Galápagos and Climate Change

© Hiroya Minakuchi/Minden Pictures
Alex MacLennan

Breaking news: the Galápagos Islands are already suffering the effects of climate change.

Over a busy week in April, scientists and other experts from around the world united to assess the impacts of climate change on the islands’ ecosystems – land and sea, plants, animals and people – and to propose management steps.

“If we want the unique biodiversity of the Galápagos to survive for future generations,” says Dr Emily Pidgeon, Director of CI’s Marine Climate Change Program, “we have to help it adapt to climate change.”

EXPLORE: Learn about the unique ecosystems of the Galápagos Islands.

Intrepid science is nothing new to the Galápagos, and CI is helping continue that legacy, both by identifying the region’s challenges, and proposing actions to preserve it for the future.

Understanding Climate’s Impact

One of the primary goals of the workshop, the final stage of a one-year long project supported by CI and WWF, was to scientifically confirm the predicted effects of climate change on the archipelago, as well as to postulate probable future impacts. Key findings include:

  • The region’s ocean surface temperature will rise – resulting in reduced “upwelling” of cold water and nutrients essential to sea mammals and birds as they support the food chain and fish productivity.
  • Increased precipitation and temperatures will result in difficult conditions for existing species – coral bleaching is increasingly evident, with serious implications for entire fisheries – and an increase of newly introduced species. These “invasive” species could also increase the spread of disease and out-compete native Galápagos species.
  • Sea level rise, not yet seen in the region, will begin to impact the islands. Nesting beaches for threatened Galápagos penguins (Spheniscus mendiculus), and Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) may be damaged due to coastal erosion and flooding.
  • El Niño and La Niña, weather patterns that can cause extreme weather events, may become more intense, and impacts on agriculture, eco-tourism, and certain species are expected to have serious negative impacts.

DESTINATION: Visit the Galápagos Trust Fund, Ecuador.

Creatures and Cultures at Risk

The threatened Galápagos fur seals (Arctocephalus galapagoensis) appear to one of the species most at risk due to falling numbers of fish and increased threat of diseases. Galápagos penguins (Spheniscus mendiculus), may require “apartments” to recreate preferred nesting conditions that provide shade and protection from introduced predators.

The human residents of the Galápagos are likely to face reduced commercial fish stocks, while damage to the unique plant and animal life will reduce the islands’ value as a tourist destination. That cycle could be particularly dangerous – a decline in biodiversity may lead to a drop off in the ecotourism that finances ecological protection, resulting in loss of income to local communities.

IN PHOTOS: The Galápagos Islands

Diseases such as malaria, dengue and yellow fever are also likely to become more prevalent as the islands’ human population increases – especially if conditions to support disease-carrying invasive species are created.

Moving Forward

But CI’s scientists, regional experts, and partners are on the job, and have delivered the beginnings of a plan to help the people of the Galápagos Islands adapt to climate change.

Key recommendations include the need to: establish early warning monitoring systems for climate change; protect areas in particular danger, including coral sites, areas where upwelling waters foster a great abundance of species, and arid zones; expand management of the region’s fisheries to include open water areas; prevent the arrival of, and remove existing, invasive species and protect key corridors to allow species to migrate in response to climate change.

LEARN MORE: Open Your Eyes to Coral

Human communities must adapt as well. To assure this, CI and our partners will work to:

Diversify sources of income and reduce dependence on fishing; provide education; promote awareness of, and cultural pride in, the region’s incredible richness; improve health care options and access to clean, fresh water; and instigate sustainable practices that guide tourism, construction, transportation and other key developments.

A Model for the Future

It is a groundbreaking set of scientific findings and recommendations, and an important opportunity for one place to point the way toward better preparation worldwide.

As Dr. Giuseppe Di Carlo, Marine Climate Change Manager for CI, points out: “The Galápagos Islands are both iconic and biologically important. This conference has shown that scientists, resource managers and local communities are united in their desire to protect this exceptional place. Where possible we have offered concrete solutions. Now we need the political will on the part of global leaders to invest in adaptation measures to tackle the impacts of climate change.”

READ MORE: Protecting the Land of Darwin

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