El Niño having catastrophic effect on Galapagos
Question: I have been considering a scuba-diving trip to the Galapagos Islands this spring, but I'm concerned El Niño may be affecting sea life and dive conditions in general. Do you have any information on the impact of El Niño on the Galapagos?
In some places, the water temperature has raised significantly enough (3 to 5 degrees) to bleach the coral reefs. The temperature change shouldn't permanently damage the coral, but if it stays too high for much longer, there's a distinct possibility it will.
Another problem that isn't necessarily affecting the sea life, but is affecting the islands themselves, is the explosion of vegetation as a result of the hot and sticky weather that's hovering over the islands.
This time of year the cool season, known as the "garua," is supposed to come through, but this year the hot rains — which usually don't start until February — started back in November and haven't let up since. As a result, fire ants, biting flies, and feral rats, cats, and goats have been able to prosper at the expense of the islands' native species.
Heavy rains have also prevented many seabirds from nesting, and scientists fear the rare Galapagos penguins will be drastically reduced as a result. In previous El Niño years the number of flightless cormorants dropped by 45 percent, the number of Galapagos penguins dropped by 80 percent, and 70 percent of the iguanas starved. The word in the scientific community is 1998 "is going to be a catastrophe."