We did it! Or should I say, YOU did it! Thanks to the unprecedented generosity of our supporters, our 2017 year-end $1 Million Matching Gift Campaign reached its goal, and these funds were matched dollar-for-dollar by a longstanding hero and friend of Galapagos. It is always an honor to acknowledge and thank our donors for their enthusiasm and partnership, but we were truly humbled by the outpouring of support from so many of you during the closing months of the year. Thank you all.
With this increased level of support comes a responsibility to use it wisely to preserve and protect Galapagos in 2018 and beyond. This year will see a continuation of our flagship initiatives, Education for Sustainability (ESG) and the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (GTRI). These programs are the products of years of inter-institutional cooperation and their success over the last few years is a testament to the power of collaboration, especially with our government partners in Ecuador.
The GTRI team is gearing up for several expeditions, both big and small — including the search for the elusive giant tortoise of Fernandina — to determine once and for all if it is indeed extinct. We will continue to release tortoises on Santa Fe Island in collaboration with the Galapagos National Park Directorate, and finally complete the census of the newly identified Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise.
With the added funding available in 2018, the ESG is preparing to expand its activities to include more intensive coaching throughout the year and training for school directors and a cadre of 40 local instructional coaches, that will prepare them to conduct high-quality teacher professional development well beyond the five-year timeframe of the program.
But beyond GC’s core programs, your support will allow us to explore other areas that are essential to effective management of this world treasure.
Climate change is one of many issues which continues to concern the Galapagos community. The Galapagos Marine Ecosystem provides a unique opportunity to understand its effects because the Archipelago is frequently impacted by a global climate oscillation (El Niño Southern Oscillation — ENSO). GC funding will help Dr. Jon Witman from Brown University to continue his decades-long marine monitoring program. Extreme variation in temperature and nutrients result in conditions leading to disease in reef fish and affects ecosystem functioning.
Dr. Witman’s work provides an important example of the power of long-term monitoring in the Galapagos Archipelago, which is one of the key components of our newest program, Vital Signs for Galapagos. Vital Signs will establish a monitoring and forecasting tool to integrate long-term oceanic and terrestrial satellite data with data collected on the ground by scientists and citizen volunteers. By creating a real-time “dashboard” for Galapagos, with current metrics and near-future predictions, we can help guide decision-makers and conservation managers in crafting new conservation strategies and approaches.
Predictive technologies form an early warning system that can help conservation managers, scientists, and residents get in front of an issue, such as species decline. Recently, two subspecies of the Galapagos Vermilion Flycatcher have been elevated to full species status: the Little Vermilion Flycatcher (throughout most of the Galapagos) and the Least Vermilion Flycatcher (only on the island of San Cristóbal). However, the latter has not been recorded since 2008 and is considered the first modern extinction of a Galapagos bird species.
The Little Vermilion Flycatcher, originally distributed on eight islands, has recently gone extinct on Floreana Island and is close to extinction on Santa Cruz Island. Scientists are exploring reasons for the rapid decline with introduced species and habitat destruction being among the most likely explanations. With support from GC, Dr. Sabine Tebbich from the University of Vienna is undertaking population studies, assessing breeding success, and examining the most serious and immediately likely impacts as a precondition for developing efficient conservation strategies.
With your help, Galapagos Conservancy works with local partners, such as the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency, the Galapagos National Park Directorate, the Fundación Scalesia, and public school teachers and school directors in ways that help build stronger and more stable institutions. This approach continues to be important as Galapagos students become scientists, policy makers, and public leaders working to protect this extraordinary World Heritage Site. Collaborators from around the world bear witness to the fact that Galapagos holds a special place in our imaginations and is truly a world treasure.
With my thanks for your steadfast support.
Photo credits, from top: blue-footed booby © Erik de Rijk; giant tortoise © Sergio García Muñoz; Galapagos teachers © Brian Goodman Photography; sea turtle in the Galapagos Marine Reserve © Carlos Palma; vermilion flycatcher © Buff Corsi.