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 scholarship grantee, Diana Carolina Loyola taking notes in the field.

As part of its mission, the Charles Darwin Foundation is proud to announce the launch of two partial University scholarships for local students of Galápagos with an excellent academic background. The locals can conduct their studies in areas related to conservation of ecosystems and sustainability.

The scholarship covers the following:

  • Cost of University tuition up to $900 annually.
  • Monthly living costs of $300 (food and accommodation).
  • An annual flight for up to four years (from continental Ecuador to Galapagos to continental Ecuador).
  • Yearly economic assistance of $200 (field trips or books).
  • Private health and life insurance (coverage only in Ecuador).

The candidates must fulfill the following requirements:

  • Be permanent residents of Galapagos.
  • Have a copy of identity documents (identification card and voting certificate).
  • Copy of the permanent residence card of the candidate and the legal representative if the candidate is underage.
  • Application letter directed to the Executive Director of the CDF, which demonstrates your academic interests and passion for the conservation of Galapagos.
  • Secondary school studies must have been completed in Galapagos and the candidate should have an excellent academic record, with a minimum average of 9.25/10.
  • In case the candidate has scholarship already, they must demonstrate that the scholarship doesn’t cover all of their costs.
  • For students that have initiated their University career, a scholarship will only be given to those that are up to their second semester and have a minimum grade of 8.5/10.
  • A certificate emitted by the Center of Higher Education which shows that the candidate is registered at a University, what they are studying, duration, title to be obtained, grading system.
  • Curriculum Vitae.

The required documentation must be submitted to the Reception of the Charles Darwin Foundation or sent by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  up to November 10, 2017.

Pre-selected candidates may be required to submit additional information and carry out a socioeconomic study as part of the process for granting a scholarship.

We invite you to participate with the sole objective of creating a promising and sustainable future that we may all feel proud of.

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We believe that climate change is one of the most pressing issues of the world today. The Charles Darwin Foundation is ready to tackle this global problem by improving our scientific understanding of the Galapagos archipelago. Possessing almost 60 years of Galapagos biodiversity data, we have resources available to continue studying the impacts of climate change and produce action plans.

As a nonprofit organization, we rely on the generosity of our national and international friends and donors. The "Dr. Gerard 'Jerry' Wellington Marine Climate Change Project" is an initiative by Amy Blackwell, owner of Blackwell Communications LLC, to ensure that a climate change research agenda is established in Galapagos and the archipelago is conserved for future generations.

The project was named in honor of Dr. Gerard Wellington, a renowned specialist in coral reef science, who was a trusted Advisor to the Charles Darwin Foundation for many years. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2014, but his memory will live on in the climate change work we hope to conduct on the Enchanted Islands. 

Amy has already raised $67,000 to fund climate change workshops and scientific research in Galapagos. Please help us reach her $80,000 fundraising goal.

The Charles Darwin Foundation depends entirely on the generosity of our  supporters. Please donate today.

Blackberry is one of the most damaging invasive plant species.

An international research team has identified the pathways that more than 1,500 alien species have taken to the Galápagos Islands, which will help to protect the UNESCO World Heritage-listed area from future threats.

The study, led by Charles Darwin University PhD candidate Veronica Toral-Granda in partnership with the Galapagos National Park Directorate, Galapagos Biosecurity Agency, Tourism Monitoring System and the Charles Darwin Foundation, investigated the diverse pathways taken by the invasive plant and animal species.

“Alien species are one of the biggest threats to natural ecosystems world-wide and are of particular concern for oceanic archipelagos such as Galápagos,” Veronica said.

“So far, 1,579 alien terrestrial and marine species have been introduced to Galápagos by humans, of which, about half were intentional.” At least 1,476 of these species have been established in Galapagos.

She said that most of the unintentional introductions, such as insects, had arrived on plants and plant-associated material, followed by transport vehicles, and commodities – particularly fruit and vegetables.

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Agricultural plants like papaya can carry alien species with them. Photo by: Heinke Jäger.

 

“The number, frequency and geographic origin of pathways for the arrival and dispersal of alien species to and within Galápagos have increased over time, tracking closely with the increase in human population (residents and tourists) on the islands.”

Veronica said that despite Ecuadorian Government efforts to implement biosecurity protocols, more needed to be done to manage the invasion pathways so that the site’s biodiversity values are retained.

“Galápagos has exceptionally high levels of endemism, which means that the species under threat are not found anywhere else in the world,” she said.

“Intentional introductions of alien species should decline if biosecurity is strengthened, but there is a danger that unintentional introductions will increase further as tourism on Galápagos expands.”

An introduced ani (<em>Crotophaga ani</em>). Photo: Heidi Snell
An introduced ani (Crotophaga ani). Photo by: Heidi Snell.

The invasion of alien species began between 1685 and 1850 with the introduction of goats and rats by whalers and buccaneers, and although goats were eradicated on some islands by a government control program, Veronica said significant threats remained.

“Species such as the introduced parasitic fly Philornis downsi, which was introduced accidentally to the archipelago, are causing close to 100 per cent of some mortality rates for fledglings in some nests of the iconic Darwin finch species,” she said.

<em>Philornis downsi</em> is affecting many endemic landbirds.
Philornis downsi is affecting many endemic landbirds. Photo by: Sam Rowley.

Veronica said the research was vital to improve understanding of alien species’ pathways in a bid to prevent new incursions and make recommendations to strengthen biosecurity.

The research, titled “Alien species pathways to the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador” and supported by an Australian Research Training Program scholarship and the Galápagos Conservancy, was recently published in PLOS ONE.

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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