Since the 2007-2008 issue, Galapagos Conservancy has been funding and editing the Galapagos Report—a compendium of articles on social science, public policy, and biophysical information to provide scientists, administrators, and policy makers with the breadth and depth of information and knowledge they need to make cogent, lasting management decisions for Galapagos. The Galapagos Report, while technical, is eminently readable and features an array of articles on current and emerging issues facing Galapagos today.
The twenty-seven articles in this year’s edition focus on knowledge management and citizen science, human systems in Galapagos, tourism, marine management, and ecosystem restoration. Over the next several weeks, I will be highlighting some articles of interest with the hopes that readers will dive more deeply into these and other topics contained in the Galapagos Report 2011-2012.
An interesting look at the resident Galapagos population is contained in an article by Granda, González, and Calvopiña entitled “Measuring Poverty in Galapagos.” Employing common demographic metrics, the authors evaluated households on the three main inhabited islands using both social and economic indicators of poverty and access to goods and services.
According to the 2010 census, the population of Galapagos is 25,124 inhabitants, which includes people living in collective dwellings such as hotels, prisons, military barracks, etc. Poverty calculations were performed only for the 23,114 individuals living in homes.
The data showed that just over half the population of Galapagos (52%) is in poverty, possessing at least one or more characteristics of poverty as defined by the survey instruments. To place this figure into context, out of the approximately 14.3 million inhabitants counted in all of Ecuador in the 2010 Census, about 8.6 million (60%) were in poverty using the same metrics. Two out of every five people in Galapagos belong to households without access to a public water system or to an adequate waste-water system (either a sewer system or septic tank). One in five people in Galapagos share a bedroom with more than two other people.
The greatest needs in both the rural and urban areas are improving the coverage of public water supply systems and ensuring that houses provide proper sanitary conditions by building septic tanks until the public sewage system is expanded. In urban areas, improvements in housing infrastructure should be promoted to increase the number of bedrooms or to increase the housing supply to avoid critical overcrowding, which leads to higher levels of disease.
Using metrics designed to evaluate economic buying power and consumption/availability of common goods (food, clothing, education) the authors concluded that there is no extreme poverty in Galapagos. All of the inhabitants have enough monetary resources to allow them to guarantee at least the minimum required food intake. However, 8% do not have sufficient resources to enable them to meet basic demands for other goods or services, indicating that there is a vulnerable portion of the population that is very close to the poverty threshold.
I was particularly interested in the authors’ work as it challenges the long-held, and apparently anecdotal, information that the province of Galapagos has the highest per capita income, and therefore the lowest poverty rate. While it may be true that there is significant wealth in Galapagos, it appears also to be true that there is significant poverty throughout the archipelago. This issue of Galapagos Report, as well as past issues, looks at tourism as a significant economic driver, and we have explored in past issues the “democratization” of tourism opportunities in the islands, opening more opportunities for local actors to benefit directly from tourism dollars. It would be interesting, based on the data here, to determine what the incremental “new” dollars have done to the poverty rate. Would it be worse without this relatively new infusion of local tourism dollars? Would it impact these populations at all? Are we seeing the same actors benefit despite the new modalities?
Two articles in the upcoming Galapagos Report look at the economic impact of alternative activities in the marine and fishing sector. It will be interesting to view those economic models in light of these new data on persistent poverty in Galapagos.
More detailed data and an in-depth discussion of the various survey instruments, as well as the author’s additional conclusions, can be found in the article “Measuring Poverty in Galapagos” in Galapagos Report 2011-2112.]]>
Sandy Hausman of WVTF public radio in Roanoke, VA recently discussed the conservation challenges associated with tourism as well as the destructive history of introduced species on the delicate ecosystems of Galapagos. GC’s President, Johannah Barry, spoke with Sandy about the goat eradication efforts and the importance of protecting this unique archipelago.
Listen to the WVTF Living Laboratory program
Also interviewed on the program were a Washington & Lee University professor emeritus, Dr. Cleve Hickman, and W&L alumnus, Scott Henderson. Cleve taught at Washington and Lee from 1967 to 1994 and has been researching the Galapagos since 1985, focusing on the systematics and distribution of the marine invertebrate fauna. As part of a W&L class, Cleve travelled to Galapagos with nearly 150 students. Since his retirement, he has authored four seminal field guides on sea stars, molluscs, crustaceans, and corals for the Galapagos Marine Life Series. GC’s Cleve Hickman Endowment for Marine Research is named in his honor and funded largely by his former students. Scott Henderson, W&L Class of 1987, participated in one of Cleve’s trips to Galapagos and is now the regional marine conservation director of Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape as part of Conservation International‘s South American Division. He has served as a consultant, researcher, and NGO staff in Latin America and parts of Africa. Both Cleve and Scott are long-time supporters of Galapagos Conservancy and have lent their expertise to GC staff and partners to ensure the continued protection of the Galapagos Islands.]]>
Phyllis Morelli from Brooklyn writes “My trip to Galapagos in 1986 with Brooklyn Botanical Gardens was a highlight of my life and I vowed to contribute every year – and I have.” Her contributions, as well as yours, help to preserve this extraordinary archipelago, and we are grateful.
Many of the letters that we receive mention the ecological importance of the islands and the need for the native species to be preserved, but few of them put it as eloquently as Paul and Gudrun Wright from Albuquerque.
“As a living laboratory of endemic Galapagos’ species, these islands offer a unique and urgent opportunity for preserving and restoring this ancient ecosystem for its own sake. The world is a better place while taking care of the Galapagos Islands.”
The staff at Galapagos Conservancy would add that “taking care of the Galapagos Islands” is an important endeavor, made even more rewarding by the encouragement we receive from our friends and supporters.
Galapagos Conservancy Staff
For 50 years, conservation in Galapagos followed what I would call a “silo” mentality. It was species driven, population driven, and the science behind it — at least at the Research Station — was very compartmentalized. Over the years, as conservation management evolved, the concept of ecosystem restoration took a stronger hold. It would be a stretch to link this evolution in thinking to George, but it is true that as the likelihood of George’s natural reproduction ebbed, and conversations about cloning came and went, the virtue of looking at the health of whole systems, rather than an individual or a particular species, made sense.
It is fitting then that we contemplate the dramatic and very positive steps that science for conservation has taken in Galapagos over the last twenty years. Emerging from the larger Project Isabela, Project Pinta sought to bring back an island-wide ecosystem balance between plants and native herbivores. With the last Pinta tortoise removed from Pinta, the Galapagos National Park Service, after long debate and informed by good science, placed sterilized hybrid tortoises on Pinta in 2010 with the plan to add a reproductive population once it was confirmed that the resident population was thriving. What science was to learn from concurrent genetic work, funded in part by Galapagos Conservancy, was that Wolf Volcano on the island of Isabela had some tortoises with Pinta ancestry. The potential yet exists to form a Pinta breeding program over the next decade. Wolf Volcano turned out also to be the home of even more Floreana hybrids, long thought to be extinct in the archipelago.
Not only has genetic work changed conservation dynamics, but advances in other technologies have changed the way we do island-wide eradications. Along with strong science on the management of target and non-target species, restoration efforts to eradicate introduced rodents will move forward this November on Pinzón Island and Plaza Sur. Deploying rat bait by helicopter, using techniques forged during Project Isabela, Pinzón will be the largest island in Galapagos from which rats will be eliminated, and its native tortoise and bird populations will once again thrive in the absence of introduced predators.
The challenges in Galapagos are real. The threats posed by the introduction of plants, animals, and pathogens pose an almost insurmountable problem. But with the collective work of the international scientific community, the academic community, the government of Ecuador, the Charles Darwin Foundation, focused NGOs such as Galapagos Conservancy and local organizations willing to push for stringent conservation measures, we stand an excellent chance of protecting this extraordinary place. Lonesome George’s legacy will live on.
Although the location and history of the areas he was stationed in were “a complete mystery” to his unit at the time (he told us that they had no maps available), a recent article in the Kansas City Star on Lonesome George spurred him to ask the Conservancy about the little-known military history of the islands. We were happy to fill him in on the location of Punta Albemarle and Pto. Villamil where he also spent some time. We even sent him a map to remind him of his unique stay in Galapagos.
For those interested in more of the human history of Galapagos, we invite you to visit the History section of our website or visit John Woram’s Galapagos website. You can also learn more about the history and sites of each Island on our interactive Island-by-Island map.
Of course, we welcome any and all questions you may have and will endeavor to do our best to answer them.
Galapagos Conservancy Staff
This tension between people and landscapes is keenly felt in Galapagos, but does not have the millennia of conflict that describes the dynamic in the African continent. Galapagos human history is peppered with stories of visits by pirates and buccaneers, the lure of untapped whaling grounds that brought the fleets from the Atlantic and by the 1830s, people were already living permanently on the islands. Though the footprint these earlier visitors left behind, especially introduced species, is still being addressed, it is only in recent decades that the islands have seen an explosive growth of investment and population. These impacts prompted significant efforts by the Ecuadorian government in the 1990’s to provide a legal platform that could balance the needs of people — investors, residents, and visitors — and the natural beauty for which Galapagos is renowned.
The presence of people and industry in Galapagos is a subject of many of the comments from our supporters’ mail-in surveys. Our supporters and visitors feel strongly about this issue and offer a number of views as to how Galapagos Conservancy, and conservation organizations in general, might guide or impact the pattern of migration, settlement, and development in Galapagos. Ginni Keith of Lopez Island, WA writes, “As soon as you have success in moving a significant number of the invasive species, Homo Sapiens, back where they belong, I will be proud to become an important contributor.” She is joined by Alan Rammer of Montesano, WA who says, “If human population on the islands continues to grow along with too many tourists, what makes the islands special will be lost forever. Must tackle these items first and foremost.” The Davidson Family of San Antonio, TX is unequivocal: “It is obvious that population increase cannot continue if Galapagos is not to be destroyed. The Conservancy is not addressing this issue. This is THE central issue in the long term.”
The good news is that, contrary to the last comment, much is being done to address these issues. Galapagos has long been considered an isolated, well protected archipelago, the image portrayed by countless documentaries, photos, and articles about the unique creatures found there. At the same time, the archipelago has been a province of Ecuador for more than 170 years where people have a right to live, work, and thrive. Since the 1960’s this unique landscape of plants and animals has become a highly sought-after international tourism destination — the engine driving much of the investment and development in recent decades. Ecuador has enacted legislation; the Special Law for Galapagos, now in its second iteration, limits migration and defines resource use in the islands. Population management and sustainable tourism are important components of the Special Law. This legislation is in explicit recognition of the special global status of Galapagos, as well as Ecuador’s commitment to protecting and restoring one of the first sites to be inscribed on the World Heritage Sites roster.
How quickly this is moving is a matter for some interpretation. Some would argue that it isn’t moving fast enough. The reality is that to create successful, effective and implementable regulations, laws or even guidelines takes time, studies, debate, and analysis. It is impressive that the original Special Law took less than four years to install a unique framework for protecting Galapagos that required changing Ecuador’s constitution. Within the original Special Law, regulations sought to provide better lives and livelihoods for local people through land based tourism that now accounts for nearly 45% of tourism to the islands. The local population, however, expanded at an unprecedented rate while the Special Law was being debated. The economic, natural, and political turmoil on mainland Ecuador saw many people seeking refuge in Galapagos, as its economy was buoyed by tourists’ dollars and a demand for labor.
The revision of the Special Law underway now is seeking to address this unexpected boom and the consequent impacts of new business models and resource use without a parallel investment in ensuring that local people have the skills to be part of this growth industry. The fledgling quarantine system created under the original Special Law struggles to keep at bay the potential for new introductions of dangerous species. Invasive introduced species compete with and often replace native species and are the single greatest threat to maintaining the islands’ ecological integrity.
To find solutions to the human footprint, GC initiated support of the social science research efforts at the Charles Darwin Foundation several years ago in an effort to illuminate some of the underlying assumptions about land use, migration patterns, and economic and social impacts. Why were people moving to the islands? What kept them there? What factors enhance or impede their standard of living? How do social mores from continental cultures impact the nascent, evolving “island” culture? All of these efforts will point to solutions that can mitigate impact on the ecosystems and landscapes in Galapagos. We invite you to learn more about the ground-breaking work being carried out in “Understanding the Human Footprint,” a GC-supported project led by CDF’s social science expert, Dr. Daniel Orellana.
Ensuring a positive future for Galapagos is not just in the hands of the local community. Many of the decisions about strategy and policy are made by people based on the mainland. Just as it is all over the world, the decision makers of the future are the children of today. Alice Morrow of Corvallis, OR suggests, “I think it is important for Ecuadorians to know about the Galapagos so they will be committed to preserving them. There should be a tax on tourists that is used to fund visits to the islands by school children, where the children can learn about delicate ecosystems.”
I’m sure Alice will be pleased to know that, as well as awareness campaigns across the nation, for many years the Ecuadorian Government has provided special tour and fee exemptions so that schools from the mainland can bring their classes to experience Galapagos. A common sight in the towns is a group of visiting school children, identifiable by their bright matching caps and tote bags. The reality is that most of the local children will never have the wildlife experience that is often life-changing for such visitors.
GC and our partners are very much involved in helping the local stakeholder and decision makers of the future become informed and pro-active stewards of their home. Whether through visits, long-distance learning, or hands-on projects, we do know that education is at the heart of social reform. The government of Ecuador has placed great value (and invested heavily) in science and technology learning. Galapagos Conservancy has been the catalyst for a collaboration among a broad network of partners in the United States and Ecuador on an initiative that will help develop best practices within the local school system, as well as develop formative extracurricular activities such as citizen science, leadership and entrepreneurship development, and environmental awareness-building that will reinforce what is learned in the classroom. Our donors have supported a number of educational initiatives on the islands including experiential learning and after-school initiatives.
The formation of a community of people that is comprised of committed stewards of their home is a long journey with incremental steps. We have good reason to hope that, in the near future, an educated, engaged public will ensure the future of these extraordinary islands.
Galapagos Conservancy President
After ending her call, and having a quick word with James, Linda took me aside to tell me that Lonesome George had been found dead that morning in his corral. Linda couldn’t finish her sentence before she started to cry and soon after, James and I had difficulty keeping our composure. Linda and James had known Lonesome George since 1981; I met him in 1991. George was like a cranky, eccentric uncle that you knew you would see at every family reunion. Except this year. Lonesome George was gone and it was impossible to believe. And with George – his species.
Keenly aware of the global significance of this news, Park officials wisely wanted to get this information out to the public as quickly and accurately as possible. We asked the Park officials if we might be allowed to help create a press release that gave a bit more of the background of Lonesome George and a vision toward the future for tortoise restoration in Galapagos. Linda had worked with George daily for over 10 years, and wanted to provide, if the Park would allow us, a fuller story about George and what he means for conservation.
The Park generously gave us time to pull our thoughts together, but we were mindful of their need as the key management agency in Galapagos to ensure that the news of George’s death was handled with the utmost care and precision. We began to write in sequence, each adding to the others’ thoughts until we managed to capture the essence of what George meant to Galapagos and to species preservation (and the precarious situation of many species not only in Galapagos but also throughout the world).
After the news was released by the Park, we found ourselves thinking through the timing of George’s death. Last year, we began collaborating with the Park to organize a tortoise recovery workshop in which local and international scientists and managers would create a long-term recovery plan for Galapagos tortoises focused on both critical research and management. We assumed, of course, that George would be with us in July of this year, as our unofficial host. That he isn’t, is actually more reason to move ahead. The plight of Lonesome George and his species has catalyzed so much research in species recovery (captive breeding and repatriation, genetic research leading to breeding programs, ecosystem restoration for tortoise recovery, etc.). Lonesome George’s message ultimately must be a message of hope and of resolve. We cannot and will not lose another species in Galapagos. Our efforts will be directed at species enhancement, recovery, and restoration.
We will miss Lonesome George, but he will be a strong presence with us in July. What we do, we do for him and for all the creatures that inhabit this extraordinary place.
President of Galapagos Conservancy
Watch this video on YouTube.
Watch this video on YouTube.
With support from the Galápagos Conservancy, Galápagos Conservation Trust, and Swiss Friends of Galápagos, a group of seabird biologists (myself, Kate Huyvaert at Colorado State University, and Ecuadorian Master’s degree student David Anchundia) has begun the first comprehensive survey of blue-footed booby distribution and population dynamics in the archipelago. This effort comes as a response to concerns of a number of long-time Galápagos observers that this iconic species seems to be declining in numbers. Traditional breeding sites seem to be largely unattended and without successful nesting; indeed, the large colony of hundreds of nests at my group’s research site on Espanola Island has been essentially unused since 1997.
The project began in May, 2011 with a survey of the entire coastline of Galápagos, excluding the northern-most islands (Genovesa, Marchena, Pinta, Darwin, and Wolf, where blue-footed boobies almost never venture). That effort revealed a critical clue: only two birds in juvenile plumage were seen in the entire survey area. Blue-footed boobies show the distinctive juvenile plumage between the time that they become independent from their parents until around age 2 years. This was a change from the 1980s and ‘90s, when birds in juvenile plumage were common throughout the archipelago, excepting the northern tier of islands.
The absence of these young birds at the beginning of the study was an immediate indication of something noteworthy in the Galápagos population of blue-footed boobies.
We have now completed four rounds of intensive searches of major breeding colonies in the archipelago, at four month intervals since May 2011. During that first round of searches we were fortunate to find large aggregations of birds at most colonies, and we banded over 700 birds. Since then, we have seen few of these birds, because attendance at breeding colonies has been very low. And if they don’t try to breed, they don’t produce fledglings that can eventually recruit into the population, balancing natural losses of adults to old age and the other hazards of life. The virtual absence of juveniles in May 2011 probably indicates that little successful breeding had been occurring for the previous two years (at least).
In early June 2012, we conducted a coastal survey of blue-footed boobies, around the entire archipelago except the few northern islands that lack this species. This effort required ten people in five different boats, and occurred over three consecutive days. This method allowed us to minimize double-counting and misses due to movements of birds among sites. Again, we found few juveniles ( < 100), consistent with the previous year’s data indicating little breeding. Our preliminary estimate of the adult population size is 6,000-8,000 birds. For comparison, the estimate from the 1960s and ‘70s was 20,000-30,000 breeding birds; the population also must have contained some pre-breeders. The contrast between even these admittedly loose numbers suggests a substantial decline in population size, and the failure to breed offers a demographic mechanism for the decline.
Why are they not breeding? We suspect that food is behind the failure to even try. We know from previous work on Espanola that successful breeding there occurs when blue-footed boobies have access to sardines. But sardines have been largely absent from the Espanola area since 1997 (we know this from Nazca boobies there, who also prefer sardines but can also breed using other prey). Over the past year, we have found that approximately half (54%) of >500 individual prey items were sardines. But this is much less than the essentially 100% that we have found in the diet during good times, and we suspect that the birds find this diet sufficient to live, but not to breed. Other factors may be involved, but we have no evidence yet or effects of introduced predators, disease, persecution by humans.
Taken together, the first results of our work are consistent with a difficult breeding environment, and possibly with a declining adult population that experiences typical adult mortality but little replenishment from recruitment by successful breeding in the past. We plan to continue our monitoring of the population at four month intervals until January 2013 to provide as clear a picture as possible of the population status of this trademark Galápagos species.]]>
“Where have all the birdlets gone?” was the provocative and slightly plaintive title of an email I received last year from Godfrey Merlen. Many of you know Godfrey’s decades of experience in Galapagos as a naturalist, scholar, and voice (many would say conscience) for conservation in the islands. So the email caught my attention as did its plea for anecdotal information about the presence/absence of vermillion flycatchers in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. Comments trickled in from various corners reporting that a range of observers had noticed a decline in sightings over the years, but that these observations didn’t necessarily generate concern or action.
In the years that I have worked with scientists in Galapagos, I note they are measured in their use of anecdotes, preferring to make observations with robust data behind them. What was refreshing, and later proved to be deeply compelling, was Godfrey’s confidence in making an observation, mulling it over, reaching out to a large community for confirmation, and seeing what resulted. In administrative review parlance, we might call it “kicking the tires.” And we are very glad that Godfrey started kicking.
Through a small grant from Galapagos Conservancy, Godfrey was able to do some basic library research to add to his own observational data. He wrote “… It really seems that San Cristobal has lost the species, although David Steadman seems to have seen it prior to 1988. Last seen on Floreana three years ago, declining on Santa Cruz. We must not stand by and see these declines, especially since the various populations are the essence of evolutionary processes.”
Several thoughts come to mind as we consider Godfrey’s words. One is the power of observation. Charles Darwin and Benjamin Franklin were practitioners of this “amateur” or public participation in date gathering and analysis. There is more than enough room in scientific pursuit to invite and encourage keen analysis by engaged observers. Another is the fragility of species on our planet, especially as our wild places grow more imperiled. Why species are disappearing is complex, but that they are disappearing, is unconscionable. Today we mark “Endangered Species Day” in the US, a regrettable date to note. And another is the inescapable, interconnected nature of our world. Systems depend on each other and nowhere is that more clear than in Galapagos. Not just our biological systems, but human systems, and the informational systems, formal and informal, which have come together to help answer Godfrey’s provocative question.
Recently, he wrote, “I am working in the library and it definitely seems the Warbler Finch has kicked the bucket on Floreana. Peter Grant took up the subject a while back and nobody took much notice of that!” We are taking notice. And we are counting on our community to help us act swiftly and effectively. We will continue to help our friends and colleagues in Galapagos respond to negative trends in all species in Galapagos. We will work to save those remaining birdlets from extinction. And we hope to have you with us as we do.
President, Galapagos Conservancy
For more information, visit Vermillion Flycatcher Population Analysis.]]>
We will be inviting a number of distinguished Galapagos scientists to “blog” with us. We are also asking local NGO leaders and other resource managers in Galapagos to give us their perspectives on conservation issues, trends, and concerns. Hearing from a variety of voices in Galapagos will provide important context and perspective. I hope you find their words compelling.
During the process of uploading information to our new website, I was reminded daily of the challenges still unmet in the Islands. Examining the human history of Galapagos, we see the repeating pattern of exploitation and unsustainable industry. As we post information describing the magical blue world of the Galapagos Marine Reserve, we are also keenly aware of the impact of climate change on marine habitat. Talking tortoises, as we love to do, we can speak with great pride on the many successful restoration programs undertaken by the Galapagos National Park and Charles Darwin Foundation, but we do so noting that other iconic Galapagos creatures, such as the Blue-footed Booby and the Vermillion Flycatcher, are in decline.
The dynamic nature of Galapagos requires a resident population to balance their needs and opportunities with the overarching goal of biodiversity protection and sustainability. Many of the programs in which Galapagos Conservancy is involved include strengthening education and civil engagement. Please take some time to read about this and other efforts undertaken in collaboration with Galapagos residents.
There is still mystery in the world of Galapagos, species that are being named and discovered, and interlocking ecological processes that we are still trying to understand. The Galapagos Islands still offer opportunities to learn about dynamic evolutionary processes. Visitors to Galapagos are transformed by their interactions with wildlife that show no fear of humans and of landscapes found nowhere else.
I continue to be dazzled by what Galapagos is and continues to become, and I look forward to sharing these experiences with you here on our new Galapagos Conservancy blog.
President of Galapagos Conservancy