In 1831, a 20-year-old Charles Darwin left foggy England for the exotic shores of the Galápagos Islands. It was there that a plethora of finches — tiny, colorful songbirds — inspired him to formulate the theory of evolution that today informs our entire body of scientific knowledge.

Now, almost 200 years later, those finches and hundreds of other unique species in the Galápagos are being killed at an alarming rate thanks to increased tourism and human development. It’s a sad juxtaposition between “survival of the fittest” and the conservation of biodiversity that is so essential to our continued existence on this planet.

Instead of celebrating and cataloging the abundance of life, scientists working for the Charles Darwin Foundation on the Galápagos have become archivists of death, writes Carole Cadwalladr. Almost every day, they receive the carcass of an animal that’s been flattened by a bus or landed on by an aircraft bringing tourists to the Islands.

Even Darwin’s beloved finches are being affected by the influx of camera-toting visitors. Because so many people are setting up homes in the highlands there is traffic where none existed before. All these cars spell disaster for the finches, and some scientists estimate at least 10,000 are killed every year. To put this in context, there are only just over 100 left of the most endangered type: the mangrove finch.

And it’s not just the roadways causing problems. Cadwalladr reports that the harbor of Puerto Ayora, the main town on the island of Santa Cruz, is no longer the pristine oasis it used to be. “A filmy slick of oil shines on the surface of the water where hundreds of boats wait to receive the next intake of tourists. And beyond is a large town, a mess of shanty suburbs and half-finished hotels. The ground water is contaminated and there’s no proper sewerage. Dozens and dozens of Toyota pickups wait to ferry the tourists around,” she writes. Each one of these new arrivals brings with it multiple threats, including invasive species of flora and fauna.

Learn more about the Galápagos’ struggle to maintain balance by checking out this traveling art exhibit produced by 12 international artists who visited the islands.

Photo credit: Michael R. Perry/Flickr