Saturday, June 07, 2008

Galapagos Island's volcano eruption threatens giant tortoises

A volcano in the Galapagos islands spewed molten lava, threatening 100-year-old giant tortoises living around the crater, island officials said on Friday.

The 5,541-feet- (1,690-meter-) high Cerro Azul mountain started spewing lava on Thursday after 10 years of inactivity on the largest island of the Galapagos archipelago, which is formed from volcanoes thrusting out from the Pacific Ocean.

"If the tortoises are in (actual) danger we will have to airlift them out as we did in 1998," said Eliecer Cruz, the islands' governor and a conservationist.

"This is a natural event and we should let nature go its course, but because they have been almost exterminated by humans we have to do something."

In the last eruption in 1998, several rare tortoises were burned by lava flows spurting from the mountain.

"I could see the red glow from my house last night," said Jacqueline Brunf, a New York native who owns a tour operator business on another of the islands. "It was really strange we didn't feel anything or hear anything."

The Galapagos islands are part of Ecuador and lie 600 miles
west of the South American mainland.

English naturalist Charles Darwin developed his evolution theory after studying their unique animal population.

On Friday, National Park workers flew over the volcano to assess the size of the eruption and whether lava was flowing near tortoise nests. The islands are considered one of the world's most active volcanic sites.

The islands are scarcely populated, but the United Nations last year said the Galapagos' pristine environment was in danger due to booming tourism and immigration.

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