Some of the Galapagos Verde 2050 team and collaborators on Española.

Written in collaboration with Lorena Romero.

Between June 21 and 28, 2017, the Galapagos Verde 2050 (GV2050) team, with the collaboration of Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative, implemented by Galapagos Conservancy and Galapagos National Park Directorate, went on an expedition to Española Island to initiate an experiment to continue the ecological restoration process of the island.

On this occasion, the goal was the vegetative propagation of O. megasperma var. Orientalis Howell cladodes by using water saving technologies (Groasis and rain harvesting). The cladodes are also known as “pencas” and have a fleshy structure that sprout from a main stem and become harder as time passes (Guzmán and Chávez, 2007).

As an in situ experiment, 48 cladodes of O. megasperma. var. orientalis Howell were planted in an area known as “Las Tunas”. The planting was done in three different places with ecological characteristics in favour of the growth of this species. Additionally, water saving technologies were used to promote the accelerated growth of the plants and to ease the survival by providing water permanently.

For the vegetative propagation of Opuntia on Española Island, the cladodes were obtained from 17 different adult cacti. Each one was photographed and georeferenced for subsequent records and monitoring.

Collecting cladodes from adult cacti.
Collecting cladodes from adult cacti. Photo by: Ma. Lorena Romero Martinez.

The preparation process of the cladodes for the planting, consisted in recovering plant tissue at the base of the cladodes, where they were cut. For this, a scarring period of 36 hours was taken into account (the area of the cut scars and heals, creating a seal that prevents loss of additional moisture).

After the scarring, the cladodes where submerged in a sweet water solution and enzymatic activator (Vitazyme) to impulse root growth. A ratio of 1:1 was used, one of water and one of Vitazyme, which was prepared the afternoon before planting them.

The chosen study area for planting was a rocky-clay soil, where the cladodes are able to establish roots and obtain shadow from a plant facilitator in the ecological niche (Dr. James Gibbs: GV2050 project scientist assessor).

During the planting, the soil was naturally moistened by the light “garúa” rain. We also used the “rain harvesting” technology that retains humidity around the root to prepare the soil where each cladode was planted.

Planting 40 cladodes with saving water technologies: Groasis, rain harvesting and 8 controls.
Planting 40 cladodes with saving water technologies: Groasis, rain harvesting and 8 controls. Photo by: Ma. Lorena Romero Martinez.

The 40 cladodes planted with Groasis technology were codified: the adults as “parents” and the young plants as “children”.

Cladode planted using rain harvesting in the soil, after the placement of the Groasis box.
Cladode planted using rain harvesting in the soil, after the placement of the Groasis box. Photo by: Ma. Lorena Romero Martinez.

Each of the boxes were protected with metallic meshes, which were placed around the perimeter of the box and hole of each control.

Final result of the in-situ experiment with the planting of 48 cladodes in the “Las Tunas” sector on Española Island.
Final result of the in-situ experiment with the planting of 48 cladodes in the “Las Tunas” sector on Española Island. Photo by: Jandry Vásquez.

Finally, we collected tortoise excrement and fruit to extract Opuntia seeds. These will be tested and germinated at the Charles Darwin Research Station Laboratory so that afterwards they can be taken to the Galapagos National Park’s greenhouse and eventually be repatriated to Española Island, based on the action plan of the GV2050 project.

The great effort of the field assitants, carrying meshes and water containers for planting.
The great effort of the field assitants, carrying meshes and water containers for planting. Photo by: Jandry Vásquez.

The Galapagos Verde 2050 work team would like to thank Galapagos Conservancy and the Galapagos National Park Directorate for their logistical support and optimisation of resources for the expedition.

GV2050 project is implemented in collaboration between Charles Darwin Foundation and Galapagos National Park Directorate. The project is financially viable thanks to the support of the ComON Foundation, The Leona M and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the BESS Forest Club.

The GV2050 team.
The GV2050 team. Photo by: Antonio Román Muñoz.

References:

Guzmán, D. & Chávez, J. (2007) “Estudio bromatológico del cladodio del nopal (Opuntiaficus-indica) para el consumo humano”, Rev. Soc. Quím. Perú. ISSN 1810-634X.

Scientific team in the north of the Galapagos.

The Galapagos Archipelago has a new designation, a “Marine Sanctuary”, conformed by Darwin and Wolf; small islands located in the north. These islands have a lot to discover and protect. A group of experimented scientists embarked in an expedition on the boat Queen Mabel at the end of April, 2017.

The Charles Darwin Foundation Scientists (CDF), Ecuador International Conservation (IC-Ecuador), ETPS Regional Program (Eastern Pacific Landscape), Nazca Institute of Marine Research and Nova Southeastern University joined to study; i) the amount of seaweed Caulerpa sp. in Darwin´s reef; ii) map the coral area; iii) get ecological monitory data to know the actual conditions of the coral areas in Darwin and Wolf. Everything was based on the “Research about marine invasive species to prevent, stop, and manage it in the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

In the marine bottom, transects of 50 meters were placed at 15 and 6 meters of depth. These activities were realized:

  • Biodiversity censuses, by counting present organisms (fish, macroinvertebrades, and sessile organism).
  • Coverage estimation through quadrants, it was estimated the Caulerpa sp. seaweed coverage along the transects.
  • Information record, temperature, currents, swell and visibility in each dive.
  • Change of temperature devices that were in registered strategic places in the GPS.
  • Mapping the old reef on Darwin Island.
Quadrant to estimate the abundance of algae in coral reefs.
Quadrant to estimate the abundance of algae in coral reefs. Photo by: Charles Darwin Foundation.

As a result of this expedition, it was able to determinate that Darwin and Wolf reef communities are in good conditions. Some samples and small colonies were observed. It indicates an active population and it keeps a growing population. Otherwise, important reef areas are being affected because of the overgrowth of the Caulerpa sp. seaweed. It´s territory has increased in recent years (at least, from 2015).

Seaweed in the north of the archipelago.
Seaweed in the north of the archipelago. Photo by: Charles Darwin Foundation.

The Surface temperature of the water in Darwin and Wolf has not changed abruptly, and it was found less than 1% of the white reefs. In a previous trip, on November, it was determined that temperature was between 16-19 C. While during the trip temperatures between 26-29 C were registered.  

It was new to find small patches of Caulerpa sp. seaweed in the places were the reef colonies are located at Wolf Island. It was reported by the Galapagos National Park. It shows the importance of monitoring frequency these patches to prevent and take actions to avoid this seaweed expansion as it did in Darwin Island.

At the San Francisco Park in Santa Cruz Island during Ocean´s Day. Volunteers Louis Graham (left) and Andrés Cruz.

The tropical heat of a sunny day in “The Enchanted Islands” fell upon the grey costume I was wearing. With blurry vision from the inside of my strange attire, I was watching how the visitors enjoyed, laughed, asked questions, and took photos of me. Children were terrified and cried as they were chased by a “shark”. However, when I took off the mask … bright smiles returned to their faces and made me smile too. “Happy Oceans Day”, I shouted. I had many unique days like this as a volunteer at Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS).

Fortunately, I was born in Galápagos and grew up on Floreana, one of the inhabited islands, with a population of approximately 150 people. “Conservation” and “evolution” are words I frequently heard during my childhood. Without Internet, television and cell phones — but surrounded by lizards, turtles, penguins, sea lions and finches – the foundations of environmental conscience were laid, and I became interested in studying Environmental Communication at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito.

As a member of the Communications and Public Relations team at CDRS, I participate in several activities, from being a “shark” at an event with the community to taking photos of scientists’ work, writing informative texts about their projects, being a part of an interview for a national TV channel, painting and designing elements of an event for the community, and more.

On the way to San Francisco Park for the Ocean´s Day in Santa Cruz Island, volunteers Andrés Cruz and Louis Graham with the artwork prepared for the event.
On the way to San Francisco Park for the Ocean´s Day in Santa Cruz Island, volunteers Andrés Cruz and Louis Graham with the artwork prepared for the event. Photo by: Daniel Unda.

It is inspiring to see people from different places around the world come and contribute to conserve our Archipelago. A South African friend and another volunteer like me, helped construct a cardboard boat for Ocean’s Day, and in very basic Spanish he said, “this is the life of a volunteer!”. I am amazed by the power of people to create a better life. Without a doubt, we all could be agents of change on Earth, whether in our place of origin or elsewhere on the planet.

The Galapagos Islands, an archipelago considered a natural laboratory, is known worldwide for its unique species. It is also known for being an important tourist and scientific destination: the archipelago has let us comprehend the process of evolution and the importance of conserving these islands.

Male marine iguana on Floreana Island.
Male marine iguana on Floreana Island. Photo by: Andrés Cruz.

However, the Galapagos ecosystems, unique on our planet, are fragile and endangered. Human contact and exploitation over the centuries, in the islands and even from afar, as is the case with global climate change, requires us constantly to restore, protect and conserve the Galapagos.

“We have to change people´s attitude globally and nationally to ensure conservation, especially for future generations,” said Arturo Izurieta, Executive Director of CDRS, in an interview for a national television channel.

Andrés Cruz helping interview the Executive Director of CDRS, Arturo Izurieta, for a national TV channel.
Andrés Cruz helping interview the Executive Director of CDRS, Arturo Izurieta, for a national TV channel. Photo by: Paola Díaz Freire.
Volunteer Andrés Cruz taking photos during a community event of tree-planting on Santa Cruz Island.
Volunteer Andrés Cruz taking photos during a community event of tree-planting on Santa Cruz Island. Photo by: Paola Díaz Freire.

Now, thanks to my contributions as a volunteer and my more focused work on environmental communications, I feel well equipped to pursue this career and I am grateful to have been part of the CDRS. My little contribution is part of the Charles Darwin Foundation’s larger goal to conserve the Galapagos Islands.

The Charles Darwin Research Station flag on Santa Cruz Island.
The Charles Darwin Research Station flag on Santa Cruz Island. Photo by: Andrés Cruz.

Get Involved

if you are interested in learning more about volunteering in Galapagos, please visit the Charles Darwin Research Station website for volunteer information.

Andrés Cruz is 21 years old, and from the Galapagos Islands. A student of Environmental Communication at the Universidad San Francisco in Quito, he is an amateur nature and sports photographer. Before being a volunteer at the Charles Darwin Research Station in Galapagos he was part of a community support program in Oahu, Hawaii with Surfing the Nations.

Andrés Cruz
Andrés Cruz
Galapagos lizard.

Through the shore of the bigger islands of our archipelago we have several friends that build the beautiful landscape that we use as sustenance of our lives. In the coastal zone, and some part of the arid zones, there are these reptiles that are part of the cycle of life that here occurs.

The first time that I came to the islands, I did not know about the big biodiversity that Galapagos owns. My knowledge was limited by some landscapes postcards, sea lions and blue footed boobies. So, in my first’s expeditions on the different places of the Santa Cruz Island, I heard some rugged noises in the base of the bushes of the paths. My first impression, as someone that has grew up in a city, was that there were some kind of frightened snakes or even mice. It was after the explanation of my guide that I learned and realized that the majority of these noises were generated by the lizards of the Galapagos Islands.

According to the taxonomic database of the Charles Darwin Research Station CDRS for the Galapagos, there are nine species of lizards, all of them are unique in the world, so endemic for the richness of the islands. Six of these are Single Island Endemic, it means that they are confined to a specific island, consequently it reflects to their common names. They are tiny insectivores from 15 to 30 cm sized (Swash, Still, and Lewington 2005). The bigger ones that I have seen have the size of a normal notebook, and I have had the honor to see the one of Santa Cruz, Floreana and San Cristobal specie. The bigger ones are the males and are characterized by a black patch under the head and the females are characterized by having orange cheeks and they are tinier than the half of the adult male.

Female lizard in the top, and adult male below.
Female lizard in the top, and adult male below. Photo by: Byron Delgado.

As always, more attention has been put and more studies done on animals and plants that have bigger threats. According to the IUCN Red List, some of the lizards are categorized as near threatened and others asvulnerable, for example the ones of Española and San Cristobal (Datazone, CDRS); that is why it is important to evaluate the actual behavior, change of habitat, populations, and different indicators that secure the health of these animals.

It is true that you can easily find, with more probability, some individuals in the wildlife places, like the photos examples in Figure 1. But what about the populations settlements?

The vulnerability of these reptiles most be meditated and considered. As an outcome of this reconsideration, some question will come: what could we do to protect the important biodiversity of the archipelago? The dare starts with a simple and tiny trash of a chew gum at the gardens of the CDRS, to the impact that recalls in the underneath of Figure 2, where a lizard is surrounded by a big amount and type of trash.

Female lizard at the Charles Darwin Research Station, note the little garbage. In the above, male lizard surrounded by all kind of garbage at downtown Puerto Ayora.
Female lizard at the Charles Darwin Research Station, note the little garbage. In the above, male lizard surrounded by all kind of garbage at downtown Puerto Ayora. Photo by: Byron Delgado.

Our CDRS is an ecological place, well kept, and has maintenance every day. Even with this care, we found, as in Figure 1, some trash near the lizards. More parlous, approximately 2 Km. away in the settlement of Sta. Cruz (Figure 3.), we found the sad picture of the bottom part on the Figure 2.   To wind up my tale, I infer that as we live in one of the most beautiful paradise of the world is our responsibility to take care of it. It is not fear to our community, and to our children, that in the middle of a downtown we have an open dump, and even more disturbing: the fact that we found this unique animals living in these places.

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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