The Galapagos islands feature some of the rarest wildlife and youngest land masses on Earth, drawing visitors from around the world to see its treasures both topside and underwater. In the last two decades, the Galapagos Islands experienced a tourism boom that more than tripled to some 150,000 visitors annually, while at the same time the number of people living on the islands — mostly from mainland Ecuador — has climbed to 30,000. Visitors staying on the islands make up 39 percent of tourism, up from nothing 10 years ago. This boom prompted the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to add the Galapagos to the World Heritage Sites in Danger list in 2007. The decision was a stern call to action, as well as a blow to a country’s pride and prestige.
This summer, the islands were removed from the UNESCO Danger List, although the move was considered controversial. The organization’s scientific advisers said it was premature given the threats posed by an expanding human presence. Still, Unesco’s report found that progress had been made in controlling the biggest menace to native animals and plants: invasive species, which are largely introduced by humans. The Ecuadorean government has imposed various measures to combat this threat and others in an effort to maintain a tourist industry that does not jeopardize the future of the islands.