We have made leaps and bounds with conservation efforts in Galapagos this year, from restoring giant tortoise populations to protecting mangrove finches from extinction. Here are a few of our favorite stories from 2015.
February–April 2015: A Successful Second Year for Mangrove Finch Conservation
In February, mangrove finch eggs were collected from a small mangrove forest at Playa Tortuga Negra on Isabela Island for the second consecutive year in an attempt to protect this critically-endangered species from extinction. When the eggs hatched in March, eight fledglings were reared in captivity at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz, and in April researchers successfully released the chicks back in their natural mangrove forest on Isabela. With a total population size of less than 100 individuals, this program is an important effort to protect and boost the mangrove finch population in Galapagos.
May 2015: Wolf Volcano Erupts for the First Time in 33 Years
The highest peak in the Galapagos Archipelago, Wolf Volcano on the northern end of Isabela Island, erupted on May 25, 2015 after 33 years of inactivity. Scientists were initially concerned about the safety of the world’s only population of pink land iguanas, which share habitat on the volcano with yellow land iguanas and giant tortoises. Thankfully, the lava flowed in the opposite direction and wildlife were minimally impacted. GC’s Wacho Tapia participated in a fly-over to help assess the situation with a team from the Galapagos National Park Directorate.
Also in May 2015: GC Signs Cooperative Agreement with the Government of Ecuador
Galapagos Conservancy’s President Johannah Barry signed a cooperative agreement with the Ecuadorian Technical Secretariat of International Cooperation, known as SETECI, its acronym in Spanish. The agreement outlines broad areas of work in advancing research, science, and innovation related to the conservation of the unique ecosystems and biodiversity of Galapagos. Working more closely with the Government of Ecuador is an important component of GC’s ability to impact the long-term protection of the Islands.
June 2015: 201 Tortoises Released on Santa Fe Island
On June 27, 2015, a group of 30 rangers, scientists, and staff from the Galapagos National Park Directorate and Galapagos Conservancy transported 201 young Española tortoises from the Santa Cruz Breeding Center to Santa Fe Island, marking the first time tortoises roamed Santa Fe in more than 150 years. Two months later, scientists returned for a monitoring trip and were able to locate 142 of the 201 released tortoises — and found that all were in excellent physical condition. Future trips are planned to continue to monitor the health and activity of the tortoises. Watch the video of the release.
September 2015: Transforming K-12 Education in Galapagos
GC’s Director of Strategic Partnerships, Richard Knab, has been working with the Ecuadorian Ministry of Education on an intensive teacher training program in Galapagos to help address the need for quality education, which is critical to building a society in which local residents are committed to the long-term protection of the Islands. In September, Richard traveled to Galapagos with members of the program’s Math Advisory Team from Teachers-to-Teachers International during which they observed classrooms, met with school directors, and provided innovative teacher training to all elementary school teachers and all middle school and high school math teachers on the island of Santa Cruz. Working closely with the Ecuadorian Ministry of Education and an international network of education experts, they are developing what could become the most intensive and comprehensive teacher training program ever implemented in Latin America. Full launch of the program, which will benefit every student (7,500 in total) from every school (22 in total), is planned for April 2016.
October 2015: A New Giant Tortoise Species is Named
Two tortoise populations have existed on Santa Cruz Island for as long as anyone can remember, and it was always assumed that they belonged to the same species. But the results of recent genetic analyses have clearly identified them as separate, distinct species: The Western Santa Cruz Tortoise, and the newly named Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise (Chelonoidis donfaustoi). The new species was named in honor of long-time Galapagos National Park Ranger Fausto Llerena Sánchez (“Don Fausto”) who dedicated 43 years of service to conservation with the Galapagos National Park.
November 2015: Galapagos Thanks You
Thank you for helping us successfully fulfill our conservation goals in this extraordinary archipelago in 2015! In November, our partners and collaborators in Galapagos expressed their gratitude to our donors. View the video.
November–December 2015: Wolf Volcano Expedition Collects 32 Tortoises to Establish Breeding Populations
On November 18, 2015, a group of more than 40 scientists, technicians, and rangers from the Galapagos National Park Directorate embarked on a ten-day expedition led by GC’s Wacho Tapia, Director of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative, to search for tortoises living on Wolf Volcano with a high percentage of genes from the extinct Pinta and Floreana tortoise species. From more than 1,000 tortoises found, a total of 32 tortoises were transferred to the Tortoise Center on Santa Cruz for potential use in a breeding program to eventually repopulate Pinta and Floreana with tortoises. Genetic analyses are currently being conducted to reveal the ancestry of each individual tortoise collected during the expedition, Genetic analyses are currently being conducted to reveal the ancestry of each individual tortoise collected during the expedition, as well as of 148 additional tortoises sampled on the volcano during the expedition for subsequent genetic analysis.
None of these developments or discoveries would be possible without the generosity of our members and partners — thank you all for your support, and Happy New Year!
Photo credits, from top: Mangrove finch chick © Juan Carlos Ávila (CDF); Wolf Volcano eruption © Donald Lovett; SETECI group photo © SETECI; Education photo © T2Ti; Eastern Santa Cruz Tortoise © Wacho Tapia; Wolf Expedition © Paul M. Gibbons.