In April of this year, Ecuador suffered a massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake in which hundreds of lives were lost, thousands were injured, and millions of dollars in property damage was sustained. While the quake didn’t directly affect Galapagos, financial impacts on government institutions were felt throughout the country. The Galapagos National Park Directorate was already facing significant budget cuts this year, and with the added impacts of earthquake recovery, Galapagos Conservancy’s role in supporting conservation efforts in the Islands was perhaps more critical than ever. Despite the year’s challenges, we have had many success stories: in our Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (a collaborative project with the Park), Education for Sustainability program, and many more. Here are a few conservation highlights from 2016:
Park Census Reveals Increased Red-Footed Booby Population on San Cristóbal
A Park-led census in January found that the population of red-footed boobies inhabiting Punta Pitt, a visitor site on San Cristóbal Island, has increased significantly over the last 18 years. The 1998 El Niño climate event had a drastic impact on the red-footed booby population in Punta Pitt, resulting in less than 50 birds witnessed afterwards at this site. The Park’s latest census counted more than 1,300 birds, thanks in large part to ecosystem management which has helped the vegetation and food sources recover.
Ecuador Designates New Marine Sanctuary to Protect Sharks
In March, the government of Ecuador announced the creation of a new marine sanctuary around Darwin and Wolf Islands to protect the world’s greatest concentration of sharks there. The new sanctuary, which includes 15,000 square miles within the existing Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR), means that several areas within the GMR will now be designated as “no-take” zones — where fishing of any kind will be off-limits.
Education for Sustainability Program Launches Teacher Training Institute
Our Education for Sustainability in Galapagos (ESG) program — an international initiative led by Galapagos Conservancy and the Scalesia Foundation, with the support of Ecuador’s Ministry of Education and the Galapagos Governing Council — launched its first two Teacher Institutes this year; the first in April and the second in October. Each Institute provided more than 40 hours of intensive, high-quality training to 300 K-12 teachers in Galapagos. The ESG Program involves intensive Teacher Institutes, ongoing coaching, and professional learning communities for teachers. It is the first teacher professional development in Galapagos in many years, and the only program of its kind in the region. Read the blog series from the Teacher Institute in April.
New Research Brings Hope for Galapagos Land Birds
In August as part of our Land Bird Conservation Program, researchers from the Charles Darwin Foundation published the results of a promising study aimed at eradicating the avian parasitic fly Philornis downsi, which is seriously threatening critically endangered birds in Galapagos (such as the mangrove finch). They are hoping to use a technique in which infertile male flies are bred and released to disrupt the fly’s reproductive cycle, which could decrease their population over time — and ultimately reduce their threat to land birds in the Islands.
Increased Barriers for Preventing Invasive Species from Entering the Islands
Invasive species are the single greatest threat to the native ecosystems of Galapagos. This summer, the Galapagos Governing Council designated a consolidation space in Guayaquil, Ecuador for all maritime cargo bound for the Islands, a major step in advancing the biosecurity of the Archipelago. Having one mainland port of departure to Galapagos will allow for major improvements in the quarantine system to ensure timely detection and elimination of new invasive species prior to their arrival in the Islands.
Census of San Cristóbal Giant Tortoises Reveals Population Recovery
In November, a team of 70 park rangers and scientists from the Galapagos National Park and Galapagos Conservancy conducted the first-ever comprehensive census of the giant tortoise population on San Cristóbal Island as part of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative (GTRI). This tortoise population experienced catastrophic decline in previous centuries due to exploitation, with only 500-700 animals estimated in the population by the early 1970s. The expedition team spent more than two weeks on San Cristóbal where they counted and marked a total of 1,938 tortoises, and estimated the total population at 6,700 individuals. Watch a video of the event (ver en español).
We remain grateful to our members and partners, without whom these advances in conservation would not be possible. Thank you for your support, and Happy New Year!
Photo credits, from top: Red-footed booby © Susan Pearson; hammerhead shark © Steven M. Genkins; Teacher Institute © Jonathan Drake/T2T-i; finch © Giovanni Sonsini; cargo center © GNPD.