In 2017 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by Ecoventura and the Charles Darwin Foundation with the Galapagos National Park as a witness, to establish the Galapagos Biodiversity & Education for Sustainability Fund (GMBF). The purpose of the agreement is to raise funds in support of conservation of the Galapagos Islands. Specifically, this fund will support marine and terrestrial conservation and education efforts of the CDF, and patrolling, surveillance and management support to the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD). It was agreed that Ecoventura will provide the funds and they will be managed by CDF.
The funds have been successfully distributed through different projects that support important science and educational work of Galapagos and beyond.
Seamounts are underwater mountains that rise from the seafloor but never reach the sea’s surface. The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) has explored 27 Galapagos seamounts, mapped 70 seamounts with satellite bathymetry, recorded over 40 hours of video transects, and collected more than 300 specimen samples of deep-sea organisms. This research project started in 2015, led by the CDF in collaboration with the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), with the principle aim of characterizing the biodiversity and ecology of seamounts and other deep-sea ecosystems in the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR). Of up-most excitement was the discovery of a macro-algae dominated landscape, which is suspected to be a kelp forest, that was found on the summits of a seamount between 40-50m deep. This finding is possibly ground breaking as nothing like it has been found before in Galapagos. CDF scientists are currently working hard on identifying the species that dominates this macro-alga kelp forest, which will likely be a new record for the Galapagos Archipelago.
Science: Population studies of seabirds
The CDF conducts long-term ecological monitoring of sea birds to ensure the survival of the Galapagos penguin, flightless cormorant and waved albatross, which are faced with threats like climate change, introduced species and pathogens, human interaction and non-infectious diseases. The primary objective of monitoring sea bird health and population status is to improve management plans to protect these unique and fragile species. In October 2018 a fieldtrip funded by the Galapagos Biodiversity and Education Sustainability Fund, Principal Investigator Gustavo Jiménez-Uzcátegui and his team found that the Galapagos penguin population made a comeback compared to 2017. Furthermore, the flightless cormorant population hit the second population record since 1977. The capture-recapture method was also used to estimate the number of penguins in the nesting colonies. 25 (50%) individuals were captured and 25 (50%) were recaptured, which is a positive sign. 94% of the newly captured individuals were adults, indicating that the breeding population of penguins has increased in 2018, following the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in 2016.
Science: Management of Tourism in the GMR and ETP
In 2016 the Charles Darwin Foundation and the WWF, in collaboration with the Galapagos Tourism Observatory and the Galapagos National Park Directorate, created an innovative tool to monitor touristic diving activities in order for the Galapagos National Park to have more information on the impacts of diving and changes in biodiversity. The DiveStat project (www.observatoriogalapagos.gob.ec/divestat) aims to improve decision-making to assure conservation of the marine ecosystem while promoting an optimal diving experience for visitors. The project also promotes responsible diving practices, to minimize the impacts that visiting divers may generate in the Reserve’s fragile marine ecosystem.
The funds donated to this project are currently being used to finish and publish a DiveStat Report 2017/18. The report will be shared with diving centers on the Galapagos Islands and tourism operators such as Ecoventura, and will help them to employ best practices and promote marine conservation.
Education: Shark Education Program
CDF’s current educational program encourages the involvement and participation of the Galapagos community. This project is the first marine education program for the Galapagos Islands which is focused on sharks. Sharks suffer from a poor public image that makes their conservation somewhat difficult. However, sharks are hugely important in Galapagos. The project currently consists of the “Shark Ambassadors Club” which includes activities such as scientific presentations, streaming of documentaries, games, beach cleanups, snorkeling and more, and is offered to students between 12 and 17 years old. The CDF is currently working with 50 local students from Santa Cruz and San Cristobal Islands and will expand to the islands of Floreana and Isabela.
The Fund is supporting the production of an exhibit that will take place in the Presidential Palace in Quito on 12 February 2019. The exhibit will feature information about the Galapagos as the #1 World Heritage Site.
Galapagos National Park Directorate: Surveillance and Management
The funds corresponding to the Galapagos National Park Directorate for surveillance and management needs will be provided to the GNPD under request and following transparent procedures. A recent MoU between the GNPD and CDF will allow for the agile use of these funds.
Notable dates in Galapagos history:
1935 Ecuador declared the Galapagos Islands a Wildlife Sanctuary.
In 1959 The Charles Darwin Foundation was established and marked the centennial celebration of the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species. That same year Ecuador designated 97% of the total land area of the archipelago as Galapagos National Park that shoulders the responsibilities of wildlife conservation projects including the protection of endangered populations, the eradication and control of introduced species, and the management of recreation and tourism.
In 1964, the Charles Darwin Research Station, the field branch of the Charles Darwin Foundation, opened its facilities in Puerto Ayora. In 2007, the station was renamed the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Breeding Center and in 2017 a new exhibit was opened to honor Solitary George or “Lonesome George.”
It’s been almost 60 years since the Galapagos National Park Service joined forces with the Charles Darwin Station to dedicate their services to the use, conservation, and protection of the Galapagos Islands.
The Charles Darwin Research Station, an international non-profit organization, acts as the scientific arm of the Park Service. Scientists at the Station conduct conservation-based research and also train naturalist tour guides.
These are related conservation efforts to take care of the Galapagos Islands: