Galapagos eruption no threat to giant turtles

A giant tortoise is seen on the Galapagos islands April 29, 2007. A volcano in the Galapagos islands spewed molten lava, threatening 100-year-old giant tortoises living around the crater, island officials said on Friday. REUTERS/Guillermo Granja

QUITO (Reuters) - A volcano in the Galapagos islands that spewed molten lava is not a threat to 100-year-old giant tortoises living around the crater, island officials said on Friday.

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

“There is no threat to the local human population ... nor for the tortoise population because lava rivers are flowing in the opposite direction,” the Galapagos Park said in a statement after its rangers flew over the mountain to assess the eruption.

In the last eruption in 1998, rare tortoises were airlifted from around the crater on helicopters to escape the lava, but several massive turtles were burned.

“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.

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.

Reporting by Alonso Soto; editing by Patricia Zengerle