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A Volcano In the Galapagos Islands Is Threatening Precious Species

Pink iguanas, marine life could be harmed by lava flows on Isabela Island

(Tui De Roy/Minden Pictures/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands are famed for their biodiversity and beauty. Now, the islands that inspired the likes of Charles Darwin and that contain precious, rare species are being threatened by the eruption of a long-inactive volcano.

Experts are warning that endangered species on land and sea could be harmed by lava from Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island, which erupted Monday, reports Reuters. Of particular concern are the island’s pink iguanas, a recently-discovered species that Galapagos National Park warns is the world’s only population. Scientists discovered the unusual pink-skinned creatures in 2009, which had been rumored to exist but never confirmed on the island. Conolophus marthae have been declared “critically endangered” due to their tiny population (according to the IUCN Red List, there are fewer than 200 adults in existence).

Reuters reports that lava is currently flowing down the southern face of the volcano, while the pink iguanas’ habitat is on the mountain’s north face. Other threatened animals on the island include the Mangrove finch and giant tortoises.

The National Museum of Natural History’s Global Vulcanism Program’s last bulletin for the volcano was filed in 1982, when the eruption “had little effect on flora and fauna.” Local authorities hope that history will repeat itself this time — they tell Reuters that they expect animals on the island to escape harm. But sea creatures may not be so lucky: Reuters writes that Ecuador’s Geophysics Institute has warned that lava flow could reach the sea and harm marine life.

While scientists watch and wait, Galapagos National Park is posting photos of the volcano’s eruption, like these from Diego Paredes:

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