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The Galapagos Islands were unknown until just a few centuries ago. Free of humans and predators for almost all of their history, the islands have developed some of the most unique life forms on the planet, highly adapted to their harsh surroundings and ecological isolation from the rest of the world. It was not until Charles Darwin's famous visit in 1835, which helped inspire the theory of evolution by natural selection, that the Galapagos Islands began to receive international recognition.
Today, the Galapagos Islands are known throughout the world for their scientific importance-for the giant tortoises and tiny finches that suggest the mechanism of evolution of life on Earth. The Galapagos Islands attract more than 100,000 visitors every year who come to experience the distinctive biodiversity and dramatic scenery.
Galapagos has also drawn thousands of new residents attracted by the promise of lucrative opportunities linked to the islands' marine and terrestrial wildlife. But the ever-growing human population is threatening the future of this archipelago.
With the influx of people come unfortunate consequences: unknown numbers of invasive plant and animal species are driving out native species, marine resources are being harvested faster than they can be replaced, and habitats are being degraded at alarming rates.
The good news is that the Galapagos Islands are still home to most of the species that lived there before the arrival of humans, and the Ecuadorian Government and the international conservation community recognize the importance of protecting the biodiversity of these island treasures.
The challenge is that available resources and conservation measures currently in place are not sufficient to protect Galapagos from the inevitable threats of the future.
Conservation programs must be planned with long-term vision for the future, a common set of goals for the land and sea, and high standards demanding nothing less than full protection of the islands of Galapagos.
While much remains to be done to preserve Galapagos for the future, the combined efforts of organizations at work in Galapagos and individuals and organizations in the US and other parts of the world have resulted in important signs of progress: