Galapagos bans fireworks to save wildlife

Ecuador has banned most fireworks in the archipelago, just days before New Year's celebrations. Conservationists say the explosions cause damage to the islands' wildlife. Germans, too, have been urged to limit fireworks.

Ecuador's government has banned the use and sale of most fireworks on the Galapagos Islands to protect the archipelago's unique fauna.

The ban comes just days before New Year's celebrations that traditionally see fireworks set off across Latin America and the rest of the world. Fireworks that produce light but no noise have been exempted from the ban.

Conservationists have said the sounds of explosions cause elevated heart rates, nervous stress and anxiety among animals on the islands, which are home to several endemic species including iguanas and tortoises.

Nature and Environment | 06.10.2018

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Read more: Tourism: Boon or threat for the Galapagos?

Tortoise meets tourist on the Galapagos

Forged in fire

This aerial view of Isla Sombrero Chino reveals the Galapagos' geological origins. Up to 5 million years ago, magma bubbling up from a hot spot in the Earth's crust cooled and hardened into these remote islands. They lie nearly 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) off the Ecuadorian mainland in South America.

Tortoise meets tourist on the Galapagos

Perfectly adapted

Secluded by their distance from other lands, plants and animals on the islands evolved independently - meaning the Galapagos are rich in endemic species, or those that can be found nowhere else on earth. This lava cactus is one, perfectly adapted to thrive on inhospitable lava fields where very few other organisms survive.

Tortoise meets tourist on the Galapagos

Water-loving lizard

One of the most unusual of the archipelago's endemic speces is the marine iguana - the only lizard in the world that makes a life foraging in seawater. They graze on algae, and can dive up to 9 meters deep. But the marine iguana is at risk from human-introduced pathogens - as well as pigs, dogs and cats, which were brought to the islands by people and, given the chance, will feast on iguana eggs.

Tortoise meets tourist on the Galapagos

Depending on each other to survive

Red rock crabs are not found exclusively on the Galapagos Islands. But the local population has a unique adaptation: The crabs have been observed feeding on ticks from the islands' marine iguanas, in a symbiotic relationship thought to benefit both lizard and crustacean.

Tortoise meets tourist on the Galapagos

Marathon fliers

Frigatebirds are found across the tropics, favoring remote islands where they breed in colonies of up to 5,000 birds. A common sight on the Galapagos Islands, they can fly thousands of kilometers at a time. Yet one of the archipelago's two frigatebird species - the magnificent frigatebird - is now recognized as genetically distinct from relatives elsewhere.

Tortoise meets tourist on the Galapagos

Gentle giants

Giant tortoises survive only on two remote archipelagos, the Galapagos and Aldabra in the Indian Ocean. The lumbering reptiles can live for more than 100 years. Hunting reduced Galapagos tortoise numbers from around 250,000 in the 16th century to just 3,000 in the 1970s. Conservation efforts have seen populations rebound, and 20,000 now inhabit in the islands.

Tortoise meets tourist on the Galapagos

Land lightly

Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the Galapagos each year. But careful steps are taken to minimize their impact on biodiversity. Cruise ships anchor offshore, and visitors can only get on to the islands by dinghy. They're not allowed to bring food, or touch local wildlife. Most Galapagos animals have no fear of humans, because they evolved without exposure to predators.

Tortoise meets tourist on the Galapagos

Playing to the crowd

Galapagos sea lions breed exclusively on the remote archipelago and on Isla de la Plata, just off the Ecuadorian mainland. Their loud bark, playful nature and agile grace in the water make these gregarious animals a favorite with tourists. They have little fear of humans - but once in the water must take care not to end up as lunch for sharks or orcas.

'Gift for Ecuador and the world'

The new rule bars the entry, sale and distribution of any fireworks that cause noise on the archipelago's 13 main islands and at least 17 islets that lie about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) off the coast of Ecuador.

"This is a gift for Ecuador and the world," Lorena Tapia, the president of the Government Council of Galapagos, wrote on Twitter.

The campaign to limit the use of fireworks on the Galapagos Islands was launched in 2017. Earlier this year, single-use plastics were also banned on the archipelago.

Germans urged to limit fireworks

Meanwhile, in Germany, the Environment Agency has urged people to refrain from private fireworks on New Year's Eve in order to help prevent a drastic increase in fine dust pollution.

"If you use fewer fireworks on New Year's Eve — or do without them altogether — you can help to reduce fine dust pollution," the agency's head, Maria Krautzberger, told newspaper Rheinische Post. "It's also better for health and results in less waste on the streets and in the environment."

The agency estimates that around 4,500 tons of fine dust are blown into the air all over Germany on New Year's Eve, with levels on January 1 higher than at any other time during the year.

"This corresponds to about 15.5 percent of the amount of particulate matter emitted by road traffic each year," Krautzberger said, referring to the miniscule pollutants that pose the greatest threat to human health.

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