Mikaela Walsh, 4ocean Research Analyst

One of nature's most conserved regions may face the deadly reality of plastic pollution. What does this mean for the unique organisms here?

The Galapagos are a series of islands around 600 miles off the coast of South America that erupted in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. This makes these islands secluded from large human populations and other organisms. These islands are predominantly conserved for scientists to observe nature's beautiful display of the immersion of adaptations. Only four of the thirteen islands have human settlements with 97% of the land preserved for conservation and observation.

The Galapagos is home to many unique organisms that have specific adaptations depending on which island they reside on and are distinctive from organisms found outside of the Galapagos. The biodiversity that inhabits this region is exceptionally vast and dense. They are home to the giant tortoise as well as many different species of iguanas and lizards, including marine iguanas which swim in the ocean, and many diverse species of land and sea birds. These animals have been able to flourish due to human isolation for an extremely long time.


A famous scientist, known as Charles Darwin, first made observations of natural selection with marine birds. He observed the islands’ Finches beak sizes varying between the different islands. He predicted that these finches had certain beak adaptations to assist with the different islands' environments. Some of the finches have long skinny beaks to catch insects from trees while others have a bigger beak to be able to crush seeds. Darwin's observations of the finches in the Galapagos Islands were a turning point for evolutionary science and his theory of natural selection is continuously studied globally.

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The biodiversity that inhabits these islands are incredibly important to biologists and scientists due to the immense opportunities for observation. Since they're so remote, plastic pollution doesn't affect these organisms, right? Unfortunately, no. Researchers examining San Cristobal, one of the islands of the Galapagos, showed that plastic debris is making its way to the Islands of the Galapagos. They found that in all the marine habitats, plastic debris was found and 52% of the marine invertebrates had consumed plastic. The researchers scored 27 species in this environment to be at high risk for plastic ingestion and entanglement. This raises concern for scientists across the globe due to the importance of the biodiversity and opportunities for observation in this region.


The Galapagos are viewed as remarkably unique in the scientific research field, therefore scientists are determined to keep this region of islands unaltered by human impact. After determining that plastic pollution had made its way to the Galapagos islands, researchers wanted to explore which animals were being affected. Upon further examination, they found a high risk of entanglement of this plastic debris affecting green sea turtles, marine iguanas, whale sharks, spinetail mobulas, and medium ground finches. Furthermore, the animals that had a high risk for ingestion of plastic are Santa Cruz tortoises, green sea turtles, marine iguanas, black striped salemas, and Galapagos sea lions. This is worrisome because some of these organisms are only found in the Galapagos islands.

The Galapagos Islands are one of the most important locations for marine biology and observation of the natural world as this is one of the only places left on earth that has virtually no human interference. This raises the question: where is all this plastic coming from? Us. The Galapagos being highly protected for research indicates that most of the plastic debris that the organisms are dealing with aren’t coming from the Galapagos Islands themselves. The ocean plastic crisis is utterly detrimental to all of our marine ecosystems, but this region needs to be critically maintained to ensure scientists are able to continue to observe the organisms that inhabit it. 

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Wed Oct 4 2023  |  4Ocean Team
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