Attenborough and Bellamy at war over Galapagos plan

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The Independent Online

Two leading naturalists clashed yesterday over a radical proposal for the construction of a monorail linking the islands of the Galapagos archipelago.

Professor David Bellamy described his vision of a monorail as a means of rescuing the islands from financial difficulties while preserving the ecological heritage of the site.

His proposal was immediately opposed by Sir David Attenborough, the television film maker, who dismissed his idea as misguided and said a monorail would cause the eventual destruction of the islands.

The Galapagos archipelago, a cluster of 12 islands situated 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, have long been hailed a world-wide model for eco-tourism. Home to a unique array of flora and fauna, it was here in 1835 that Charles Darwin first witnessed the adaptive processes of evolution. Today, tourist numbers to the Galapagas National Park are strictly controlled, with only 85,000 visitors to the region last year. However, its preservation has long been an issue of concern.

Professor Bellamy, president of the Galapagos Conservation Trust, said he believed steps had to be taken to ensure the future of the islands by attracting more tourists without damaging its fragile eco-system.

"Mass tourism, if it is done properly, is doing marvels around the world," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "The Galapagos Trust and the Darwin Institute are doing marvellous things. They are getting 85,000 tourists through there but they are strapped for cash."

"The first sky rail went through a World Heritage Site in Queensland. They go through the rainforest on totally silent gondolas and the money goes to the locals. I do actually think a skyrail put in the right place where the walkers wouldn't see it would put a lot of the money in and solve the problem."

His ideas were immediately criticised as "absolutely misguided" by Sir David, who told Today: "I believe that a monorail wouldn't bring the benefit and would actually more or less destroy the islands."

Sir David later elaborated his concerns over the proposal while expressing his surprise at the position of Professor Bellamy. "He is a dear old friend but I am surprised at what he is proposing," he told The Independent. "There are no positive aspects whatsoever to this proposal and it would spoil the wilderness of the Galapagos Islands. The reason the islands are so wonderful is because of the primal nature and you see it first hand and not sitting on a bench whizzing past on a monorail."

The proposal was also rejected by the Galapagos Conservation Trust, despite the fact that Professor Bellamy remains president. Leonor Stjepic, the director of the trust, said she believed that Professor Bellamy had spoken in a personal capacity. "This was David's idea and I think it is just an off-the-cuff idea that reflects his own personal opinion ..." she said. "The Galapagos Islands are not just a pretty place for tourists to visit. It's a place of great historical importance and of innovative scientific research."