Project Floreana

Project Floreana

PROJECT:

Restoring Floreana: The Restoration of an Island

PARTNERS:

Galapagos National Park Directorate, Island Conservation, Galapagos Biosecurity Agency (ABG), Floreana Community

 

Aerial view of Floreana Island (Photo © Tommy Hall/Island Conservation)

 

Milestones

  • In March 2017, a breeding program of giant tortoises with partial Floreana tortoise ancestry (collected on Wolf Volcano, Isabela Island) was initiated by the Galapagos National Park Directorate to produce young tortoises for release onto Floreana.
  • Monitoring of the populations of Floreana mockingbirds, residing on Champion and Gardner-by-Floreana (the two satellite islands where this species still exists), indicate relatively stable populations, with an average total population at 578.
  • The Galapagos petrel population on Floreana Island has been protected from introduced predators (cats and rats) during the nesting season since the 1980s, ensuring that a stable, healthy population is maintained until the predators have been eliminated.

Main Goals of Project Floreana:

  • Restore Floreana Island, its ecosystems and species.
  • Understand and address social issues and aspirations of the community; develop a participative plan for the long term economic, environmental, and social sustainability of Floreana Island.
  • Improve the biosecurity of the island to decrease risk of introduced species arriving and becoming established.
  • Mitigate or eliminate the main threats to native wildlife (primarily introduced rodents and cats), allowing for re-establishment of self-sustaining populations of those species that went extinct on Floreana in the last 150 years (i.e., Floreana giant tortoise, Floreana mockingbird, and snakes, among others)

Overview

Project Floreana is multi-year, multi-institutional effort to restore Floreana Island to a balanced ecosystem using a combination of community-based conservation and adaptive management techniques. The project focuses on the natural ecosystem (eliminating aggressive introduced species and restoring populations of native species that are locally extinct) and improving the conditions of the local human community (less than 150 people). One complementary goal is to enhance biosecurity of the island to prevent future introductions, benefitting both the natural ecosystem and the human population.

Floreana has undergone significant habitat degradation and the highest level of species loss of any island in Galapagos. There have been two global extinctions — the Floreana giant tortoise Chelonoidis niger (a result of pirates/whalers in the 1700 and 1800s) and a cucumber vine Sicyos villosus. At least eight other Galapagos species are no longer found on Floreana, including the Floreana mockingbird and the Galapagos racer. These species are now restricted to two of Floreana’s satellite islets — Champion and Gardener-by-Floreana. The loss of the Floreana tortoise is of particular concern, as tortoises are ecosystem engineers — playing a key part in the formation and maintenance of their environment.

Human History

Floreana is the smallest of the four human-inhabited islands in Galapagos (excluding Baltra) and was the first to be inhabited. From the early 1800s on, the island experienced a series of settlers and settlements, none of which lasted more than a decade or two. Then in 1929, Dr. Friedrich Ritter and Dore Strauch arrived from Germany, followed in 1932 by the Wittmer family. Since that time, humans have had a permanent presence on the island.

Humans brought with them numerous introduced species, which have heavily impacted the ecosystem — destroying unique habitats and causing many of the remaining plant and animal species to be threatened. Invasive species management requires a suite of techniques ranging from prevention (through quarantine), to control and eradication, followed by restoration of native species. On an inhabited island, this work cannot be undertaken without the collaboration of the community.

Today Floreana has a small human population of 120-150 people, most of whom are subsistence farmers. The island has not experienced an increase in immigration as seen on the other inhabited islands, probably due to limited resources, difficulty of access, and a lack of jobs. The local community has a unique opportunity to develop a style of tourism appropriate to their island, in stark contrast to the tourism boom on the other islands.

This long-term project involves local, national, and international expertise to help develop effective strategies for the restoration and long-term sustainability of the island and its community. Because of its smaller size and small human population, Floreana offers a unique opportunity to develop an integrated approach to restoration, by engaging the community in looking for practical solutions to many of the problems affecting the island.

Further Reading

Galapagos Report 2015-16: Biodiversity and Ecosystem section, see: Natural history and conservation prospects of the Floreana mockingbird (Mimus trifasciatus) – Ortiz-Catedral et al. – pages 169-172.

Galapagos Report 2013-14: Galapagos Verde 2050: An opportunity to restore degraded ecosystems and promote sustainable agriculture in the Archipelago – Jaramillo et al. – pages 133-143.

Blog Article: March 2018, Floreana: A paradise waiting to be restored by Paula Castaño, Restoration Specialist and Wildlife Veterinarian with Island Conservation.

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