Conservationists are celebrating the creation of the first privately-owned nature reserve in the Galapagos, after a crowdfunding campaign raised $1.75 million (£1.35m) to save the fragile land from the clutches of developers.
Sale of the first section of the 568-acre site on San Cristobal, where Charles Darwin first went ashore in 1835, will be completed this week.
The remaining 318 acres are due to be incorporated into the new Galapagos Nature Reserve by the end of March, and a team of scientists will now begin the painstaking task of restoring the land, in the foggy highlands of the island, to its natural state.
The reserve, purchased this week, was being eyed hungrily by developers, keen to build hotels to welcome some of the 245,000 tourists who arrive each year.
“There’s this mystique about the Galapagos – the idea that the archipelago is a Robinson Crusoe-style wilderness,” said Paul Salaman, chief executive of Rainforest Trust, which organised the fundraising.
“But it’s actually been devastated.”
Now, it will be restored to its natural glory, protecting key habitat for the critically endangered Galapagos Petrel and the vulnerable Woodpecker Finch, two species endemic to the Galapagos Islands.
The Woodpecker Finch, one of the protected species has gained fame due to its capability of using a twigs and stick as a tool, earning it the nicknamed the carpenter finch.
The birds are among a wealth of species unique to the archipelago. Giant tortoises roam the islands, and Blue-footed Boobies – found only in the Galapagos, with their amazing turquoise feet – fascinate visitors. Marine iguanas, unique among modern lizards, also only live in the Galapagos; they can live on both land and in the sea, diving to depths of up to 30 feet.
The landscape in the Galapagos has been blighted by over 500 non-native plant species, such as eucalyptus trees from Australia, while the native wildlife has been threatened by the introduction of animals such as feral cats, rats and wild goats.
“The islands are fighting for their survival,” Mr Salaman added.
Mr Salaman, born in Australia but raised in the UK, says that his interest in conservation was sparked by watching Sir David Attenborough on television as a child. He has since met Sir David, and informed him of his inspiring role.