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Galápagos Battles with Climate Change - 7 May 2009

Arlington, Virginia - The unique flora and fauna of the Galápagos Islands - as well as the economy of the archipelago - is profoundly threatened by climate change and requires specific strategies to prevent irreparable damage to the World Heritage Site, scientists announced today.

The first major scientific workshop on the impacts of climate change on the Galápagos biodiversity made a number of recommendations ranging from building "apartments for penguins" to the creation of an early warning monitoring system to identify ecosystem changes and projects to promote sustainable use of natural resources by the islands' population - which relies heavily on tourism and fishing.

"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 and 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," said Dr. Giuseppe Di Carlo, Marine Climate Change Manager for Conservation International (CI).

The conference - which was convened by CI with the support of World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Government of Ecuador, the Galápagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Research Station - identified that the unique animals and plants of the islands, which inspired Charles Darwin to devise his theory of evolution by natural selection, face several major threats. They are likely to face increased competition from invasive species and disease, a reduction in key food sources, and damage to coastal habitats from warming oceans and rising sea levels.

Dr. Emily Pidgeon Director of CI's Marine Climate Change Program said: "If we want the unique biodiversity of the Galápagos to survive for future generations we have to help it to adapt to climate change. This workshop is hugely important because it brought together key players who can help to make that adaptation a reality."

The islands' charismatic Galápagos fur seals (Arctocephalus galapagoensis) appear to one of the species most at risk from climate change because of an expected fall in fish numbers [their main source of food] and increased threat of diseases. Galápagos penguins (Spheniscus mendiculus) may require "apartments" which would recreate their preferred nesting conditions and provide shade and protection from introduced predators in areas outside their usual nesting sites.

The islands' coral reefs are also threatened by changes in ocean temperature and acidity, which is weakening reef structures and causing mass bleaching in reefs around the world. Additionally, warmer waters are stressing fish and are causing the migration of more tropical Pacific fish species into the northern part of the Galápagos.

Residents of the Galápagos are likely to face reduced commercial fish stocks because of changes in ocean currents and upwelling areas, while damage to the unique flora and fauna will reduce the attractiveness of the islands to tourists - which in turn may lead to a decline in protection afforded to the islands' biodiversity by local communities as it becomes less important as a source revenue for them.

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.

The workshop concluded on a high note with the signature of the Declaration of Santa Cruz, where the Government of Ecuador together with partners and all participants agreed to support and invest in future climate change research for Galápagos and on the need to translate the recommendations proposed during this workshop into adaptive management actions to protect the Galápagos biodiversity and the islands' communities.