A critically endangered male mangrove finch. Photo by: Tui De Roy.

Written with the support of Francesca Cunninghame.

The Mangrove Finch is a Critically Endangered species that is found only in a small mangrove forest on Isabela Island and it is currently highly threatened by an invasive parasitic fly called Philornis downsi. The larvae of this fly can often lead to mortality in chicks and is pushing this endemic bird species to the brink of extinction. For the last four years, along with project partners and collaborators, Francesca Cunninghame and her team have been rearing finches in captivity and returning them to their natural habitat to increase the global population. Although there are fewer than 20 breeding pairs left in the Galapagos Islands, the mangrove finch team has released 39 fledglings into the wild and increased the population of juvenile mangrove finches by over 50%. This year, however, the team had different plans.

Jorge Jiménez and David Auz throwing weights to be able to attach ropes and cccess the nest found high up in the mangrove.
Jorge Jiménez and David Auz throwing weights to be able to attach ropes and access the nest found high up in the mangrove. Photo by: Tui De Roy.

Even though captive reared finches survive long-term in the wild and some reproduced with wild finches, it is always better to lessen human intervention and lower the financial cost of the project. In other words, it’s better for mangrove finches to incubate and raise their own chicks, rather than have conservationists remove the eggs from the wild, incubate them and return them to their habitat. So, how can we protect the finches in the wild? A new short-term approach involving the use of permethrin (a chrysanthemum based insecticide) is being tested in the field until the Philornis downsi research team find a way of controlling the invasive fly. Scientists are basically injecting this insecticide into the base of finch nests to kill the parasitic fly larvae and thus lowering the mortality of chicks.

The blue part of the nest indicates where permethrin has been added.
The blue part of the nest indicates where permethrin has been added. Photo by: Francesca Cunninghame.

Scientists such as Mariana Bulgarella (University of Victoria) conducted studies on the impact of permethrin (Permcap) on passerine birds and Arno Cimadom (PhD student at the University of Vienna) used the insecticide on warbler finches on Santa Cruz Island. So far, no negative effects for birds have been shown when inserting permethrin at the base of finch nests. On the contrary, this has been a very effective method at killing the larvae of the Philornis downsi fly.

Results for the mangrove finches have been positive so far. This season, seven mangrove finches fledged in the wild from three injected nests that initially had the presence of Philornis downsi. In these cases, permethrin injections were effective at killing the parasites and enabling the chicks to fledge in healthy condition. Additionally, in 2017, 14 chicks fledged from injected nests, meaning a minimum of 21 chicks have fledged in the wild over two years from treated nests.

Nevertheless, it remains a short-term solution, as there are challenges associated with accessing and treating nests. Scientists must use climbing equipment and improvised scaffolding to reach the eggs high up in the 19-meter mangrove trees and use poles with syringes on them to be able to inject the bases of the nests. If possible, chicks were lowered to inspect for the presence of the parasite, and any larvae found were removed. To reduce the stress of handling, chicks were also supplementary fed before being returned to the nest. Furthermore, if the nests are soaked with permethrin, there is a chance the parents may abandon the nest, so it’s a difficult balance between putting the insecticide in the right spot and not adding too much. If not enough permethrin is used or it doesn’t go into the right part of the nest, there is also the possibility the Philornis larvae will survive and keep parasitizing chicks.

The stick and syringe are used to inject permethrin into the nest.
The stick and syringe are used to inject permethrin into the nest. Photo by: Tui De Roy.

As Francesca Cunninghame explained,

“It’s great to know there’s a method that can protect nestlings from Philornis in the wild. However, mangrove finches and their nesting ecology in the tall mangroves don’t make this easy. We do our best to access the nests and protect the chicks and I think everyone out there in the field was really excited about these new methods. The finches are at such a critical stage that they really need intensive conservation during the breeding season and we must actively intervene to make sure as many as possible survive to fledge.”

It’s a challenging to climb the tall mangroves.
It’s challenging to climb the tall mangroves. Photo by: Tui De Roy.

The excursion to Playa Tortuga Negra lasted two months with a five-person team from CDF with logistical support of the Galapagos National Park Directorate. Due to a lack of rain, which triggers mangrove finch breeding, only 10 breeding pairs were identified of the 18 which are sometimes present from previous studies, but the fact that seven fledglings and five nestlings were spotted in good health meant it was a successful nesting season. Unfortunately, nest failure was recorded; once due to Philornis parasitism (the injection had been unsuccessful at reducing the number of parasites) and three others due to predation. The team left the site, having injected permethrin in a total of 18 nests, hopefully bringing positive results for the breeding season.

Together with San Diego Zoo Global, and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, CDF is evaluating the effectiveness of the use of permethrin to see if this method should be used in next year’s mangrove finch breeding season. However, so far the results have been very positive for the finches living and reproducing in the wild. “The other great news is that we saw four of the captive reared chicks including one female from 2016, which reared three chicks with a wild reared male” stated Francesca.

If you would like to help us save the mangrove finch from the brink of extinction, please donate today.

There are approximately 20 reproductive pairs of mangrove finch in the world. Help us conserve them.
There are approximately 20 reproductive pairs of mangrove finch in the world. Help us conserve them. Photo by: Tui De Roy.

The Mangrove Finch Project is a bi-institutional project carried out by the Charles Darwin Foundation and Galapagos National Park Directorate in collaboration with San Diego Zoo Global, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Auckland Zoo. The Mangrove Finch Project is extremely grateful to the following donors for their support during the 2018 field season: The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, Galapagos Conservation Trust, Marguerite Griffith-Jones, GESS Charitable Trust, Decoroom Limited, and Holbeck Charitable Trust, and Friends of the Galapagos Switzerland.

We explored the underwater paradise of Galapagos with Ecoventura.

This article was co-written by Salomé Buglass.

Approximately a year ago, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the Ecuadorian tour-company, Ecoventura, and the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and which produced ‘The Galapagos Biodiversity and Education for Sustainability Fund’ (GBESF). Ecoventura is giving the total sum of its cabin sales during two cruises to the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park Directorate for the conservation of the archipelago.

Trip on board the M/V Galapagos Sky

We’re two marine biologists at CDF who had the honor of getting onboard the first cruise for GBESF, with the objective of giving talks and getting to know the beauty of the islands. We shared the cruise together with 14 guests from the United States, the UK, France, Switzerland and Israel, who received us with open arms together with the ship’s crew.

Salomé Buglass (left) y Nicolás Moity (right) with the shreds of a plastic bag that guides untied from a marine turtle.
Salomé Buglass (left) y Nicolás Moity (right) with the shreds of a plastic bag that guides untied from a marine turtle. Photo by: Max Castillo.

Days were filled with diving activities: three to four every day, in which we confirmed, together with the rest of the guests, the wonderful consequences of the Galapagos Marine Reserve’s conservation for the last 20 years. Being able to experience Galapagos underwater in this manner was a unique opportunity for us to absorb the beauty that this marine paradise offers.

During the diving week on board the GalapagosSky, one can get to appreciate the changes in ecosystems and the endemic biodiversity that is found on this unique archipelago. One day you’re diving along a tropical coral reef visited by massive schools of fish and hammerhead sharks, and the next morning you’re swimming in a cold water algae garden where marine iguanas are feeding.

The sighting of a marine turtle.
The sighting of a marine turtle. Photo by: Salomé Buglass.

During the nights onboard, we were able to give scientific talks to explain the work that we do at CDF for the conservation of the Galapagos marine Reserve. The guests and naturalist guides were extremely interested in the talks and participated actively.

Nicolás Moity giving a scientific talk.
Nicolás Moity giving a scientific talk. Photo by: Salomé Buglass.

“I really enjoyed the talks. It was very interesting. I look forward to the next ones!”
— said Jan, one of the guests on board the ship.

One of the themes we talked about of the talks was about our Seamount and Ecosystem Services Research Project which we have been carrying out at CDF since 2015. Seamounts are vertical structures that emerge from the bottom of the ocean, but do not emerge over the surface of the sea. Our investigation focuses on characterizing for the first time the biodiversity and ecology of these underwater mountains, which are found at depths of 300-3400m.

We also talked about the DiveStat project, a tourism project about tourism and sustainable diving in the Galapagos Maine Reserve, which was financed in 2016 by funds donated by Ecoventura. After two years we were able to see plenty of achievements today and thanks to the generous donations by Ecoventura, DiveStat has become a good example of monitoring marine tourism in the Galapagos Marine Reserve and in the entire region.

The excursion also took us to the remote islands of Darwin and Wolf, where we saw schools of hammerheads.
The excursion also took us to the remote islands of Darwin and Wolf, where we saw schools of hammerheads. Photo by: Nicolás Moity.
Exploring the black coral.
Exploring the black coral. Photo by: Nicolás Moity.
A sea horse in the west of the archipelago.
A sea horse in the west of the archipelago. Photo by: Nicolás Moity.

“I feel so fortunate and privileged to be on this ship with you because otherwise I would have come, dived and would have left without knowing anything, without learning about the conservation challenges for Galapagos”
— said Alessia, one of the guests on the ship.

Ecoventura’s support with this fund will be essential for the continuity of the CDF’s research and the Galapagos National Park Directorate’s (GNPD) management efforts. For more information about CDF and the GNPD and to book a trip to the Galapagos Islands with one of our scientific staff, please visit Ecoventura’s website .

The passengers and crew, together with Nicolás Moity and Salomé Buglass.
The passengers and crew, together with Nicolás Moity and Salomé Buglass. Photo by: José Bravo.

CDF depends entirely on the generosity of our donors. Please donate today.

Mangroves in the Galapagos.

I remember my first exposure to local conservation efforts in Ecuador; I must have been 9 years old, and passing by the mangrove trees still standing on the outskirts of Guayaquil, where a big sign read “Manglar es vida” Spanish for “Mangroves are life”. At this time, the shrimp farming industry was booming in the coastal part of Ecuador, and the country was at one point the world’s top shrimp exporter. The industry provided much needed foreign exchange earnings for a struggling economy.
Inevitably after the boom came a bust. The unsustainable growth of the shrimp farming industry came at the expense of mangroves, with losses ranging from a quarter to a third of original mangrove coverage by late 90’s. These ecosystems were the nursery grounds for the same shrimps being farmed at the ponds, so the increased demand for post-larvae shrimps by the industry was met by a decreased natural supply due to deforestation. The shrimp were further depleted from a lack of regulations over fishing near mangroves, leading people to overfish the post-larvae shrimps and imposing technical limits to the growth of the industry. To make things worse, the industry tried to solve the problem by importing post-larvae shrimp, which is thought to have led to the introduction of the White Spot Syndrome Virus into Ecuador. This disease devastated the industry and in 2 years exports declined by over 60%.

With the collapse of the industry mangrove deforestation pressures disappeared, so, further mangrove losses in Ecuador were averted. But the socialized costs of mangrove deforestation, both ecological and social, were evident. Barren landscapes from abandoned shrimp-ponds were now a common sight in the Ecuadorian coast, where mangroves used to stand. Communities that for millennia depended on mangrove fisheries now lacked means for their traditional livelihood. Why did this happen and how can we avoid it in the future? This became the focus of my master’s degree in environmental economics and climate change. Through it, I would learn that mangroves were indeed life, being one of the most productive ecosystems on earth. An important percentage of the world’s fisheries directly and indirectly depend on mangroves, and they are amongst the most carbon rich forests on earth, making them critical allies in our fight against climate change. Many of these benefits, or ecosystem services, are crucial for human wellbeing, but since they are not traded in markets, are usually overlooked by decision-makers or systematically undervalued by markets, leading to widespread mangrove loss.

Red rock crabs and a brown pelican in a mangrove stand in the Galapagos.
Red rock crabs and a brown pelican in a mangrove stand in the Galapagos. Photo by: Nicolas Moity / CDF.

Providing a visible value for the non-market benefits of mangroves is a key input to avoid more mangrove losses, such as the ones experienced in my home country. Over the past year working at the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) on the Galapagos Islands, my task has been to research the first valuation of ecosystem services for mangroves in the Galapagos Marine Reserve and also one of the first targeting multiple ecosystem services in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. We concentrated on three mangrove ecosystem services that are most representative:

  1. The value of carbon storage provided by mangroves, within the context of climate change policies.
  2. The importance of mangroves in sustaining fisheries, as they function as a nursery and habitat for species of commercial importance.
  3. The vital role of mangroves in supporting tourism and recreational activities.
Snappers between submerged mangrove roots in the Galapagos Archipelago.
Snappers between submerged mangrove roots in the Galapagos Archipelago. Photo by: Enric Sala / National Geographic Pristine Seas.

Focusing on such a diverse set of benefits provided by mangroves meant collecting and analysing large amounts of biological, ecological and economic data. For example, collecting carbon data meant sampling mangrove soils in 29 sites on 6 islands across the whole archipelago. Likewise, identifying mangrove dependant fish species entailed carrying visual census in over 30 mangrove bays. All tourism sites with mangrove based recreation in the Galapagos National Park were singled out using geographical information systems, and then we had to tally all visits to these sites from the databases of the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD). As benefits are inherently social, we surveyed local fishermen and tourism operators for prices and costs, and when necessary we used specifically developed welfare measures that expressed the wide set of values provided by mangroves. These herculean interdisciplinary efforts were only possible through the collaboration of the CDF staff and visiting volunteers from the University of Wisconsin, the GNPD, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, and through the continuous support provided by the Leona M. and Harry B Helmsley charitable Trust.

Science in action: sampling of mangrove sediment cores for carbon measurements.
Science in action: sampling of mangrove sediment cores for carbon measurements. Photo by: Octavio Aburto / CDF.

Our results support the findings from similar studies worldwide – meaning that mangroves provide a wide range of highly valued ecosystem services. The 3690 hectares of mangroves in the Galapagos store in their soils over 770,000 tons of carbon which could be valued at over $10 million in carbon credits, or over $100 million in avoided climate change related damages. Our findings also evidence that the local white-fin fishery, the second most profitable artisanal fishery in the Archipelago, is highly dependent on healthy mangroves. Over $900,000 of yearly net benefits for artisanal fishermen can be attributed directly to mangrove dependant species, the most important of these being the Galapagos sailfin Grouper, a regionally endemic top predator regarded as vulnerable by the IUCN endangered species list. Finally, mangrove sites represent approximately 47% of the visiting sites within the Galapagos National Park, and tourism income generated through visits to these sites amounts to over $56 million annually.

Snorkelling on the Galapagos mangrove bays with Golden Rays.
Snorkelling on the Galapagos mangrove bays with Golden Rays. Photo by: Pelayo Salinas de León / CDF.

The next step is sharing our findings with a wider audience. Even though deforestation never reached the Galapagos mangroves, and has been controlled for the last fifteen years in mainland Ecuador, its main historical driver, the shrimp farming industry, has recovered in the last years and reached new production peaks. Strengthening conservation efforts are a necessity to avoid past pitfalls. As we face new challenges posed by climate change, mangroves will certainly become more valuable, and maybe restoration and reforestation might be not only an ecological necessity, but also a necessary adaptation measure. I certainly hope that those barren landscapes now dotting our coastline could once again become thriving mangroves supporting biodiversity and resilient communities.

The Charles Darwin Foundation's projects depend entirely upon the support of our donors. Please donate today.

Without Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt’s expeditions to Galapagos, the Charles Darwin Foundation simply wouldn’t exist today.

We regret to inform that on Saturday June 2nd, 2018 one of our founding members Dr. Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt passed away at the age of 89 in Starnberg, Germany. He was an honorary member of our General Assembly and a very active supporter of conservation efforts in Galapagos. In fact, it was due to Dr. Eibl-Eibesfeldt´s initial efforts that the Charles Darwin Foundation exists today.

The Charles Darwin Research Station.
The Charles Darwin Research Station. Photo by: Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt: Galapagos - Die Arche Noah im Pazifik, 1977.

Born in Austria, he went on to study zoology, biology, physics and botany at the University of Vienna. He is considered the founder of the field of Human Ethology (i.e., the study of human behavior) and was the main author of important books on this subject. Throughout his academic career, he worked at German, Austrian and American institutions and universities. From 1953-54, he took part in the Xarifa-Expedition to the Galapagos Islands, the Caribbean Sea and the Indian Ocean. Having witnessed the scientific importance of the Galapagos Islands and being shocked by the “persecution of endemic fauna,” he stated that:

“In the vicinity of the settlements it was found that marine iguanas, sea lions, pigeons, hawks and many other endemic animals were rare or had disappeared. Skins of fur seals and sea lions, tortoise shells and young tortoises and even penguins were offered to us for small sums”
— Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1959, p.8.

Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt (right) and Hans Hass (left). Hans Hass was a diving pioneer who led the first Xarifa Expedition.
Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt (right) and Hans Hass (left). Hans Hass was a diving pioneer who led the first Xarifa Expedition. Photo by: Privatarchiv Eibl-Eibesfeldt.

Dr. Eibl-Eibesfeldt returned to Europe and sent a memorandum to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), where he pointed out that “only rigid control would save this unique fauna from further persecution” and proposed that “a biological station be set up in the Galapagos area” (Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1959, p.8). In 1957, he convinced the UNESCO, the Government of Ecuador and the IUCN to join him on an expedition to Galapagos, to “look for a suitable site for the laboratory and to collect as much information as possible about the present status of the Galapagos fauna” (Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1959, p.8).

A Hood mocking bird sitting on Eugen Schuhmacher's camera during the Xarifa-Expedition.
A Hood mockingbird sitting on Eugen Schuhmacher's camera during the Xarifa-Expedition. Photo by: Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt: Galapagos - Die Arche Noah im Pazifik, 1977.
The Xarifa’s doctor looking at a Galapagos penguin.
The Xarifa’s doctor looking at a Galapagos penguin. Photo by: Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt: Galapagos - Die Arche Noah im Pazifik, 1977.

The rest of this story is history. The Charles Darwin Foundation has been conducting scientific research to support the conservation of the Galapagos Archipelago for almost 60 years now. As the work conducted in these islands entirely depends upon donations, we are also extremely grateful to him for rallying support from the Max-Planck Society and the Frankfurt Zoological Society, which lasts until today. The support by the Max-Planck Society started in 1962 and has enabled research on several iconic species, like Darwin’s finches, marina iguanas and giant tortoises. Since 1968, the Frankfurt Zoological Society has financed more than 60 projects in endemic and invasive species research, environmental education and infrastructure at CDF, including financing and maintaining the “Beagle” research vessel.

Eibl-Eibesfeldt with a marine iguana.
Eibl-Eibesfeldt with a marine iguana. Photo by: Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt: Galapagos - Die Arche Noah im Pazifik, 1977.

Galapagos and the Charles Darwin Foundation owe their deepest gratitude to Dr. Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt for having made those journeys to Galapagos and for having created the spark for conservation of the archipelago and which has become CDF’s mission for decades. In his own words:


“Slowly but surely we men are covering our planet with asphalt and concrete and we can see how, in a few decades, natural beauty which has lasted for millions of years, has been destroyed forever...Let us, then, do our best to see that at least the...Galapagos Islands, that are so rich in natural marvels, are kept undisturbed for ourselves and for those that come after us”
— Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1961, p. 183.

Dr. Eibl-Eibesfeldt (right) and Dr. Heinke Jäger (left), speaking at the 45th anniversary of the creation of the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation in 2004. He was a life-long supporter of CDF's conservation efforts.
Dr. Eibl-Eibesfeldt (right) and Dr. Heinke Jäger (left), speaking at the 45th anniversary of the creation of the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation in 2004. He was a life-long supporter of CDF's conservation efforts. Photo by: David Jiménez.

Thank you for your commitment to the Galapagos Islands.

Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt (15 June 1928 – 2 June 2018).
Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt (15 June 1928 – 2 June 2018). Photo by: Peter Korneffel.

References

Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. (1959). Survey on the Galapagos-Islands. UNESCO Mission Report, 8, 7-31.
Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. (1961). Galapagos: The Noah’s Ark of the Pacific. (Transl. by AH Brodrick). New York, Doubleday and Company, Inc.
Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. (1977). Galápagos. Die Arche Noah im Pazifik.

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.