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Galapagos Islands 'Facing Crisis'

BBC News staff

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has declared the Galapagos Islands, home to dozens of endangered species, at risk and a national priority for action.The islands, Ecuador's top tourist draw, were suffering an environmental and social crisis, he said.

Mr Correa's call came as a UN delegation was visiting to see if the islands should be declared "in danger". 0411 04

The Galapagos Islands were made a World Heritage Site 30 years ago for their unique plant and animal life.

"We are pushing for a series of actions to overcome the huge institutional, environmental and social crises in the islands," Mr Correa said, adding that these problems were the result of years of neglect by previous governments.

He did not detail the measures, but indicated Ecuador would consider suspending some tourism permits, Reuters news agency reported.


The islands, located some 1,000km (620 miles) off Ecuador's mainland, are home to an array of species, including giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies and marine iguanas.

About 20,000 people, working mainly in fishing and tourism, also live there.

The Galapagos Islands inspired naturalist Charles Darwin and helped him develop his theory of evolution.

Last month, several rangers of the ecological reserve in the islands clashed with members of the Ecuadorean Armed Forces over what the rangers say was illegal fishing in protected waters.

The incident provoked an outcry in Ecuador as it illustrated for many the practices which are damaging the site.

Mr Correa announced that a number of military officials had been suspended pending an investigation.

However, ecologists say the problems in the Galapagos run much deeper than the government has acknowledged.

They fear that a rapid increase in the human population and the gradual introduction of external species of flora and fauna are threatening the entire ecosystem on the islands.

Representatives of the UN's scientific, educational and cultural body, Unesco, have travelled to its research station on the Galapagos to inspect the state of conservation there.

Last month, a senior Unesco official warned of threats to the "fragile and delicate" ecology of the Galapagos.


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