CDRS Tsunami Recovery

CDRS Tsunami Recovery


Charles Darwin Research Station Tsunami Recovery


Charles Darwin Foundation


Completed in 2011


On Friday, March 11, 2011, the Galapagos coastal areas and populated port areas were subjected to the largest tsunami event in their recorded history — a consequence of an 8.9 magnitude earthquake originating off the coast of Japan.

The CDRS’s wet lab seawater pumphouse was destroyed by the tsunami. Photo by Volker Koch.


The resulting waves when pushed from deep water over the Galapagos platform caused unprecedented levels of coastal flooding and current surge across the archipelago. Reaching 1.77m above the already high tide, Academy Bay (Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island) was among those areas worst affected, although several reports suggested similar impacts in remote bays across the archipelago.

During the following week the Government of Ecuador declared a state of emergency in relation to the coastal areas of Ecuador and Galapagos affected by the tsunami.
The human population was safely evacuated to higher ground, as were all captive tortoises from the Charles Darwin Research Station (Lonesome George included), but there remains a need to complete assessments of impacts to coastal ecosystems (e.g. corals, mangroves, lagoons), and to nesting endemic and IUCN red-listed species (e.g. marine iguanas, Galapagos penguins, flightless cormorants and green sea turtles). Systems exposed to the wave included sandy beaches used by nesting marine turtles and iguanas; rocky coasts and cliffs used as refuges for marine iguanas, and nesting areas for many sea birds; and mangrove stands that are important nursery areas for marine species and the only habitat worldwide for the extremely rare Mangrove Finch. The effects of the tsunami and scouring of extremely strong currents observed on bottom-dwelling marine species is also as yet unknown.

The Charles Darwin Foundation and Research Station is also concerned that their ability to address tsunami impacts and conduct other ongoing research for conservation priorities has been greatly compromised by extensive flood damage to the Puerto Ayora CDF Marine Laboratory.


In Summer 2011, Galapagos Conservancy provided $125,000 in donor funding to carry out rapid assessments and analysis of coastal and submarine ecosystem damage, as well as to reconstruct the CDRS’s marine laboratory and replace key marine sampling and dive equipment that were destroyed by the flooding. All recovery work was expected to be complete by the end of 2011.