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A phrase that strikes fear in the heart of every would-be developer and exploiter of nature.

Legend has it that anyone who goes to the paradise-isles of the Galapagos, renowned for their diverse and unique flora and fauna, with the intent of exploiting he natural environment for personal profit, will be stricken by terrible things... A phenomenon the locals have entitled 'The Curse Of The Tortoise'.

And not without reason is the tortoise mentioned in the curse. For centuries, the rare giant tortoises that roamed the isles like prehistoric gentle monsters have been mercilessly hunted, killed, and robbed of a habitat.

The islanders point out that the spirit of these tortoises protects the isles, and point out a long string of disasters that have befallen those who paid no heed to the ominous warnings of the curse. A supporting example of this was the dangerous oil spill of the tanker jessica that spewed its 240 000 gallons of cargo oil into the pristine waters of the isle. Miraculously, stong currents drew the oil out, away form the reef, and little damage was done to the environment which would otherwise have suffered immensely.

"Strange things happen here. People have disappeared, ships have exploded, and now we've had the oil spill. It seems the Curse of the Tortoise has struck again," said Giovanni Moreno, 22, a farmer on Santa Cruz who used to ride the tortoises on his family's farm like horses as a small boy, "These islands belong to the tortoises, we are the ones who are visitors. We should respect them. For those who don't, beware the curse."