Dedicated to one of AWF's pillars, Humankind and Nature, this fundraising campaign will support the CDF's Scalesia Forest Restoration Project, which aims to protect this unique habitat in the Galapagos Islands.

The Scalesia forest is dominated by the endemic giant daisy tree Scalesia pedunculata and houses many endemic species, including the famous Darwin's finches. The forest is now in dramatic decline because of negative impacts of invasive species, particularly blackberry. CDF and the Galapagos National Park Directorate have developed successful and sustainable techniques to control blackberry. With the necessary funds, we can extend this control to help the natural regeneration of Scalesia pedunculata at larger scales.

The campaign will run from June 15 to June 30 as follows: AWF will appeal to subscriptions on its website; for each subscription, AWF will donate $1 to CDF.


Additionally, AWF will encourage donations to CDF and match every donation, dollar for dollar, up to a maximum of $10 000 in subscriptions and matching gifts from June 15 to June 30. At the end of the campaign, regardless of the amount raised, AWF will deliver $2,500 to CDF to support the Scalesia Forest Restoration Project in Galapagos .

“On behalf of the Charles Darwin Foundation, I would like to thank the Azimuth World Foundation for their support of our Scalesia project. It is fantastic to have Azimuth supporting us with this really important initiative!”
- Dr. Rakan Zahawi, Executive Director of the Charles Darwin Foundation

"This project is incredibly important, since losing the Scalesia forest would dramatically decrease the biodiversity of the archipelago because it provides the habitat for many other species, including the iconic Darwin's finches. Thanks to the Azimuth World Foundation and other supporters of this project, we are able to continue our endeavour of helping to conserve this unique forest."
- Renée Monroe, Chief Development Officer of the Charles Darwin Foundation

Learn more at

Muddy tortoise.

It was a cloudy and rainy day shortly after 6 am, when Freddy Cabrera, Jose Haro and I met up at a bus stop in Puerto Ayora to make our way to the humid highlands of the island. As usual, our day revolved around tortoises, but instead of a long walk to reach nesting sites, we chose the comfort of tourist ranches where ponds can be found.

These ponds have recently been of interest to the Galapagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Programme (GTMEP). But why are we interested in knowing how tortoises use ponds in Santa Cruz? What can be so exciting about it and why could tortoises be seen as hippos of the Galapagos? One reason is tortoises are ecosystem engineers; organisms that can greatly influence the areas they inhabit. Another motivation is that we do not know how much “free fertilizer” -in form of urine and feces- tortoises move around. This may be important in ponds that are often used by tortoises, as they move nutrients from the terrestrial ecosystems into these aquatic ones. This may be very similar to the influence of hippopotamus on their ecosystems which has been referred to as a ‘conveyer belt’ from terrestrial to aquatic ecosystems. Every day, thousands of hippos feed on grasslands and then defecate tons of nutrients (in the form of partially digested plant material) into the shallow pools where they enter to cool off. This massive input of fertilizers can stimulate plant and insect growth and change the oxygen level of the water. Tortoises in the Galapagos could be doing something very similar!

One of the few known references about this process came from Charles Darwin’s diary in which the, at-the-time young naturalist, describes a Galapagos tortoise drinking from such a pond in the island of Santiago. Fast forward 186 years later, very little is known about the secret life of tortoises in ponds.

Freddy Cabrera dropping a water quality probe into a pond while Ainoa Nieto Claudín examines temperature and dissolved oxygen values. An adult tortoise is seen consuming invasive guava fruits next to a guava tree on its right side.
Freddy Cabrera dropping a water quality probe into a pond while Ainoa Nieto Claudín examines temperature and dissolved oxygen values. An adult tortoise is seen consuming invasive guava fruits next to a guava tree on its right side. Photo by: Anne Guézou, CDF.

In 2019, we set a research question looking at this aspect of the tortoise’s life: their interactions with the ponds. To start, we dropped a water quality sampling probe into our first pond of the day shortly before 8 am. This allowed us to gain insights into how much oxygen there is in water, to know its pH, meaning how acid or alkalic water is- and to know other parameters related to water quality such as salinity. Through our measurements, we learned that the water had a temperature of 23°C and approximately 30% of dissolved oxygen concentration. Oxygen concentration is a critical parameter for assessing water quality, as several insect larvae (such as dragonflies’, which biologists call nymphs) need high amounts of oxygen to survive. Interestingly, during our sampling, we caught out and stored a coprophagous insect larvae in that pond, using a Ziploc bag! This means that this invertebrate relies on larger animal ‘poop’ for its food, most likely from giant tortoises. We also collected pond water in different bottles for future laboratory analysis to identify chlorophyl levels as well as total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and dissolved carbon concentrations.

Dry mud of ponds used by tortoises awaiting to be weighted at the Charles Darwin Research Station laboratory.
Dry mud of ponds used by tortoises awaiting to be weighted at the Charles Darwin Research Station laboratory. Photo by: Diego Ellis Soto, Yale University.

With a simple but effective method, we then collected mud, scraping it off with a plastic spoon from the carapace of tortoises. We brought the scraped mud back to our lab at the Charles Darwin Research Station and let it dry in an oven. This way we learned that a large male tortoise with 141cm of carapace length was carrying 464 grams of dry mud on itself from inside to outside of our study pond! This is another example of how tortoises can modify their environment. While one single trip may not seem to represent that much, thousands of tortoises moving such amounts of mud on a weekly basis, can scale up to several tons of mud removed and displaced a year and can thus alter and engineer ponds as they go!

This ongoing research is assessing how tortoises use ponds, both in touristic ranches and in natural ponds, mostly within the Galapagos National Park areas. It is also known that during the cool-dry season, some touristic ranch owners may fill their ponds with water to prevent them from drying out while some natural ponds, without that treatment, dry out intermittently or completely during this time.

Several giant tortoises (representing tons of terrestrial biomass) and two white-cheeked pintail ducks actively using ponds in ranch’s area destined for touristic activities, in the humid highlands of Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos.
Several giant tortoises (representing tons of terrestrial biomass) and two white-cheeked pintail ducks actively using ponds in ranch’s area destined for touristic activities, in the humid highlands of Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos. Photo by: Diego Ellis Soto, Yale University.

One of the challenges we are currently facing during the COVID19 pandemic, involves shipping the pond samples to our collaborator’s Dr. Amanda Subalusky laboratory in Florida, USA. This step is needed to quantify stable isotopes in our samples, to analyze how much ‘fertilizer’ do the tortoises move from the terrestrial to the aquatic food webs; from the terrestrial vegetation area into the ponds. Next step in this research project will involve using game cameras to determine how many tortoises visit the ponds and how much time they spend in these sites throughout the year. Exciting discoveries await!

Cover of the cookbook "Nuestras raíces" (Our Roots)

Isabela's recipe book "Our Roots" (Our Roots) will be officially launched on august 20th of 2021. The cookbook features twelve typical dishes of the island. It Is divided into three sections: four entrances , four main dishes and four desserts. The authors, high school students from Isabela with the support of their mothers and grandmothers, teach us the ingredients and their preparation. In addition, through stories, they describe how these dishes are related to the history of their families in Isabela.
The idea of compiling these recipes and stories is to recognize some of the culture through its culinary tradition and promote sustainable agriculture on the island.

Recognizing culture through the recipe
One of the recurring themes in the various meetings we have with local institutions and community members, is the absence of historical and cultural documents of the island. T his recipe book, through its typical dishes and stories, seeks to make visible a part of Isabela's culture and identity. Through each recipe we can recognize the cultural origins of its inhabitants and how these various roots have played a primary role in feeding their families who came to the island.

In addition, they detail how food, family relationships, arrival stories and memories of people, who may no longer accompany them but are an integral part of their stories and present are obtained.

The "Daddy George" sawmill. Photo by: Jessica Martinez

Promoting sustainable agriculture on the island
According to mag (2020), less than 60% of agricultural areas are effectively produced in the Galapagos; which generate 600 of the 1,300 tons of food per month needed to meet the demand of the islands. The importation of agricultural products from Mainland Ecuador is used to cover the rest of the food needed for domestic consumption.

 Organic production greenhouses at
Organic production greenhouses at "La Elvira" farm. Highlands of Isabela, "El Cura" sector. Photo by: Ernesto Bustamante Velarde.

The process of preparing the recipe
In 2019, for the second consecutive year, the "Sustainable Community" environmental education project was implemented in Isabela. This initiative aims to motivate new generations to be agents of change for the conservation and sustainability of the Galapagos Islands. For this purpose, participants engage in various activities grouped into sports, social, scientific and cultural modules.

One of these modules is Sustainable Agriculture, which provides activities to understand the importance of sustainable food production and balanced food. One of the tasks that participants performed was the documentation of three typical dishes served in their families (an entrance , a main course and a dessert). Each dish had to be accompanied by a story of how it was related to family history.

Participants of the Sustainable Community II Project. Sustainable Agriculture Module.
Participants of the Sustainable Community II Project. Sustainable Agriculture Module. Photo by: Martina Roggiery

A total of fifty-two recipes and stories were collected from the fourteen project participants. Of these, 12 dishes (four entries , four main courses and four desserts) were selected according to the best stories and the use of more local ingredients. After the completion of the project, in early 2020, we contacted the families of the students who proposed the selected dishes to know their interest in being part of the recipe book. All the families involved confirmed their involvement.

The pandemic delayed our plans to interview families to learn more about dishes and stories and photograph the process of their elaboration. To avoid indefinitely postponing these activities, we conducted most interviews over the phone. In June, we were able to start with the coordination of visits to take the photos, taste the dishes and share with the families. Since not all members of the families were on the island, these visits were concluded at the end of 2020.

Throughout this process of interviews, visits, content development, photographs, tasting and review of countless versions of the recipe book, there was a lot of support from people inside and outside of the CDF .

For this reason, I would especially like to thank the families who opened the doors of their homes, Carla Zambrano for her support and dedication in the recipe book, Kathe Jaramillo for the illustrations and the CDF communications team for the design and support in the review of the prescription. I hope readers will enjoy their stories and venture to meet and try a part of Isabela's culinary tradition.

"Through food customs we are mindful of our origin, it is important to teach our children to keep history alive over time." – Ing. Gabriela Rivadeneira. Author of one of the recipes.

CDS Herbarium collections.  Mounted vascular plants, seeds and wood specimens.

The Charles Darwin Research Station is recognized for its work in science and research. These qualities were precisely what, from a young age, made me interested in becoming part of this great family. I am currently a student at the Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja, studying a degree in Environmental Management. Here I had the opportunity to take part in a project recording endemic plants on Santa Cruz island and investigating their role in our community’s daily life. It was from that moment that I was riveted in exploring the world of botany.

In September 2020, amid the covid19 pandemic, I had the opportunity to become involved as volunteer in the research at the CDS herbarium. It was at that point that I began to learn what an herbarium is and what it can be used for. In summary, it is a library of dried plants, algae, fungi and lichens, each their own specimen.

The CDS herbarium contains endemic and introduced species that represent the botanical diversity of the Galapagos. They are a good representation of the total known flora and those species that highlight the archipelago’s unique diversity. Upon my arrival at the collection, I was so impressed to see thousands of plant specimens, carefully organized and stored. At first glance they all appeared to be the same. However, after observing them closely and studying them, I began to notice how they all differ. Botany offers us an almost infinite world of biodiversity to learn about! In that moment I knew I had started a journey of learning and supporting the CDS herbarium, the largest collection of plants in the Galapagos islands.

Once I started working there I understood that within this wondrous collection of plants, there were dry organisms, but these were full of life, and history! I further learned that the herbarium contains several ancillary collections of plant parts:

  • The “Carpotheque” (Carpoteca) is a collection of seeds and fruits which aid the study of plant dispersal and animal-plant interaction studies, for instance.
  • The “Palinotheque” (Palinoteca) houses the collection of pollen, for palynological studies.
  •  The “Xylotheque”, containing wood specimens, helps us understand durability, and other physical properties, of these tree species.

A great experience I had was my first field trip, with Sarita Mahtani-Williams (CDS herbarium’s Assistant Taxonomist), Patricia Jaramillo Díaz (Herbarium Curator and Natural History Collections Coordinator) and Anne Guézou (Botanist at the CDF). During this trip, we collected specimens for the CDS herbarium’s collections. This experience was particularly interesting for me, as from a young age my parents had taught me Galapagos plants and I had learned their common names. And there I was, in the field, collecting plants with professional experts! I realized that they, on the other hand, referred to plant species by their scientific name. One way I started learning was realizing each species has a name and a surname, just like we do. For instance Justicia galapagana, of the Spanish common name “purple fly”, and Cordia lutea, known locally as “muyuyo”.

After that, I must confess that I have set myself a personal challenge: to learn the scientific names of most endemic plants of the island.
Following this field trip, I am proud to see that the first plants I collected are now together with specimens collected by famous scientists, contributing towards the CDS herbarium collection growth. During my time as a volunteer I have also learned that each collected plant must undergo its process before forming part of this world of dry specimens. Each specimen is identified, curated and mounted to ensure its long-term conservation. This last process, plant mounting, is my favourite part. At first, I found it rather difficult, but with time and daily practice I developed techniques to improve my results and work faster, it is certainly an art! This is the kind of work that, carried out over decades, has made the plant collection grow to what is now more than 46,000 specimens, which are and will continue to be used to deepen knowledge of the archipelago’s flora and support its conservation.

Mounting plants collected in the Galapagos, in preparation for their inclusion in the vascular plant collection of the CDS herbarium.
Mounting plants collected in the Galapagos, in preparation for their inclusion in the vascular plant collection of the CDS herbarium. Photo by: Patricia Jaramillo Díaz, CDF.

Among the daily tasks that are carried out in the CDS herbarium, of great importance is the daily monitoring of temperature and humidity levels in the collections. This ensures that the atmospheric conditions are maintained at optimal levels to ensure the preservation of all herbarium specimens. This makes me realise that we are constantly looking after this diverse reservoir of plants, crucial for current and future studies.

Did you know that the CDS herbarium runs projects that contribute towards scientific research?
In addition to the conservation and preservation of seeds, fruits, pollen, wood, and of course, entire plants, the CDS herbarium is also a place where scientific research is carried out. A useful tool for this, for example, is the digitization of mounted specimens of vascular plants, using the “HerbScan” scanner (Jaramillo et al., 2020). This project began in January 2015 and by now approximately two thirds of the collection have been digitized. The importance of this project for science became particularly clear in times of the pandemic. The quarantine period during 2020 fully highlighted the importance of having a virtual repository of such a vital natural history collection. And we know that thanks to technology such as this we will be able to achieve this goal! Additionally, our daily works includes updating our database, which also gives virtual access to information on all the species in the CDS herbarium collection via the digital repository called “dataZone” ( This platform is accessible to anyone in the world interested in species of the Galapagos. What do you think? Isn’t it fantastic?

Scanning a mounted specimen of Opuntia galapageia var. macrocarpa using the equipment “HerbScan”, as part of the digitization project.
Scanning a mounted specimen of Opuntia galapageia var. macrocarpa using the equipment “HerbScan”, as part of the digitization project. Photo by: Adrián Cueva, CDF.

I can now say that working as a volunteer at the CDF has been one of my best lifetime experiences. During all this time I have been learning about and supporting the conservation of plant diversity of the Galapagos islands. Within the degree I am pursuing, and thanks to the opportunity of carrying out my university practical internship in the herbarium, this experience has helped me understand my career interests. I am now more certain of how to plan where I want to go, decide what I want to do, and know who I want to be.

It is very rewarding to see how permanent residents of Galapagos, along with national and international researchers, contribute in their way to the growth and to the preservation of the CDS herbarium collections for scientific use. I am proud to be able to help and learn from Sarita Mahtani-Williams, Patricia Jaramillo Díaz and Anne Guézou, professionals in the botanical field at the CDF. While working with them I have grown as a student, as a professional, and personally, and now see the world of botany as an irreplaceable jewel that we must conserve.

I now know that all this incredible work is made possible thanks to the support of generous donors NatGeo Lindblad Expeditions and Ecoventura who contribute to the maintenance of the Natural History Collections of the CDF. A special thank you to our Director of Sciences María José Barragán, to Sarita Mahtani-Williams and to Patricia Jaramillo Díaz for their valuable comments in writing this blog and to Sarita Mahtani-Williams for translating the Spanish version.

Jaramillo, P., Acurio, A., Betancourt, L., Jiménez-uzcátegui, G., & Mahtani-Williams, S. (2020). Informe Anual para Renovación Patente Colecciones de Historia Natural. In Estación Científica Charles Darwin.

The ‘Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands’, in French ‘Fondacion Charles Darwin  pour les Iles Galapagos’, Association Internationale sans but lucrative (AISBL), has its registered office at Avenue Louise 54, 1050 Brussels, Belgium. Trade Registry # 0409.359.103

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