Sea lions find refuge in Ecuador's Galapagos Islands

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Ecuador, Jun 10 (EFE).- Tourists strolling along the seaside boulevard in Puerto Baquerizo, a city on Ecuador's Galapagos Islands, are often surprised to find sea lions sunning themselves nearby, but the majority of them do not realize that the endangered species has one of its most important refuges in the archipelago.

The sea lion population in the archipelago has fallen by 50 percent over the past 30 years, a report released by Galapagos National Park in December 2012 said.

"There is great concern about the future of the Galapagos sea lion," a species found exclusively on the Pacific islands and included in the threatened list of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the report said.

A total of 1,496 sea lions currently live on San Cristobal Island, one of the main gathering sites for the marine mammals.

The 2011 count had found 1,398 sea lions on the island, the report said.

Between 14,000 and 16,000 sea lions are estimated to live on the islands, Galapagos National Park San Cristobal technical unit director Carlos Ortega told Efe, citing a 2000 report.

The Galapagos Islands are located about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) west of the coast of continental Ecuador and were declared a World Natural Heritage Site in 1978.

Some 95 percent of the territory's 8,000 sq. kilometers (a little over 3,000 sq. miles) constitutes a protected area that is home to more than 50 species of animals and birds found nowhere else on the planet.

The islands were made famous by 19th-century British naturalist Charles Darwin, whose observations of life on the islands contributed greatly to his theory of the evolution of species.