PhD student, Inti Keith, surveying invasive seaweeds in Galapagos. (Credit: David Acuna, Charles Darwin Foundation)

Mar. 26, 2013 — Increasing tourism and the spread of marine invasive non-native species is threatening the unique plant and marine life around the Galapagos Islands.

UK scientists from the Universities of Southampton and Dundee are currently investigating the extent of the problem following a grant from the UK Government's Darwin Initiative, which aims to protect biodiversity and promote sustainability around the world.

UK Environment Minister Richard Benyon said: "The UK has played a major role in supporting the establishment of the Galapagos Marine Reserve and our Darwin Initiative has funded a range of important projects protecting and enhancing both marine and terrestrial wildlife.

"Invasive non-native species can cause huge damage to local ecosystems and I am delighted that action is being taken to monitor this threat."

Project leader Dr Ken Collins, Ocean and Earth Science of University of Southampton based at the National Oceanography Centre said: "Tourism is partly to blame for the influx of invasive non-native species, due to the huge rise in ships and planes from mainland Ecuador bringing in pests. In recent years, it was realised that cargo ships were carrying disease-infected mosquitoes, which were attracted to the ship's bright white deck lights. Simply changing from conventional filament bulbs to yellow sodium lamps, along with fumigation in the hold has substantially reduced the threat.

"We are trying to protect marine biodiversity by identifying newly arrived species to the Galapagos, assessing if they have the potential to compete for space and overcome other species of algae and native corals."

White coral, which has already been reported off the mainland Ecuador coast (600 miles away), is also causing anxiety. It could easily hitch a lift on the frequent vessels supplying Galapagos tourists and residents. Already, two new algae species have been found in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, a World Heritage Site.

More of the story, click image