Of course, a world that has created itself in such a remote and isolated realm is a delicate system. Humans and other factors have interrupted this system drastically. The ecosystem in the Galapagos took millions of years to evolve in an intricate and unique way.
There are a plethora of environmental problems plaguing the islands, some stemming from the pressures of world climate changes such El Niño (ENSO), others arising from commercial fishing, and overpopulation, and many resulting from the introduction of species by humans dating back to the 1800's. Another big problem the Galapagos Islands had to face was a big oil spill in 2001.
The global weather anomaly hit the Galapagos hard. While an entirely natural occurrence, the weather pattern took a vital part of the ecosystem out of the chain. Many fish searched for different waters to feed upon. The fur seals were most greatly affected as they depend on the fish closer to the surface. The surface waters were heated more during the attacks of El Niño, and the fur seals between ages 1-4 were virtually all wiped out. El Niño also affected coastal birds. The absence of fish in the coastal waters meant that many of the traditional nest areas for birds were abandoned.
The mere human presence of people alone does not hold such a severe threat to the native species of Galapagos. After all, humans did not arrive alone to the Islands. Since the times of the first inhabitants, non-native species have been introduced to the Galapagos Islands, often with drastic consequences. Many of the species introduced like rats, dogs, cats, and goats, are not rare or deadly in themselves, but when placed on fragile Islands where life took years to adapt, have caused dramatic effects.
Feral dogs, most likely introduced to the Islands as pets of early settlers, have been a threat to tortoise eggs, native iguana species and even penguins. Four goats were introduced to the Santiago Islands in the early 1800's, went rampant and one estimate calculated that their population had grown to nearly 100,000. Due to their constitution and ability to feed on nearly any plant, goats alone may be responsible for the local extinction of up to 4 or 5 species of vegetation and also they compete with the Galapagos tortoise for their food source.
A newly introduced wasp species has been sited on the Islands, and may be responsible for a declining number of caterpillar larvae, a food source for finches. The Charles Darwin Research Station constantly searches for solutions to the problem of introduced species. To find out about this and other projects they are working on check out their website.
While there are a great number of issues and problems facing the fragile environment of the Galapagos, there are success stories and potential solutions as well. The introduced eradication program, though slow going, has eliminated feral goats from several small islands. Dogs are now absent from the island of Isabela. The efforts to reintroduce and repopulate species such as elephantine tortoise have increased their numbers dramatically.
Environmental education efforts on the Islands help their inhabitants understand the larger picture and need for conservation, and responsible tourism and enforced park guidelines help preserve the Galapagos for the future. But there are seemingly endless needs for the park's preservation, and always limited funding. Other than what little budget it receives from the Republic of Ecuador, the National Park relies entirely on funding from philanthropists, fundraising efforts of the Charles Darwin Foundation, Inc. and other private organizations.
When you visit the Galapagos National Park, stick to the following park rules to help preserve the unique flora and fauna on the Islands. Do not remove any plant, animal, or remains of such (including shells, bones, and pieces of wood), or other natural objects.
Be careful not to bring any live material or food to the Islands, or from one island to another.
Make sure you do not touch, handle, feed, or chase the animals.
Do stay within the permitted areas and only visit the Islands together with a licensed National Park Guide.
Do not leave any garbage or litter on the Islands, or throw any off your boat.
Do not deface the rocks.
Make sure you do not buy souvenirs or objects made of plants or animals from the Islands.
View the Galapagos Conservation Trust