The Charles Darwin Research Station houses Ecuador’s largest natural history collection of Galapagos specimens.

Many programs have been started with a goal to provide the best access to existing taxonomic information, but arguably the most important began in 1994 under the auspices of the United Nations with the creation of the BIN 21 network, now known as the GBIF (Global Biodiversity Information Network).  In 1994, Ecuador presented the first ever online database of biodiversity, Proyecto BioBanco, to the BIN21 forum.  Unfortunately, in succeeding years the Government of Ecuador let go of all its initiatives to catalog biodiversity, including the original Proyecto BioBanco.  However, in the past five years the initiative has been revived and the nation is working to catch up with the developments in bioinformatics that happened in the intervening years.

In 2011, a letter directed to the President of the Board of Directors of the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) signaled the concerns various institutions had about the enormous backlog of information about the biodiversity of Galapagos.  Seven years later, CDF is in possession of a correctly-structured database that meets international standards (GBIF – Taxonomic Database Working Group / Darwin Core), and is on the road to launch to the digital world one of the most sophisticated systems of information of biodiversity in Ecuador.  The CDF Natural History Collections Digitization Project complements the information actually found in the collections database (which consists of more than 120,000 records), adding a system that permits the sharing of high-resolution photos through the internet.

The herbarium houses over 44,000 specimens.
The herbarium houses over 44,000 specimens. Photo by: Sam Rowley.

This photo-sharing system consists of the scanning and/or photography of each one of the specimens stored in the collections and is followed by processing using a system known as tiling.  Through this system, each image is divided into various sections that together form the complete image.  For each level of increase of the image, pieces are added together until arriving at the maximum level of increase.  This system will be very familiar for those who use Google maps, where, with each increase of map scale, pieces are being put together to form the requested level of increase.  This technique allows images of high resolution to be shared rapidly on the Internet.  The process started the first week of November with the digitization of the herbarium specimens; at the moment, more than 2,000 samples have been digitized and processed.  These samples have already been uploaded to the new CDF server and will be available at the beginning of next year for all who visit the new website. 

This new system will permit entry to the new world of online taxonomy, and scientists and interested persons from around the world will be able to access the images and observe samples in very precise detail.  This type of access cannot replace the in situ review of samples for serious investigators, but will permit taxonomists a better view of the samples before requesting them for loan.  We hope this will help CDF to reduce the lack of identifications of the collections on one hand, and on the other, will permit us to deal with a backlog in the digitization of our collections.  This final point is very important when considering the fragility inherent in the natural history collections.

High resolution photo scans of specimens.
High resolution photo scans of specimens. Photo by: Gustavo Morejón.

Additionally, a new system using NFC/RFID (Near Field Communication / Radio Frequency ID) microchips will complement the collection’s current specimen-labeling system.  This system permits digital storage, in a tiny microchip, of all the information available for a specimen without the limitations inherent in paper.  The quantity of text that can be stored in one of these microchips is approximately the size of two sheets of A4 paper written in 12-point font.  Information stored this way can remain viable for several centuries at least.  In order to read a label of this type, one only needs a smartphone (that supports NFC), or an NFC reader attached to a computer.

Our state-of-the-art new system combines a well-structured database with high-quality images and a labeling system that guarantees the long-term preservation of information from each sample in the collection.  All of this information is backed up on three different servers:  a production server on the internal network, a database server also on the internal network and an external internet server with high-capacity storage space.  Taken together, we have converted the system of digitization of the CDF collections into the most sophisticated system of its type in Ecuador, and one of the best in the world.

Detailed information available online.
Detailed information available online. Photo by: Gustavo Morejón.
You can search for species online.
You can search for species online.

 

The Charles Darwin Foundation depends entirely upon donations. Please donate today to support these digitalization efforts!

Sargeant major fish and a heron in mangrove habitat.

The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), a non-for-profit research institution that for almost 60 years has been the official scientific advisor to the Ecuadorian government, will be hosting a world-class International Climate Change Workshop at the iconic Charles Darwin Research Station. From the 25th – 29th of October leading national and international climate change experts in the areas of oceanography, climatology, marine ecology, fisheries science, socio-economic impacts and policy, will develop a long-term research agenda for climate change adaptation and mitigation for the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

Galapagos is the world’s best-preserved tropical archipelago and given its unique biodiversity is also one of the most popular wildlife tourism destinations. The Galapagos Archipelago sits at the cross-road of major cold and warm water currents, and thus hosts one of the most unique combinations of marine life that is strikingly rich and diverse. However, modelling scenarios have predicted that climate change will be devastating to the archipelago and Ecuador has defined the islands as its most vulnerable region.

 

Climate change is one of the biggest threats for the conservation of the Galapagos Islands, specially their unique marine ecosystems. As the Galapagos leading research institution, one of our priorities for our future marine research agenda will be to provide the best possible knowledge to inform mitigation and adaptation actions” said Dr. Arturo Izurieta, CDF Executive director.

 

The Galapagos Archipelago represents a perfect natural laboratory to predict the impacts of climate change upon marine ecosystems, as it lies at the epicentre of El Niño/La Niña cycle, which strongly influence its ocean-atmospheric and ecological systems. We can use this as an advantage point to become a reference research institution for climate change science and better inform management actions” added Dr. Pelayo Salinas de León, Senior Marine Ecologist with CDF.

In July 2017, together with the Galapagos National Park Directorate and other NGOs working in Galapagos, the CDF conducted a preliminary workshop with regional experts under the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor Initiative (CMAR, in Spanish).

“This successful initial workshop highlighted the need for a prioritized climate change research agenda to maximize existing knowledge, fill existing knowledge gaps and optimize resources”, said Dr. Jose Marín Jarrín, Senior Fisheries Ecologist with CDF.

Sea lion in the Galapagos Islands.
Sea lion in the Galapagos Islands. Photo by: Enric Sala / National Geographic Pristine Seas.

The participants of this first meeting also agreed that at present there is insufficient knowledge to predict the potential impacts of climate change on the biodiversity, society and economy of the protected areas in the region, and highlighting the need to prioritize research topics in order to maximize the limited resources. 

Experts will represent 12 nationalities, including Professor Daniel Pauly, globally recognized for his work in studying human impacts on global fisheries; Professor Boris Worm, a world-reference on the effects of climate change on global marine biodiversity; Dr. Valerie Hickey, a practice manager with the World Bank; Dr. Charles Stock, a leader in the field of Geophysical Fluid Dynamics, Dr. Regina Ostergaard-Klem, an expert on the social aspects of climate change, Professor Jon Witman, who has studied the ecological effects of El Niño in Galapagos for over 15 years and Dr. Daniel Orellana, an expert on Galapagos socio-ecological systems. Contributing institutions include the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), Galapagos Governing Council (CGREG), Ecuadorian Navy’s Oceanographic Research Institute (INOCAR), Escuela Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL) and University of Cuenca.

The morning of October 25th there will be an open session with local institutions and the general public where several experts will deliver keynote talks on the most important aspects of applied climate change research. This event will be followed by three full days of discussions and work at the Charles Darwin Research Station to elaborate a prioritized marine research agenda, scientific publications and concept proposal to secure long-term funding that will enable the implementation of these priority projects. This workshop is possible thanks to the financial support from Amy E Blackwell, through the Gerald 'Jerry' Wellington Climate Change Project, and the Helmsley Charitable Trust.

For more information about the workshop and experts see the following documents:

Galapagos Climate Change Workshop

Expert Biographies - Climate Change Workshop

Media Enquiries:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Endemic selemas (Xenocys jessiae) dodging hungry sea lion (Zalophus wollebacki) at Pinzon Island.

When I first moved to the Galapagos to begin my position as marine ecologist at the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) a year ago, I was in disbelief each time I went snorkelling. Seeing tropical corals and parrot fish, sea lions and sub-Antarctic penguins all sharing the same coastal habitat was mind-blowing.

This unique combination of marine life happens nowhere on this planet but here. That is because this isolated archipelago in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean is at the crossroad of major warm and cold water currents, making it a cradle of unique marine biodiversity.

But isolated as they may be, the Galapagos Islands aren’t immune to the impacts of anthropogenic climate change.

What are the implications and ripple effects of a warming ocean, sea level rise, ocean acidification and the intensification of El Niño events for the Galapagos’ marine biome? These are fundamental questions that remain unanswered. This sense of urgency surrounding the irreversible change in the Galapagos motivated the marine scientists of the CDF – the team that I’m part of – to develop a priority marine research agenda centered around climate change.

To make sure we nail it, we called upon top-notch leading marine scientists, socio-economic and policy experts in climate change, to give us a hand. It all kicked-off on the 25th of October when we held a four-day International Climate Change Workshop at the Charles Darwin Research Station.

El equipo del Taller.
The workshop crew. Photo by: Daniela Vilema.

The atmosphere at the workshop was electric, especially for an early-career marine scientist like myself. For the first time I got to see how the wicked multi-faced problems that climate change is imposing on this iconic archipelago can be addressed by a cross-disciplinary approach.

The situation today in the Galapagos is precarious – both ecologically and economically – thus, only by proactively planning for adaptation and implementing dynamic new policies aimed at mitigating the impacts of climate change will the Galapagos be able to thrive in the future.

Daniel Orellana, Florencia Cerutti, Jon Witman, William Chueng y Charlie Stock trabajan juntos en proyectos de cambio climático aplicables a la Reserva Marina de Galápagos.
Daniel Orellana, Florencia Cerutti, Jon Witman, William Chueng, and Charlie Stock working together to develop research projects with integrative climate change forecasting models applicable to the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Photo by: Daniela Vilema.

Among the things that struck me during the workshop was listening to Daniel Pauly explain some of the key implications of warming oceans: “Fish, especially the larger ones, will have difficulty breathing, as warmer ocean can hold less oxygen, meaning they will migrate to colder and deeper waters, and over time many fish species will have to shrink in size to adapt to a sea with less oxygen.”

Escuela gigante de barracuda (<em>Sphyraena idiastes</em>) frente a la Isla Bartolomé.
Giant school of barracudas (Sphyraena idiastes) off Bartolome Island. Photo by: Salome Buglass.

You can already start to imagine the chain reaction of detrimental impacts that the displacement of fishes will have on the region. Here on the Enchanted Islands, the consequences would be harsh for fishermen and fatal for many fish-eating animals, including iconic species such sea lions, marine iguanas, penguins, cormorants, boobies and sharks, which tourists pay thousands of dollars to come and see.

Another hot discussion topic was El Niño, the strongest inter-annual climate fluctuation on Earth. The Galapagos lie at the epicentre of this cycle that occurs once every 15-20 years, though current predictions estimate that these events will take place more frequently and will be more intense due to the changing climate. As a result, Galapagos can serve as a microcosm to explore and study creative solutions for adaptation and designing policy solutions for people and nature that can be replicated elsewhere. The Galapagos Islands first showed us how life evolved on this amazing blue planet, and now it can show us how we need to adapt to climate change.

Iguanas marinas (<em>Amblyrhynchus cristatus</em>) calentándose en la roca junto a los tiburones punta blanca (<em>Triaenodon obesus</em>) que descansan en un canal de lava sumergido en la isla Isabela.
Marine Iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) warming up on rock next to white tip sharks (Triaenodon obesus) that are resting in a submerged lava channel on Isabela Island. Photo by: Salome Buglass.
I assisted the Communications team in the interview with Boris Worm. Video by Julio Rodriguez.

It was fascinating to witness the coming together of such an important research agenda. Jon Witman’s remarks on the last day nicely sum it all up: “I have attended countless workshops, and this is one of the few where the attendees have worked together so effectively to develop solid and actionable outputs.”

Click here for information about the workshop. Stay tuned for information about the workshop report and summaries of proposed research projects. Since all of CDF's scientific research depends solely on donations, you can help us continue investigating the effects of climate change. Please donate today.

Salomé Buglass. Photo by: Patricia Marti Puig.

Salomé Buglass is a marine scientist at the CDF since 2016. She is engaged in several applied research projects that support the management of the Galapagos Marine Reserve. These include undertaking the first comprehensive characterization of deep-sea ecosystems in the Galapagos, supporting the Galapagos National Parks in evaluating the effectiveness of the no-take reserves, monitoring the sub-tidal coastal ecosystems, and assessing the spatial and temporal distribution of shark populations within the reserve.

Salomé has a background in biogeography with a strong focus on climate change and has worked with marine ecosystems and fisheries in the Caribbean, Canada. and most recently in Ecuador. She believes healthy ocean and land resources are the foundation for human wellbeing, and her professional and personal goal is to work towards researching and implementing solutions that can counter the degradation of our natural environments, support their conservation and sustainable use, and improve community resilience.

Shark ambassadors at the end of the camping organized by the CDF.

Take motivated students, add the ocean surrounding us, and you have the perfect combination to conduct conservation work.

When you are at the beach, have you ever lifted a rock to find out what is under it? Or, have you touched sand to know if there is life there? Or, have you realized that there is life in the mangroves? Maybe you have or maybe you haven’t, but the truth is that if we intend to make future agents of change aware of the need to care for the oceans, we first need them to gain knowledge and explore marine life. In Galapagos, we are fortunate to be able to observe different ecosystems and ecological processes very easily, something that we shouldn’t take for granted.

Students looking for stories to tell through photographs on rocky shores.
Students looking for stories to tell through photographs on rocky shores. Photo by: Daniela Vilema.

Since May 2017, the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) has carried out the Shark Ambassadors Program with 30 local students between the ages of 14 and 16 on Santa Cruz Island. This marine education program seeks to complement our scientific research training with hand-on experiential learning to increase understanding about the importance of ocean conservation. The program included lessons for learning to communicate stories through photographs or speaking in public, talks with marine scientists to share their experiences, and field trips to explain the methodologies that scientists use to study different species.

Students preparing light traps to catch fish larvae at the Research Station’s beach.
Students preparing light traps to catch fish larvae at the Research Station’s beach. Photo by: Jonathan Atiencia.

Shark ambassadors in action! We recently held a camp that showed us that through teamwork, fun and exploration, students learn more and enjoy what they do. Cleaning of microplastics, intertidal transects, light traps, nocturnal exploration, and the pursuit of hidden treasure are some of the many activities  conducted at this camp. What did we see? Sea lions, sharks, moray eels, hermit crabs, jellyfish, fireworms, sponges, sea urchins, different species of fish, rays, a juvenile blacktip shark and more.

“I like this program because is not just theory. There are many practical activities” mentioned Andrés, one of our ambassadors.

“Sharks are not the dangerous animals that everybody thinks they are. We need to take care of them” said Fiorella, another shark ambassador.

Search of the lost treasure, the final challenge of the ‘gymkana’ during the camping.
Search of the lost treasure, the final challenge of the ‘gymkana’ during the camping. Photo by: Daniela Vilema.

Coordinating this program has taught me a lot. The goal is not to train marine biologists or scientists but to foster a closer relationship with the sea and thus, from any branch of interest, students will understand the importance of taking care of the place where they live and of transmitting this message to their community and to the world. This year we worked with wonderful students, who strive to wake up very early every Saturday to carry out the activities and they do it with great excitement. In addition, this has been a jointly organized project with Jonathan (local volunteer of the project) and volunteers and staff of the CDF who have participated in the activities.

“The project is very important because we learn to value the marine reserve that protects our islands and principally the great importance of sharks in our oceans” said Jonathan, CDF’s volunteer.

Shark-ambassadors group and CDF’s instructors.
Shark-ambassadors group and CDF’s instructors. Photo by: Joe Castillo.

Why sharks? These species are so charismatic, but at the same time we know so little about them. They keep the oceans healthy and are a very important economic source for diving tourism in the archipelago. However, worldwide over 100 million sharks die annually from overfishing. The lack of knowledge and the negative public image that films and the media have given to sharks hinder their conservation. Students have done their own research on different shark issues and the ultimate goal is to teach others what they have learned. Soon they will present their projects to the local community.

‘Tiburoncines’ winning team from the ‘gymkana’ organized as a reinforcement of information received on sharks.
‘Tiburoncines’ winning team from the ‘gymkana’ organized as a reinforcement of information received on sharks. Photo by: Daniela Vilema.

We cannot protect what we don’t know, and we cannot expect others to care about something if we don’t know what we have. Exploration, research, motivation and inspiration are some of the keys to becoming an ambassador! We would like to thank the Save Our Seas Foundation for making this project possible.

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.

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