Thursday, November 03, 2005

Tourists attracted to volcanic eruptions

Fiery lava flows have attracted hundreds of tourists to the largest of the Galapagos Islands, less than a week after a volcano began erupting, officials said Saturday.

The number of tourists to visit seahorse-shaped island Isabela has been restricted after roughly 200 people visited the island each day last week, Susanna Villagomez, an Isabela municipal official said.

The 1.6-kilometre-high Sierra Negra volcano began erupting Oct. 22 but the island's unique flora and fauna, including the famed Galapagos tortoises for which the archipelago is named, were unharmed.

Still, tourists have been eager to go close to Sierra Negra's crater.

"Every two hours, a group of a maximum of 32 tourists is sent out, taking all the necessary precautions," Villagomez said.

"The people want to go at night because the sight that Sierra Negra offers is impressive," she added.

Pablo Samaniega, a vulcanologist at Ecuador's Geophysics Institute said the eruption shows no signs of stopping and on average, these eruptions can last four weeks.
The last time Sierra Negra erupted was in 1979.

The Galapagos Islands, located 1,000 kilometres off Ecuador's Pacific coast, were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979 for their exotic wildlife, such as marine iguanas and blue-footed boobies. The islands' rich biodiversity inspired Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

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