Patricia Tapia helping classify seeds for Galapagos Verde 2050.

The scholarships at the Charles Darwin Foundation help train talented students from Galapagos.

Patricia Isabela Tapia, a 20-year-old Galapagos youth, is currently following her passion and studying abroad. After participating in a challenging selection process that gives scholarships to two students from Galapagos each year, she received a partial scholarship from the Charles Darwin Foundation for her Bachelor’s degree in Biology at the University of Newcastle (England) and a scholarship from the Dutch COmON Foundation for both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.

Patricia was the best student of her class in secondary school and received the highest marks for the Ecuadorian baccalaureate at the Unidad Educativa Nacional Galápagos. She also obtained a diploma from the International Baccalaureate with the highest scores in Galapagos. Currently, she finds herself in her fourth semester in England and during her summer vacations she travels to Galapagos to volunteer at the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS).

Ever since she was a child, her goal and dream was to study at a British University. Since then, every decision she took revolved around that dream, which sometimes seemed too utopic and optimistic. However, today, she is living her dream and has already established bigger goals that she is certain she will fulfill. It is true that everything you dream of is achievable:

“It is important to focus on the things we are passionate about in order to reach our dreams. It’s not like when we were kids and believed by wishing something it will magically occur. It’s a bit more complicated that. Goals can be reached only by working hard every day, having perseverance and not allowing any obstacle stop us. It’s important to ignore anybody who thinks you’re not capable. We must also constantly give ourselves greater goals. Additionally, it’s important that we help others as we advance, because life is about that: sharing and having empathy for others. But mainly it’s about loving what we do,” stated Patricia Tapia.

Her experience at the Charles Darwin Research Station is helping her discover which area in Biology she is most passionate about, but at the moment she wants to focus on ecology and conservation, even though she still has time to decide.

Patricia volunteering at the Charles Darwin Research Station in the summer of 2017.
Patricia volunteering at the Charles Darwin Research Station in the summer of 2017. Photo by: Patricia Jaramillo.

Last summer she helped scientist Inti Keith with her marine invasive species project. She went into the field and followed various transects to take data points and photos of invasive algae of the Caulerpa genus. This information will be used to compare with data in the hot season and identify changes in behavior during different seasons. In addition to helping with data analysis, during the Open House at the Research Station, she gave presentations about the project to inform the community about cutting-edge science. “I loved being able to explain to the community what we do at the Research Station and what I could be doing in the future,” Patricia explained.

Patricia Tapia presenting information about marine invasive species at the Open House in 2017.
Patricia Tapia presenting information about marine invasive species at the Open House in 2017. Photo: CDF Archive.

Patricia also worked for the ambitious Galapagos Verde 2050 ecological restoration project, which has planted more than 7,500 plants with water saving technology. At GV2050, Patricia was involved in the classification of seeds extracted from the excrement of land iguanas from Plaza Sur. She will probably write her thesis based on the data that she will collect next summer when she returns to Galapagos to volunteer with CDRS again. At the moment she is interested in focusing her thesis on the diet of Chelonoidis donfaustoi, a recently identified species of giant tortoise from Santa Cruz Island.

Patricia at the Open House of the CDRS in 2017.
Patricia at the Open House of the CDRS in 2017. Photo by: Sergio Zamora.

Patricia’s second passion is dance. In addition to her academic studies she is part of the society of dance at the University of Newcastle. Additionally, beginning in her first year at university, she has been part of the dance teams that represents them at student competitions around the UK.

Patricia participating at a dance competition in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she was representing her university.
Patricia participating at a dance competition in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she was representing her university. Photo by: Newcastle University Dance Society.
Patricia Tapia with the water saving technology of Galapagos Verde 2050.
Patricia Tapia with the water saving technology of Galapagos Verde 2050. Photo by: Patricia Jaramillo.

Patricia feels very grateful for the opportunity to study abroad and getting to know a new culture that “represents the individuality of every person” and where there is great acceptance of foreigners. She misses the joy of Latinos, Ecuadorian food, her mother tongue, sunny weather, island lifestyle, her friends and her family’s affection. Although it has been difficult for her, she is aware of how lucky she is and sees this as an opportunity for growth and gaining academic, social and cultural knowledge.

Patricia wishes to return to Galapagos to contribute to the conservation of the archipelago. Although she is very grateful for the quality of education she receives in England, she doesn’t wish to stay because she feels a great responsibility and love for her home, the Enchanted Islands.

“What inspired me was to be born and grow up in Galapagos, where I was surrounded by nature and very connected to it. My parents have showed me to love the place I live and that’s what I felt inspired me….one of the various reasons I decided to go so far from home was so that I could gain preparation and obtain the necessary tools to return to the place I was born and give back a little of what that paradise gave me and which I hope to protect” – Patricia Tapia

Patricia Tapia at the University of Newcastle.
Patricia Tapia at the University of Newcastle. Photo by: Gautham Suresh.

The Charles Darwin Foundation’s scholarship program is an essential part of its mission because the training of local people will assure a sustainable future for the islands. This project, like all of the others at CDF, is financed entirely by the generosity of our supporters. Please donate today.

Behind-the-scenes work of website development.

Today, February 12th, is a very special day for the Galapagos islands, and the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF). Not only was it Charles Darwin’s birthday in 1809, but it was also the day in which the archipelago was officially incorporated into Ecuador’s national territory in 1832. There couldn’t be a more significant day to launch CDF’s brand new website. For a conservation organization like ours, working on a small budget and depending entirely upon the generosity of donors, it is particularly important to tell our story and reach a wide audience online. Preserving Galapagos, UNESCO’s first World Heritage Site, is our main goal and we would like the world to learn about the science which makes conservation possible.

Our very first website was launched in 2001. Although it was very informative and revolutionary in its time, eventually it became outdated. The website was constantly evolving, but we needed a radical change. Now, 17 years later, we are able to update its design, structure, contents and navigability so that people all over the world can continue to intuitively learn about our scientific research using one of the latest programming languages and content management systems. The new design can also be accessed on any device, including tablets and smartphones.

We wanted to give the Charles Darwin Foundation’s website a more streamlined and friendly look, while also presenting essential information for each of the scientific projects that we conduct on the islands. Additionally, we have prioritized audiovisuals (infographics, videos, and photos).

Michelle Schuiteman (above) and Daniel Unda García (below).
Michelle Schuiteman (above) and Daniel Unda García (below). Photo & Design by: Joshua Vela.

CDF’s Knowledge Management and Communications teams have worked together to make sure that all aspects of structure, design, and content are taken into account for our new website. It is truly remarkable what has been accomplished by a dedicated group of professionals who work with many challenges, including the archipelago’s slow Internet connection. Working on the website was a long process of sweat and tears, but also accompanied by lighthearted moments such as the time when one of our programmers cooked some cupcakes for the whole team. Our Webmaster, Anna Dolma Alonso, explains the difficulty of managing information on our previous website and why the new one is a great improvement:

Anna Dolma Alonso.
Anna Dolma Alonso. Photo & Design by: Joshua Vela.

Gustavo Morejón, dataZone Manager at CDF, made it clear that this is only the first phase of the website. During the second phase, more interactive information on our dataZone collection databases will be available. He is really excited about the improvements to the collections section of the website, thanks to the use of microchips and high-resolution photographs. Currently, of the three billion specimens worldwide, only 10% have been digitized and could easily be lost or damaged.

Gustavo Morejon (above) and Paola Diaz Freire (below).
Gustavo Morejón (above) and Paola Díaz Freire (below). Photos by: Joshua Scoggin; Design by: Joshua Vela.

We would like to thank the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust for financing this project and JoomLead for giving us the design template that the website was based on.

Our work in Galapagos depends on the generosity of our supporters. We would like to welcome you to visit us and donate today to help us with our conservation work.

 

City councillor José Masaquiza awards Dr.  Heinke Jäger with her Scientific Recognition diploma.

The Santa Cruz Municipality in the Galapagos Islands, in the Session of the 9th of February 2018, unanimously resolved to award Dr. Heinke Jäger the SCIENTIFIC MERIT RECOGNITION for her work in the Biodiversity of Galápagos, and her recommendations for the sustainable management of resources of the islands.

Congratulations to our researcher for this great honour! Read more about Heinke’s work here.

 

Thank you, Dr. Jäger. Video by Joshua Vela and Julio Rodriguez.
A mottled scorpionfish, or brujo (top right), drifts above the bottom in this video screen grab taken from the Alucia submersible.

Fisheries technician Solange Andrade-Vera sits in the lab of the marine sciences building at the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), intent on her work.  In one hand, she holds a small white object glued to a glass slide.  With the other, she presses a small piece of special sandpaper, known as lapping film, down on the table.  Slowly and delicately, she applies the object to the lapping film:  a few deliberate swipes, a close look, followed by a few more passes over the sandpaper.

The item she holds is an otolith, the earbone of a fish.  This particular otolith was collected from a mottled scorpionfish or brujo, a deep-water species of fish endemic to the eastern tropical Pacific region that includes the Galapagos.  With these slow brushes over the sandpaper, a process known as polishing, Andrade-Vera hopes to gain information that will contribute to the preservation of the brujo fishery for future generations.

Solange Andrade-Vera observes a fish ear bone (otolith) under the microscope.
Solange Andrade-Vera observes a fish ear bone (otolith) under the microscope. Photo by: Michelle Schuiteman.

At first glance, trees, coral, tortoises and fish may not seem to have much in common.  However, one special feature these organisms share is that they lay down layers of organic material as they grow.  Thus, the trunks of trees, scutes of a tortoise shell, coral skeletons and fish otoliths can all be used to provide valuable information about the organisms’ age. The growth of bony fish goes through cycles of higher and lower growth that correspond to seasonal food availability and habitat conditions.  When growth is slower, the layers are thinner, resulting in distinctive, readable lines.  Seasonal growth changes that occur annually lead to annual rings, and, on a shorter time scale, daily patterns of growth lead to daily rings.

Daily growth rings are easily visible in this photo of a juvenile yellow snapper (pargo amarillo) otolith taken at 10x magnification.
Daily growth rings are easily visible in this photo of a juvenile yellow snapper (pargo amarillo) otolith taken at 10x magnification. Photo by: Jose Marín Jarrín.

Which brings us back to Andrade-Vera, patiently slicing and polishing otoliths.  Before the rings can be read, the otolith must be processed:  otoliths from adults are embedded in resin and precision-sliced into cross-section using a diamond-bladed saw, whereas the otoliths from juvenile fish are glued to a glass slide and polished on both sides into cross-section for the clearest view.  Because the otoliths are so small (juvenile otoliths are about the size of a grain of rice), the rings must be read using a microscope.  Once the otoliths have been prepared, Andrade-Vera takes photos, and the rings are identified, counted and measured using photo-analysis software.

Two unprocessed otoliths (left), an otolith embedded in a resin block that has been cut in half (right), and a thin cross-section of an otolith in resin (center) that has been cut from the resin block with a diamond-bladed saw and can now be placed under a microscope to count age rings.  All otoliths pictured are from adult fish.
Two unprocessed otoliths (left), an otolith embedded in a resin block that has been cut in half (right), and a thin cross-section of an otolith in resin (center) that has been cut from the resin block with a diamond-bladed saw and can now be placed under a microscope to count age rings. All otoliths pictured are from adult fish. Photo by: Michelle Schuiteman.

“Otolith analysis can be repetitive and takes a person who is detail-oriented, but the information gained is invaluable in understanding the biology of fisheries species,” says Jose Marín Jarrín, Principal Investigator of the Fisheries Program at CDF. “We use otolith information to identify important biological parameters that are vital for developing a sustainable fishery.”

For example, knowing the ‘age at first reproduction’, or how old a fish is when it can begin to reproduce, is paramount to establishing sustainable catch limits.  When fish are caught before they have reached the age when they can reproduce, not only is that fish being removed from the fishery, but all the offspring it might have had are removed too.  Catching fish after they have been reproductive for a few years means that, even though the fish is gone from the fishery, it has left behind descendants that can be caught in the future.

The Fisheries Program at CDF works to provide otolith-based biological knowledge of Galapagos fish species to the decision makers at the Galapagos National Park, other government agencies, researchers, and the public at large.  The amount of biological information on fisheries species in Galapagos is low, but recent projects are beginning to fill in details about the timing of fish reproduction.  Projects undertaken recently by CDF and backed by funding from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust have determined the age and size at maturity of brujo and Galapagos grouper, and the age and size of Galapagos grouper and yellow snapper when they settle from larval to juvenile habitat.

Juvenile yellow snapper (pargo amarillo) otolith at 10x magnification.
Juvenile yellow snapper (pargo amarillo) otolith at 10x magnification. Photo by: Solange Andrade-Vera.

Looking forward, the CDF Fisheries Project will continue to use otoliths to expand the existing knowledge of important fisheries species.  But for Andrade-Vera and Marín Jarrín, the ultimate goal of their work is to contribute to the sustainability of Galapagos fisheries.

“Absolutely, working with otoliths can sometimes be tiring for the eyes, and you’re ready when it’s time for a break.  But I like the work!  All the cutting, polishing and counting of rings is worth the effort when you start to explore the data to understand the answers to your questions.  I began working with otoliths for my undergraduate thesis, and I’m very happy to be continuing in a field that is interesting and useful, and where not very much has been done here in Ecuador.”
— Solange Andrade-Vera

The Charles Darwin Foundation depends entirely upon donations. Please donate today to help us understand the lifecycles of Galapagos fish species.

The “Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands”, in French “Fondation Charles Darwin pour les îles Galapagos”, Association International sans but lucratif (“AISBL”), has its registered office located at Drève du Pieuré 19, 1160 Brussels, and is registered under the trade registry of Brussels under the number 0409.359.103.

© 2018 Charles Darwin Foundation. All rights reserved.