A team of Israeli experts from Ben-Gurion University is working to preserve biodiversity on the Galapagos Islands.

An Israeli team of experts hailing from Ben-Gurion University has signed a cooperation agreement with the National Directorate of the Galapagos Islands National Park during a recent visit to the tropical island archipelago , with the goal of assisting the local authorities with preserving biodiversity on the island. The Galápagos Islands are considered to be an international treasure when it comes to biodiversity, since unlike many other tropical islands, like the Canary Islands and Hawaii, the island has sustained significantly less ecological damage since it was only settled by humans relatively recently.

“In spite of excellent management and meticulous policing of ecotourism, a full-blown ecological disaster is unfolding before our eyes, inflicted by the devastating effects of invasive species,” says Professor Ariel Novoplansky of Ben Gurion University’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research (BIDR). He stated that the island’s local fauna and flora is threatened by the destructive effects of invasive species that were brought to the island due to the rising local demands on the island causing harm to the biodiversity of a rare ecosystem that can’t be found any where else on the entire planet.

“The project is based on a new premise, whereby agricultural development is not necessarily used as a tool for increasing food production, fighting poverty and improving the standard of living,” says Novoplansky. “In fragile places like the Galapagos, sensible conservation strategies may take advantage of carefully crafted agricultural practices that combat and prevent the destructive effects of invasive species, the fate of which we are all so anxious about.” A joint Israeli-Ecuadorian team will explore ways to rehabilitate the ecosystem on the Galapagos Islands, in addition to developing agricultural methods and water technologies that will strengthen local agriculture, without depending on imports from mainland Ecuador that bring invasive species into the island.

According to Tzapit News Agency, “The Galapagos Islands belong to Ecuador and lie on the equator, about 1,000 kilometers off the west coast of South America. Since Ecuador annexed the Galapagos 180 years ago and only started to settle it less than a hundred years ago, the islands have been undergoing ecological changes. In spite of over 50 years of dedicated management and conservation of most of the area and its surrounding waters by the Galapagos National Park authority, Ecuador is looking to urgently change its conservation policies.” This is why Israeli experts were sought after and invited to come to the island.

In addition to Prof. Novoplansky, the Israeli team consisted of Prof. Noam Weisbrod of BGU’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research; Prof. Uriel Safriel of BIDR’s Center of International Conventions; Dr. Alon Ben-Gal of the Volcani Center of the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture; and Prof. Aliza Fleischer from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The Galapagos Islands are considered to be ‘natural laboratories’, where the special ecological conditions and extreme isolation create amazingly beautiful biodiversity.

By Rachel Avraham, staff writer for United With Israel