Fernandina volcano erupting.

Fernandina Volcano began erupting on September 4 2017, at about 18:25 UTC (12:25 local time). This is not very surprising, because Fernandina erupts every few years, most recently in 2009, and before that 2005 and 1995. All of the recent eruptions have been on the southwestern flank of the volcano: there must be stress built up in the volcano that causes the magma to be directed there.

Modern communications are amazing. I started getting texts and emails from Galápagos friends on Monday afternoon, just hours after the eruption started. Pictures were appearing on Twitter and Facebook right away. When I started working in Galápagos, in the 1980s, we were lucky to hear about eruptions a month after the fact, by letter.

Fernandina Volcano at dusk.
Fernandina Volcano at dusk. Photo by: Daniel Unda.

The eruption is pouring lava onto the west, southwest, and southern flanks of the volcano. Galápagos volcanoes have 2 types of fissures, laid out like a bike wheel. This eruption seems to be from a circumferential fissure, like the hub of a bike wheel. The 2005 and 1995 eruptions were from radial fissures, like the spoke of the wheel.

The first pictures of the eruption showed that the plume was very steamy. It is possible that the eruption began from the caldera floor, which hosts a lake, but we are not yet sure. A caldera is a large cavity in the top of a volcano, like a giant crater. Fernandina has one of the most impressive calderas of any volcano in the world, over 800 m deep.

A plume gleaming at night.
A plume gleaming at night. Photo by: Julio Rodríguez.

Fernandina had a historically important eruption in 1968. It started out inauspicious, with just a little lava. But then lake water accessed the magma while it was still underground, and huge steam explosions ensued. Hot ash flows were emplaced to the coast of the volcano, and a 24 km high plume was produced. Explosions were heard and earthquakes felt throughout the archipelago. Parts of the caldera floor collapsed 350 m over 10 days. It is possible, although unlikely, that explosions due to the interaction of water and magma, could happen with the 2017 eruption.

Thermal satellite image right after the start of the eruption on September 4 2017.
Thermal satellite image right after the start of the eruption on September 4 2017. Image: GOES Satellite.


Hammerhead Shark

The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) supports the initiatives of communities in the Galapagos and mainland Ecuador to peacefully rally against illegal fisheries of endangered species. It is very alarming that these activities continue to occur in our territorial waters and in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. The natural resources being taken are important and necessary for the ecological stability of our oceans and relevant to the services that are produced by them.

We stand against the illegal, industrial and non-industrial fishing of sharks and other endangered species, no matter the scale. It is against the principles that we stand for as an institution and as citizens.

Technical points below:

    • Chondrichthyes (sharks, rays and chimeras) are among the most threatened group of species on the planet1. Since the end of World War II, we humans got too good at fishing and have managed to remove 90% sharks and other large predatory fishes from the oceans2. It is estimated that an average of 100 million sharks are fished globally and only a few protected and isolated places still harbor healthy shark populations3,4.
    • Sharks are predators across the world oceans, playing an essential role to keep marine ecosystems healthy. The depletion of sharks due to overfishing has altered the ecological balance in other parts of the world, resulting in environmental degradation and the loss of profitable fisheries. The protection of keystone species like sharks, has positive consequences throughout food chains5.
    • Sharks grow slowly, reproduce late, have a few offspring, live for many years and have complex reproductive cycles. All these life-history characteristics makes them very vulnerable to overexploitation through fishing practices, especially during reproductive seasons1.
    • Sharks are world citizens as they do not know about marine reserve boundaries or Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). For years the Charles Darwin Foundation and international partners have documented the regional migrations of several species of sharks and pelagic fish6–9. These studies have revealed large-scale movements and home ranges, highlighting the need for international protection and the implementation of biological corridors such as the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor (CMAR).
    • The total protection of sharks in the Galapagos for over 15 years, has resulted in the largest global shark biomass recorded to date around the northern islands of Darwin and Wolf10. Based on this and other technical information11, the Ecuadorian government created the first Marine Sanctuary of Ecuador around the globally unique islands of Darwin and Wolf in March 2016. This key event has set a milestone in Ecuador’s conservation efforts.
    • The value of a live shark for the tourism industry in the Galapagos is the largest recorded globally and it is far bigger than its value if fished for fins and meat. It is estimated that a live shark in Galapagos is worth USD$360,000 annually. Based on a conservative life-span, a live shark could generate over USD$5 million throughout its life if not fished12.
    • The best example of the highly migratory nature of many species of sharks, is the scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini). This is one of the most demanded species by fishing fleets given their large fins, so hammerheads have been listed as globally Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are also included in Appendix II of the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Female hammerheads leave the safe waters of the Galapagos Marine Reserve to undertake feeding excursions and reproductive migrations to mangrove areas in the Pacific coast of mainland South America. During these journeys, they are extremely vulnerable to industrial and artisanal fishing fleets in Ecuador’s and international waters.
    • The case of the illegal fishing vessel Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 it is not an isolated event and clearly highlights the global problematic of Illegal, Unreported and Undocumented (IUU) fishing. IUU is especially problematic around marine protected areas which are the only few places in the global oceans where marine ecosystems are protected from damaging fishing practices allowing the oceans to thrive again. Every day, hundreds of fishing vessels from many nations enter protected areas illegally to benefit from poaching inside their protected waters. The studies by CDF have also shown that the Galapagos Marine Reserve can effectively protect resident shark species within its boundaries, such as the case of the tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)8 which stays all year-round within the Reserve.
    • The case of the Fu Yuan Yu Leng also highlights the logistical and economic challenge of enforcing and patrolling large protected areas, like the Galapagos Marine Reserve with 138.000 km2 of protected waters. There is an urgent need to establish ambitious and sustainable funding mechanisms that ensure a cost-effective procedure to fight the daily problem of IUU fishing.
    • The CDF strongly believes that the support of the Galapagos community is crucial for the conservation of sharks in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. For the past two years, the CDF has run the campaign “Protect the fins and the ocean wins” to promote the Galapagos as a model of sustainable coexistence between humans and sharks. The ecological and socio-economic benefits of sharks for the community of Galapagos clearly outweighs the illegal fishing of sharks for their fins and meat and the incidental capture of sharks in experimental long-line projects within the  Galapagos Marine Reserve.
    • The CDF is against any form of fishing that captures endangered and/or protected species inside and outside the Galapagos Marine Reserve by both industrial and artisanal fishing fleets from any nationality. For this reason, CDF's scientists have provided over 15 specialist reports free of charge to the Galapagos National Park Directorate and the Ecuadorian District Attorney's Office as part of the legal processes against illegal activities within the Galapagos Marine Reserve. We are delighted to contribute to this processes and will continue to do so over the next 25 years.
    • CDF, a non for profit institution entirely funded by private donations, will continue to work with the Ecuadorian government to secure the necessary funding that ensures the sustainable development and conservation of the islands.


    The mission of the Charles Darwin Foundation and its Research Station is to provide knowledge and assistance through scientific research and complementary action to ensure the conservation of the environment and biodiversity in the Galapagos Archipelago.


    1. Dulvy, N. K. et al. Extinction risk and conservation of the world’s sharks and rays. Elife 3, e00590 (2014).

    2. Myers, R. A. & Worm, B. Rapid worldwide depletion of predatory fish communities. Nature  423, 280–283 (2003).

    3. Myers, R. A. & Worm, B. Extinction, survival or recovery of large predatory fishes. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. B Biol. Sci. 360, 13–20 (2005).

    4. Worm, B. et al. Global catches, exploitation rates, and rebuilding options for sharks. Mar. Policy 40, 194–204 (2013).

    5. Myers, R. A., Baum, J. K., Shepard, T. D., Powers, S. P. & Peterson, C. H. Cascading effects and the loss of apex predatory sharks from a coastal ocean. Science 325, 1846–1850 (2007).

    6. Ketchum, J. T. et al. Inter-island movements of scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini) and seasonal connectivity in a marine protected area of the eastern tropical Pacific. Mar. Biol.  161, 939–951 (2014).

    7. Hearn, A. R. et al. Adult female whale sharks make long-distance movements past Darwin Island (Galapagos, Ecuador) in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Mar. Biol.  163, 214 (2016).

    8. Acuña-Marrero, D. et al. Residency and movement patterns of an apex predatory shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) at the Galapagos Marine Reserve. PLOS ONE  12, e0183669 (2017).

    9. Salinas-De-León, P., Hoyos-Padilla, E. M. & Pochet, F. First observation on the mating behaviour of the endangered scalloped hammerhead shark Sphyrna lewini in the Tropical Eastern Pacific. Environ. Biol. Fishes  Accepted, (2017).

    10. Salinas de León, P. et al. Largest global shark biomass found in the northern Galápagos Islands of Darwin and Wolf. PeerJ  4, e1911 (2016).

    11. Salinas-De-León, P., Acuña-Marrero, D., Carrión-Tacuri, J. & Sala, E. Valor ecológico de los ecosistemas marinos de Darwin y Wolf, Reserva Marina de Galápagos.15 (Fundación Charles Darwin/Dirección del Parque Nacional Galápagos, 2015).

    12. Lynham, J., Costello, C., Gaines, S. D. & Sala, E. Economic valuation of marine and shark-based tourisms in the Galápagos Islands. 46 (National Geographic Pristine Seas, 2015).

    Press contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

From left to right: Dr. Jorge Carrión (Environment Area Director of the GNPD), Santiago Dunn (Executive President of Ecoventura), Dr. Arturo Izurieta (Executive director of CDF), Eliecer Cruz (a member of CDF’s board).

As part of a launch of the new “Galapagos Biodiversity and Education for Sustainability Fund”, a  Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by the Ecuadorian tour-company Ecoventura with the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and Mr. Eliecer Cruz Bedón, a prominent Galapagos conservationist with decades of experience leading conservation efforts in the archipelago. This fund will provide vital support the Galapagos National Park Directorate's (GNPD) environmental management work in addition to the CDF's scientific research and Ecuadorian scientist scholarship program.

“It’s important for people to know that there are conservation efforts by citizens and businessmen who operate in Galapagos and it's also an example for others to join this cause,” stated Dr. Arturo Izurieta, Executive Director of the Charles Darwin Foundation. 

Bartolomé Island, Galápagos.
Bartolomé Island, Galápagos. Photo by: Sam Rowley.

Ecoventura is a socially and ecologically responsible Ecuadorian-based tour operator and this new partnership is an extension of their impressive conservation efforts in the archipelago. They are also an in-kind donor and have generously allowed CDF to share their research projects aboard the M/V Galapagos Sky vessel. See details of an upcoming opportunity in December 2017 to travel in Galapagos with one of our Senior Researchers:

Our scientists will have the opportunity to join the guest aboard the M/V Galapagos Sky to share CDF research projects first-hand.
Our scientists will have the opportunity to join the guest aboard the M/V Galapagos Sky to share CDF research projects first-hand. Design: Daniel Unda.

Since CDF raises its funds independently and relies exclusively on the generosity of its donors, there are high hopes of all the work that will be achieved with Ecoventura´s help. Moreover, this tourism company is setting an important precedent for responsible tourism and in the future other organizations will emulate their business model.

In essence, tourism and the wellbeing of Galapagos’ human population depend on the survival of the flora and fauna, so by supporting CDF, organizations will be able to ensure that their businesses and the conservation of the archipelago will last well into the future.

For more information about this environmentally responsible tour operator and to book a trip of the Galapagos Islands, please visit Ecoventura’s website.

Roberto Cubero, Geiner Golfin,  Inti Keith, observing the coral reef.

Written in collaboration with Geiner Golfin, Management of Natural Resources for Cocos Island.

An investigation was recently initiated in the Cocos Island National Park with the aims of minimizing the negative impacts on marine biodiversity in the Cocos Island National Park caused by non-native species, and of establishing protocols for prevention, early detection and rapid response. This investigation is conducted in collaboration with the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) on the Galapagos Islands and the Program of Invasive Marine Species, which started the investigation in 2012 in the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR).  The project depends on the participation of the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), the Agency for Biosecurity for Galapagos (ABG), the Oceanographic Institute of the Navy (INOCAR), Port Authorities and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC).   

Dr. Inti Keith, the main researcher of non-native species in the Galapagos Islands, stated that “it is vital to expand the investigation to other marine protected areas in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, due to the extremely high connectivity that exists in this region and the climactic changes that are occurring. Non-native species can be introduced from different regions of the world in the hulls of ships and in ballast water (anthropogenic introduction) or can be dispersed naturally by oceanographic currents (natural arrival). The most serious issue is that non-native species can become invasive species by establishing, reproducing and expanding.”

Coral Reef, Wafer Bay, Sunken Ship.
Coral Reef, Wafer Bay, Sunken Ship. Photo by: Katharine Evans.

The introduction of non-native species has been identified as the second-most important reason for the loss of biodiversity worldwide, after habitat loss. Marine bioinvasions are recognized as a problem in all the world’s oceans. The amount of biological invasions have increased over the last decade, principally due to the accelerated propagation of species through the growth of global commerce, transport and tourism, which has allowed species to overcome natural barriers such as currents and temperature gradients that once prohibited their movement. Human beings have transported species for years (deliberately or accidentally) and some of these species have succeeded in establishing themselves, proliferating and causing large ecological, economical and health impacts.

“Oceanic islands are more prone to invasions by non-native species, due to the paucity of natural competitors and predators that control populations in their native ecosystem. Oceanic islands often have many ecological niches that have not been occupied due to the distance of colonizing populations, increasing the probability of a successful invasion. The geographical isolation of Cocos Island has limited natural migration of new species, allowing for the present species to evolve in absence of competitors and predators” explained Dr. Keith.

Geiner Golfin, Park Ranger and Marine Biologist in charge of the Management of Natural Resources Program, mentioned that “this is a new and exciting investigation that’s never been conducted in the Cocos National Park”.  He stated that the research will allow the Park to increase their knowledge on how this marine ecosystem functions and how it is connected with other Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the region.  It will also illustrate the connectivity in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) and how the biodiversity of this region must be protected.  This research will facilitate the development of preventative and management guidelines in order to protect biodiversity locally as well as taking into account regional ecosystem services.  The Cocos Island National Park is carrying out the necessary efforts to begin monitoring non-native species and work on prevention, early detection and rapid response protocols in collaboration with the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Marine Invasive Species Program.”

Observation of hammerhead sharks near the coral at Islote Pájara during the investigation.
Observation of hammerhead sharks near the coral at Islote Pájara during the investigation. Photo by: Katharine Evans.

The investigation led by Dr. Keith completed its first expedition to Cocos Island National Park on the 12th of August, with the collaboration of co-researchers Macarena Parra (Charles Darwin Foundation), park rangers Roberto Cubero, Geiner Golfín and Keylor Morales, and Katharine Evans (Oceans Unlimited). Geiner Golfin said “it is very important to involve park rangers in this investigation, in order to build capacity and run a successful monitoring program that will provide the basis for strong management". The new protocols will be enforced and supported by the park rangers on the island.

During this initial stage of the investigation, subtidal monitoring protocols were followed using SCUBA in different dive sites around Cocos Island. Directed searches were carried out with a focus on non-native species and gathering baseline information in order to further study the connectivity that exists between the Galapagos Islands and Cocos Island.  The depth range of dives was between 10 and 30 meters, and covered a variety of habitats including coral reefs, sandy, and rocky substrates. During the dives a number of species thought to be non-native to Cocos Island were identified. The next step is for scientists to research the list of species and determine the origin of these species in order to identify and classify each one correctly.

Left to right) Macarena Parra, Inti Keith, Katharine Evans, Geiner Golfín, Roberto Cubero.
(Left to right) Macarena Parra, Inti Keith, Katharine Evans, Geiner Golfín, Roberto Cubero. Photo by: Keylor Morales.

This research is in the initial stages and we are hoping to raise interest and find support to follow-up this new collaboration between the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Cocos Island National Park. This investigation started as an initiative within the The Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor (CMAR) framework, and there is a desire to extend the investigation to other protected areas in the region (Coiba Island in Panama, Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary and the Gorgona National Park in Colombia) in the near future. The four countries that are part of CMAR are Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador.

 “It is a priority to establish which are high risk species for the region of the East Tropical Pacific to improve management plans for marine invasive species and biosecurity and hence protect the biodiversity of the region. Protocols for prevention, early detection, and rapid response together with risk evaluations and management strategies must be put in practice” explained Dr. Keith.


Geiner Golfin: in charge of the Management of Natural Resources for Cocos Island. Telephone: 89109806 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Inti Keith: Senior Researcher – Marine Invasive Species Program, Charles Darwin Foundation, Galapagos Islands.  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Telephone +593 98 6261488 Skype: Inti.Keith79

Katharine Evans: Photography by Oceans Unlimited

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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