Ocean warming and human activity have devastated the coastal wildlife of the Galapagos Islands, scientists have warned.
Several species of marine plants and animals are believed to have become extinct and many others are seriously threatened, a new report reveals.
Researchers blame the impact of rising ocean temperatures coupled with fishing and tourism.
Once abundant coral reefs and kelp beds had been wiped out in just a few decades, said the scientists from US-based Conservation International.
Species that were previously plentiful such as the Galapagos black-spotted damselfish, the 24-rayed sunstar and the Galapagos stringweed were now thought to have vanished.
Dozens of others, including the Galapagos penguin, were within “a hairsbreadth of annihilation”.
Based on criteria laid down by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List, two species were “probably” extinct, another seven “possibly” extinct, and a further 36 “vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered”.
Over-fishing had led to an expansion of sea urchin populations, which in turn had upset the delicate web of marine life in the islands, said the scientists.
The researchers warned the Galapagos was a “canary in a coalmine” indicating what the world could expect from global warming.
Co-author Scott Henderson, Conservation International’s regional marine conservation director in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, said: “If marine species are going extinct in one of the most famous and most cherished world heritage sites, what is happening in the rest of the world that has been so little studied?
“It is time we recognise that the ocean has limits just as the rain forests of the Amazon, the rivers of Europe, the ice sheets of the Arctic and the grasslands of the great plains.
For seas to thrive we need increased efforts to slow climate change, more, bigger and better managed marine protected areas (MPAs) and better managed fishing activities outside MPAs.”