June is the beginning of the “dry season” in Galapagos, known for its blue skies and mid-afternoon showers. It also marked the annual “World Oceans Day” and two-year anniversary of Lonesome George’s death. We cover these events and report on penguin and mangrove finch conservation efforts in this month’s roundup.
Protecting Galapagos Penguins, One Photograph at a Time
Long-time penguin expert Dr. Dee Boersma is using photographs taken by visitors of Galapagos to help inform research and conservation efforts of endangered Galapagos penguins. Visitors are invited to submit photos to iGalápagos.org, which will be used to help determine where penguins are located, the population size, whether and when they are breeding and molting, and their overall body condition. Dr. Boersma is part of a growing trend of researchers who are relying on the help of non-scientists (such as tourists, tour guides, and local residents) to provide valuable information on animals in a particular location. Visitors’ photos will help Boersma and her team evaluate the condition of penguins in Galapagos, and shape how they move forward in plans for their conservation. The iGalápagos website provides comprehensive information on where to find penguins in Galapagos, what specifically to photograph, the biology of penguins, and more.
Project Update: 15 Captive-Reared Mangrove Finches Successfully Released
The first 15 mangrove finch chicks hatched in captivity earlier this were recently released back into their natural habitat, a small area of mangrove forest on Isabela Island. The addition of these 15 birds is significant for this endemic species, of which only an estimated 60-80 individuals remain. Like other land birds in Galapagos, mangrove finches are threatened by the parasitic fly Philornis downsi, whose larvae feed on the blood of nestlings and cause a high mortality rate.
The successful release of the captive-reared finches marks the beginning of a landmark project that is hoped to prevent this small population from going extinct. In the meantime, scientists continue to diligently study the life cycle of the Philornis fly in order to better understand it — and ultimately, find a way to eradicate it in order to protect the mangrove finch and other species of Darwin’s finches.
Lonesome George Museum Exhibit Coming to NYC
June 24, 2014 marked the two-year anniversary of the passing of Lonesome George, the last known survivor of the Pinta tortoise (Chelonoidis abingdoni) from Pinta Island in the northern regions of Galapagos. As on other islands, Pinta tortoises were over-exploited by whalers, fur sealers, and others in the 1800s. Lonesome George became a conservation icon in his embodiment of human-caused extinction, and his story will soon be shared with visitors to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in NYC starting this fall. Lonesome George’s body has been preserved and will be on display at the AMNH exhibit before being returned to the government of Ecuador.
Stunning Underwater Photos in Honor of World Oceans Day
World Oceans Day, a day designated by the United Nations to celebrate and protect the biodiversity of ocean life, took place on June 8, 2014. In honor of the event, National Geographic compiled a series of breathtaking photos to illustrate how underwater photography can educate people about the ocean and its inhabitants. Dolphins, sea turtles, a whale shark, and even a polar bear are some of the images captured in this remarkable collection. View the underwater photos.