The goal of the talks is to create awareness of the need to protect native species and to reach agreement with those who carry out the many activities at the airport.
Land iguanas disappeared from Baltra Island shortly after World War II but approximately 70 iguanas had been transferred from Baltra to North Seymour in the 1930s. The Galapagos National Park, along with the Charles Darwin Research Station, began a breeding program for those iguanas and released the offspring on Baltra. There is now a thriving land iguana population on the island.
In recent months officials have reported that four land iguanas were run over by vehicles in the area surrounding the airport on Baltra Island, primarily by aircraft on the runway. This has caused concern in the community and especially from the environmental authority.
The Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS), in collaboration with the Charles Darwin Foundation, has invested substantial resources to ensure the recovery of the Baltra land iguana population over the past 24 years. Land iguanas disappeared from Baltra in the years following World War II. However, some 70 iguanas had been transferred from Baltra to North Seymour in the 1930s. A number of these iguanas were captured to form a captive breeding population, and as of 2008, when the captive breeding program was terminated due to its great success, over 700 land iguanas had been returned to Baltra. Control of introduced species on Baltra, carried out by the GNPS, has allowed successful reproduction and recruitment into the population. Today land iguanas are found throughout the island; their occurrence in and around the airport is very common.
“We are aware that all human activity can impact the natural world, even more so when it occurs within a protected area where native species are unaware of boundaries between the natural world and human-impacted areas. As the environmental authority in Galapagos, we have implemented specific actions to prevent, as far as possible, accidents such as those that occurred recently – though they are not frequent – do not happen in the future,” said Edwin Naula, Director of the GNPS.
One of the actions undertaken daily by park rangers, with the permission of the Civil Aviation Authority, is to walk the landing strip each morning to ensure that any iguanas that have entered the runway or are in nearby areas are transferred to more distant areas where they will be safe. However, no one is allowed on the runway shortly before the arrival of the planes, and therefore some land iguanas that moved onto the runway after the morning review have been run over by planes.
The GNPS also gives regular talks to the owners of vehicles on Baltra, with whom they have signed agreements that commit the drivers/owners to being responsible for caring for the flora and fauna of the island.
The planned construction of the new airport will include a ditch along the entire length of the airport to impede the entrance of land iguanas to the runway.