Google returns to Galapagos


The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), in collaboration with the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) and the University of Cuenca, have once again partnered with Google Maps to collect 360-degree imagery of the Galapagos Islands.

This year’s expedition follows a pilot project conducted in 2013 when the team visited eight land locations in Galapagos to test the use of Google Maps Street View technology for scientific, monitoring, educational and outreach purposes.

In January 2014, these groundbreaking, immersive images were launched worldwide on Google Maps, opening up the archipelago to a whole new, online audience. On the same day, the CDF citizen science platform Darwin for a Day (, the only app of its kind to use Google Maps Street View (GSV) imagery, was also launched – allowing users to help Galápagos scientists to conduct biodiversity surveys.

This year, the team aims to collect 360-degree images at a number of locations across the Islands of Seymour, Santa Cruz, Pinzón, Isabela, Floreana and Española. The focus for the expedition will center on revisiting some of the sites mapped in 2013 in order to create a historical image database  to document the impact of recent ecosystem restoration programs led by the GNPD on the islands of Pinzon, Plaza Sur and Española.

For the Director of the Galapagos National Park, Arturo Izurieta, the new collections will provide an opportunity to update the on-the-ground Galapagos reality: "Technology, as well as the responsible use of Galapagos imagery, either for research or educational use, shows the whole world that not only should we admire the beauty of our Islands, there is also a committed to conserve them. This virtual visit to the Islands allows users to completely understand Galapagos life, whilst raising awareness of the fragility of ecosystems and the constant work we are doing in order to preserve them."

_DSC0264.jpg"The Trekkor" circumnavigating the Galapagos Islands (photo: Liza Díaz Lálova, CDF)

The equipment used to collect the imagery is called "The Trekker", a backpack with a 15-lens camera system, which captures 360-degree images as the wearer walks. A workshop involving staff from the GNPD and the CDF was held at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Tuesday, December 2nd to train park rangers and CDF personnel in the use of the equipment.

On December 3rd, CDF Project Investigator Dr Pelayo Salinas de León and collaborating scientist Dr Daniel Orellana from the University of Cuenca, Ecuador, alongside Galapagos National Park rangers and Dr John Bailey from Google, began 2014’s image collection activities. First stop was North Seymour, a long term monitoring site mapped in 2013. The team then moved onto Plaza Sur, a new image collection site and focus of a large-scale CDF-led ecological restoration project called Galapagos Verde 2050.  Last weekend additional images were also collected at Floreana Island, another new project site. Further images will be collected in a series of field trips throughout the next 10 days.

_DSC0064.jpgThe image collection team in Floreana (photo: Liza Díaz Lálova, CDF)

Dr. Salinas is excited to collaborate with Google Maps once again: The aim of this long-term project is to use GSV technology to help the Galapagos National Park Directorate in their mission to conserve this unique archipelago. The 2013 pilot project was a success and we are aiming to use the 2014 image collections to address new research questions, improve our citizen science platform and ensure the application Darwin for a Day provides a comprehensive, up to date view of the islands. An offline collection of these street’s view images is also  important given tortoise speed connectivity in the Galapagos, so that locals and school children can virtually travel to all of the islands in the archipelago - we´re hoping to make this a reality in the near future.

Dr. Orellana adds "This year we will collect images in new locations as well as areas visited in 2013 for monitoring purposes. We are planning to analyze these images to detect changes and then compare the GSV imagery with other remote sensing techniques and traditional census approaches to determine the best method for ecosystem monitoring"

Once processed at Google Headquarters, these new Galapagos images will be published online and made freely available on Google Maps by mid-2015.

Related Links

Darwin for a day

Video: Explore the Galapagos Islands with Google Maps