Project Floreana is a 5-year program to restore the Island of Floreana, Galapagos, to a balanced ecosystem using a combination of community based conservation and adaptive management techniques. The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) aim to stimulate a collective vision for Floreana’s future and provide employment, training, and education for the community. Water, waste, and energy issues that affect the community will be addressed, and priority conservation areas will be determined and effective management methods developed for these areas based on field surveys and remote sensing methods. Prevention and management of invasive species will be carried out through community action, and the control of rats and cats will allow for the reintroduction of locally extinct species.
This project will link the entire human population (just over 100 people) to the protection and restoration of their island and provide an important model for restoration of other inhabited islands. Donors across the US and worldwide will provide the funding for a long-term successful restoration of Floreana Island and a sustainable future for island residents.
Galapagos was placed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Danger due to the direct and indirect effects of people. Ninety-seven percent of the archipelago is protected as an uninhabited National Park, but increasing population pressure in the agricultural and urban zones of the four inhabited islands and the concurrent increased impact of invasive species are leading to significant degradation of the unique natural ecosystems. The effect of introduced species has long been recognized as one of the worst threats to oceanic archipelagos worldwide, but it is only recently that people have realized that Galapagos is no longer an untouched paradise and is also threatened.
The GNPD and CDF have worked intensively to remove some of the key introduced species from uninhabited islands and, as a result, these islands are in a much better condition than they were 50 years ago. However, the inhabited islands continue to degrade. In addition, there is a low environmental awareness in the community of the need for conservation action, and strong pressure for the increasing development of the islands.
Floreana is the smallest of the 4 inhabited islands in Galapagos. It was the first island in the archipelago to be inhabited, and shows significant habitat degradation and the highest level of species loss of any island in Galapagos. There have been two global extinctions — the Floreana giant tortoise Geochelone elephantopus and a cucumber vine Sicyos villosus — and 8 other species unique to Galapagos are no longer found on Floreana. These include the Floreana mockingbird and Galapagos Racer that are now restricted to two of the islets surrounding Floreana — Champion and Gardener. The loss of the Floreana tortoise is of particular concern as tortoises are ecosystem engineers, playing a key part in the formation and maintenance of the environment of Galapagos. This island has been heavily impacted by introduced species that have destroyed some of the unique habitats once present on the island, leaving the remaining biota remain critically threatened.
Invasive species management is not straightforward and requires a long-term commitment, resources, and an adaptive management approach. It calls on a suite of techniques ranging from prevention (through quarantine), to control, eradication, and restoration. On an inhabited island, this work cannot be undertaken without the collaboration of the community. This kind of collaboration has not been achieved in Galapagos yet; to date, invasive species management has used rules and regulations rather than building understanding and commitment in the community to ensure appropriate and sustainable action.
Today Floreana has a small human population of 120 people, most of whom are subsistence farmers; unlike other islands, the population has not seen a large increase in immigration. This is mainly due to limited resources such as water, power, and waste disposal/treatment, as well as the difficulty of access and a lack of jobs. In addition, natural resource management on Floreana is not advanced, and new and better practices need to be established. Finding sustainable solutions to these issues affects people’s livelihoods, making this project highly relevant to the community.
The Future of Floreana
Because of its small size and small population, Floreana Island offers a unique opportunity to develop an integrated approach to restoration, by engaging the community in looking for practical solutions to many of the problems affecting the island. The project will use local, national, and international technical expertise to help in the development of efficient and effective strategies for the long-term sustainability of restoration programs and livelihoods. This will not only protect and increase the conservation value of the island, but will link the entire population of the island with action to help prevent further degradation. Key aspects of the island’s biodiversity and ecosystem function will be restored, and lessons learned from Project Floreana will provide a useful model for other inhabited islands.
It is hoped that Floreana can be restored to a state more similar to that which Charles Darwin would have observed on his voyage to Galapagos in 1835.
Main Goals of Project Floreana in 2009, 2010, and 2011:
- Goal 1: To understand and address social issues and aspirations of the community; develop a participative plan for the long term economic, environmental, and social sustainability of Floreana Island
- Goal 2: To increase the efficiency and effectiveness of conservation management in Floreana
- Goal 3: To decrease the risk of further invasive species problems in Floreana
- Goal 4: To mitigate or eliminate the main threats to native wildlife, allowing for establishment of self-sustaining populations of locally extinct species
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