Galapagos sees record rise in penguins, flightless cormorants | Latin America

A decline in tourism and weather conditions related to La Nina is believed to have helped bird species in the remote archipelago.

The population of Galapagos penguins and flightless cormorants, two species endemic to the remote islands, has seen record increases, according to research published on Friday.

With a size of up to 35 centimeters, the Galapagos penguin is one of the smallest penguin species in the world. The cormorants on the islands are the only ones that have lost their ability to fly. Instead, they developed diving skills.

“The number of cormorants has reached a record number according to historical data from 1977, while the number of penguins has been highest since 2006,” said a statement from the Galapagos National Park, which carried out the census.

The population of the Galapagos penguins, the only ones living on the Earth’s equator, increased from 1,451 in 2019 to 1,940 in 2020.

The number of flightless cormorants rose from 1,914 to 2,220 in the same period.

The COVID-19 pandemic has kept tourists away from the Galapagos Islands and helped the species that live in the archipelago [File: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP]The Galapagos Islands are 1,000 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador and are home to species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

The study was carried out in September by the Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation. The main colonies on the islands of Isabela and Fernandina and on the Marielas Islands in the west of the archipelago have been classified as natural heritage.

Paulo Proano, Ecuador’s minister for the environment and water, said the census results reflect the “good health of the population” of the Galapagos birds.

The park said the presence of the La Nina climatic phenomenon, which helps provide more food for the birds, has contributed to the increase in their populations.

Another factor was the coronavirus pandemic, which has reduced disruption to their nesting sites due to declining tourism, the park added.

The islands, which the English scientist Charles Darwin used as a natural laboratory for his theory of species evolution, take their name from the giant tortoises that live there.