Biosecurity and Quarantine in Galapagos
Galapagos Biosecurity Agency (ABG)
- A canine detection unit, initiated in 2014 with two dogs trained to locate the invasive Giant African Land Snail, is now expanded to include dogs trained to detect products that are not allowed in Galapagos, as part of the quarantine inspection of cargo entering the Archipelago.
- The invasive African land snail population has been greatly reduced, with its complete elimination in several sites.
- Systematic monitoring of ants in airports and seaports in Galapagos, as well as in high risk areas in rural and urban areas, has identified 25 ant species (22 introduced, 2 native and 1 endemic).
- Identification of ant species during inspections of transport mediums includes 28 already introduced, 4 native, 25 not yet present in Galapagos, 2 quarantine species (identified as especially destructive if introduced), and 7 undetermined. One of the quarantine species (the Argentine ant) is in the group of seven species most frequently encountered.
The Agency for the Regulation and Control of Biosecurity and Quarantine for Galapagos (ABG – its Spanish acronym) was established by the Ecuadorian government in 2012. The mission of ABG is to control, regulate, prevent, and reduce the risk of introduction, movement, and dispersal of exotic organisms in Galapagos. Their work involves inspection and control at ports and airports, surveillance, monitoring, control of pests and diseases in Galapagos, and rapid response to phytozoosanitary (food safety) emergencies. They also carry out regular campaigns with partner organizations that provide dog and cat sterilizations, vaccinations and general pet care to the local community at no cost.
Galapagos Conservancy has provided support to the ABG since 2014 for projects focusing on quarantine, invasive species control (specifically the Giant African Land Snails and introduced ants), animal health, management of the pet population (cats and dogs), and capacity building.
Canine Unit: Detection Dogs for the Giant African Land Snail
The Giant African Land Snail (GALS) — the largest species of snail found on land, growing to nearly 8 inches in length — is an aggressive invasive species that has taken up residence in Galapagos within the last ten years. Known to consume at least 500 different types of plants, scientists consider GALS to be one of the most destructive snail species in the world, specifically in tropical and subtropical environments. Giant African Land Snails were first detected on Santa Cruz Island in 2010, and within a few years they had spread through approximately 20 hectares (50 acres). They can produce 100-300 eggs per month and expand their range primarily during wet seasons.
In 2014, GC provided a grant to the US-based NGO Dogs for Conservation (no longer active) to obtain and train two dogs to detect GALS on Santa Cruz Island. The dogs and their trainers traveled to Santa Cruz in December 2014. Six ABG staff members, many of whom had never worked with dogs before, were trained as handlers. New dog kennels were built by ABG personnel with materials funded through this project. Prior to the arrival of the dogs, ABG personnel had to search for and collect GALS on rainy nights using headlamps — an extremely challenging and not very effective solution for eliminating the species. Dogs, on the other hand, have an incredible sense of smell and can be trained to detect scents imperceptible to the human nose.
Implementation of New Prevention Techniques for the Biosecurity of Galapagos
This project, funded by Galapagos Conservancy in 2016, supported ABG’s expanding workload in a variety of areas, including:
- Implementation of an additional canine unit with two dogs trained to detect banned products entering the Islands;
- Development of new technologies to collect and control non-native insects at points of embarkation to Galapagos (Quito and Guayaquil);
- Creation of a knowledge base of animal health in Galapagos, with a focus on pigs;
- Establishment of a system to create baseline information on agro-food production in the Islands; and
- Implementation of passive surveillance activities through educating and engaging the local community about introduced species.
With these programs now in effect, ABG has increased its capacity to ensure the biosecurity of the Galapagos Islands for the future.
Control and Monitoring of Invasive Ants
The ABG has developed activities to ensure more efficient control of invasive ant species to reduce the possibility of their successful establishment in Galapagos. Introduced ants can displace endemic ants and contribute to a decline in populations of endemic reptiles and birds. Two new invasive ant species have been detected in modes of transport bound for the Islands — the big-headed ant (Pheidole megacephala) and the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) — both of which are listed among the 100 worst invasive organisms worldwide, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The ABG carries out regular monitoring at airports and seaports in Galapagos and in continental Ecuador. Their inspectors also conduct monitoring for ants on the four populated islands, in high risk areas and throughout the urban and rural zones. During ABG inspections of means of transport, 43% of the specimens collected have been ants (total of 3857), while the remaining 57% represent all other groups.
The ABG has developed a reference collection and a pocket guide to ant identification for use by inspectors. Of the three species listed as “quarantine species” – species that will have a major impact on native fauna if they become established in Galapagos – two have been found in Quito and one in Guayaquil.
Continued detection, control, and monitoring of these species will reduce the risk of introduction from the mainland. This project expands on work conducted by the Charles Darwin Foundation in the past several years to control and eradicate invasive ant species.
Galapagos Report 2015-16: New Approaches section, see:
- Biosecurity in Galapagos is vital for protecting human health, the local economy and biodiversity – Cruz et al. – pages 27-32.
- March 2018, Protecting Galapagos from invasive ants: My work with the ABG by Erica Guerrero of the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency
- December 2015, Behind the scenes: Finding invasive snails in Galapagos by Ros Cameron, Galapagos Liaison for Galapagos Conservancy
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