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April 18, 2015
The Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment, through the Galapagos National Park, is closely monitoring of the health of marine iguanas in different colonies of the archipelago and the effects that could result from a possible El Niño event, which is predicted this year.
Galapagos marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) are reptiles that completely depend on the ocean for their livelihood, as they feed almost exclusively on seaweed and are widely distributed in the archipelago.
During the El Niño event of 1982-83, a high mortality of marine iguanas occurred due to starvation, as they were forced to substitute their normal food — green and red algae — with brown algae that are difficult to digest.
Monitoring activities are performed during the early morning hours when the iguanas have higher levels of activity. They are captured and marked with waterproof paint on both sides of the stomach to make it easy to see in future monitoring. This procedure, which is performed by technicians and volunteers of the Galapagos National Park, does not negatively impact the iguanas because they are handled with extreme care.
Levels of Health
The health status of iguanas is evaluated at 5 levels, according to the animal’s appearance: healthy and robust; healthy; thin tail base and slightly prominent hip bones; semi-skeletal condition with ability to move; and semi-skeletal without ability to move.
Direct observation allows Park rangers to identify the state of health of the iguanas. Recent monitoring activities revealed that at least half of the individuals observed were in healthy and robust condition, corresponding to level 1, while the rest were between the level 2 and 3 (healthy and thin tail base and slightly prominent hip bones).
The monitoring will continue throughout the year, and a count will be conducted in parallel to determine the abundance of marine iguanas in the Archipelago.
Translated with permission from the Galapagos National Park Directorate.