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Galapagos – a changing paradise

Since the end of the 19th century the Galapagos Archipelago is a prime example for studying the principles of evolution. In times of climate change and ocean acidification, the islands have moved into another research focus. Oceanographic conditions around the islands are quite special. They make the archipelago into a natural observatory for future scenarios, which show the influences of environmental changes oon the marine ecosystems.

On the 7th and 8th of May, the ZMT organized an international symposium in Bremen and invited Galapagos researchers from Europe and overseas to discuss new approaches. Fisheries biologist Matthias Wolff and geologist and director of the ZMT, Hildegard Westphal, hosted the meeting.

The Galapagos archipelago lies in the border area of oceanic influences from both hemispheres. From the North arrive the warm water masses of the Panama Bight leading to the growth of tropical corals. The South Eastern and Western part of the archipelago is influenced by cold water from the Humboldt and Cromwell currents. Organisms from temperate zones can be found there, like penguins and kelp. Thus, very different ecosystems and the species diversity of Galapagos have evolved.

Similar as in other upwelling systems, the waters around Galapagos coming from the depths of the oceans are rich in nutrients and CO2. Therefore, one of the focuses was on the impact of ocean acidification on calcifying organisms, like corals or echinoderms. Galapagos is regarded as a model for biocoenoses, which are under the influence of the increasing uptake of CO2 of the oceans.

Other focuses were the impact of climate oscillations on the Galapagos ecosystems, like the „El Niño“ phenomenon, as well as questions regarding the management of these natural riches. The Galapagos archipelago is one of the largest marine protected areas in the world, comprising an area of 138.000 km2. But the ever growing population and tourism development are taking a toll on the unique flora and fauna.

More information:

Prof. Matthias Wolff
Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Ecology
Tel: 0421 / 23800 – 127
Email: matthias.wolffe-mail addresszmt-bremen.de

Ocean turtle (Foto: D. Ruiz)

Reef at the Galapagos Archipelago (Foto: CDF)