Ecuador's government has stopped allowing foreign cruise ships to anchor off the coast of the Galapagos Islands and shuttle their passengers ashore to view the giant tortoises, iguanas and other animals studied by Charles Darwin.

Earlier this year, passengers on two cruise ships - Cunard's 736-passenger Vistafjord and Paquet French Cruises' 530-passenger Mermoz - were allowed to visit the Galapagos for the first time. The ships stopped near the shore and smaller boats transported passengers throughout the chain of islands about 600 miles west of mainland Ecuador.But in May, Ecuador's Institute of Forestry and Natural Areas, which administers the park, ruled that passengers aboard foreign cruise ships will no longer be able to stop at the Galapagos Islands. Government officials said the islands were not able to handle the hundreds of tourists on the large ships and that the practice was hurting local boat operators. Jorge Barba, director of the forestry institute, said the new rule would be in effect for the next three years, at which time it will be re-evaluated.

Environmentalists and small-boat owners supported the decision, arguing that the large number of tourists on cruise ships would overwhelm the islands' fragile ecosystem and result in more commercialization in the area. Government officials said the permits granted earlier this year had been revoked.