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Galapagos Island Volcano Erupts, Raises Fears for Region's Unique Pink Iguanas

May 26, 2015 11:04 AM EDT
One of the first images of the May 25 eruption of the Wolf Volcano in the Galapagos Islands. Lava flows are clearly visible on the slopes of the volcano.
(Photo : Twitter/Galapagos National Park)

A volcano on the Galapagos Islands erupted Monday, raising fears for the region's unique pink iguanas.

The Wolf Volcano, which is located on Isabela Island, the archipelago's largest, erupted for the first time in 33 years, spewing fire, smoke and lava. And while it poses no danger to people living on the island, wildlife advocates worry for the world's only population of pink iguanas. Though for now the critically endangered Conolophus marthae, also known as the Galapagos rosy iguana, are currently not in immediate danger, authorities say. Currently, the lava is flowing in a south-westerly direction, away from these rare reptiles.

The iguanas, "which share the habitat with yellow iguanas and giant Chelonoidis becki tortoises, are situated on the north-west flank, which raises hopes that they will not be affected," Galapagos National Park said in a Twitter statement.

A tourist boat passing by the uninhabited area was the first to alert authorities that the 1,707-meter (5,600-foot) volcano was erupting. Park officials then flew over the zone to assess the impact of the eruption. While it was a sight to be seen, with plumes of smoke rising into the air and licks of lava spewing out, fortunately there is no risk to tourists or residents on the island, who live in Puerto Villamil, some 70 miles (117km) south of the volcano.

"The eruption generated a very large column of smoke that rose more than six miles into the air, and later drifted toward the southwest part of the volcano," Sandro Vaca of Ecuador's Geophysics Institute told the AFP.

"However, there has been no effect on residents."

For pink iguanas, on the other hand, their fate is still unclear. Volcanic activity could continue for several days, according to Vaca, potentially causing more lava flows that could change direction. This would be bad news for the species, which is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.

But they are just one of several varieties of iguanas living on the Galapagos Islands, which have been declared a World Heritage Site. What's more, this ecosystem isn't just in danger from active volcanoes, but from increased tourism and the introduction of non-native species as well.

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