Galapagos in an area that is frequented by tourists. While authorities acted quickly to limit visitors to the area, Olivera says the virus – which has killed tens of millions of birds around the globe – could have threatened the region’s biodiversity.

Olivera said governments routinely oppose “in danger” petitions because it could lead to the loss of its World Heritage listing and lead to “embarrassment”. But he argues they should embrace attempts to list sites, as doing so will likely lead to an increase in international efforts to save them.

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