School of Hammerhead Sharks in Darwin and Wolf Islands.

Ecuador Designated Area a Marine Sanctuary Last March: Ensures Protection of Hammerheads, Reef Sharks and Other Top Predators.

In a study published today in the journal PeerJ, scientists from the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) and the National Geographic Society revealed that the northern Galápagos islands of Darwin and Wolf are home to the largest shark biomass reported to date (12.4 tons per hectare).

Worldwide, overfishing has reduced the biomass of most sharks and other large predatory fishes by more than 90 percent — even in remote areas. The findings detailed by CDRS and National Geographic Society researchers in PeerJ are significant because the presence of these top predators indicates a healthy marine ecosystem. Moreover, the data amassed over two years of rigorous research will add to a growing body of literature about the role of top predators in marine ecosystems.

“The islands of Darwin and Wolf are jewels in the crown of the Galápagos because of the sheer abundance of sharks and other top predators,” said Pelayo Salinas de León, the paper’s lead author and senior marine ecologist at CDRS. 

School of Galapagos Sharks.
School of Galapagos Sharks. Photo by: Pelayo Salinas-de-Leon/CDF.


Despite the large shark biomass, the abundance of reef fishes in this area has been severely reduced because of excessive fishing. The area was not fully protected from fishing until the Ecuadorian government announced the creation of a marine sanctuary around Darwin and Wolf in March 2016. Given how important the Galápagos are to Ecuador’s tourism industry and to the well-being of these top predators, the paper’s authors urge strong enforcement of the new marine sanctuary.

“Charles Darwin made the Galápagos Islands famous, but for the underwater world to be so full of life is something he probably never imagined,” said Enric Sala, National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence and leader of the Society’s Pristine Seas project.

Photo by Enric Sala/National Geographic/Pristine Seas
Photo by: Enric Sala/National Geographic/Pristine Seas.

The National Geographic Society conducted a Pristine Seas expedition in the Galápagos Marine Reserve in December 2015. Led by Sala, the Pristine Seas team of international scientists and filmmakers, in collaboration with the Galápagos National Park and CDRS, surveyed and documented the waters around the islands, with a focus on the deep and offshore environments. The expedition, made possible in part by a grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, helped inform the government’s decision to create the new sanctuary around Darwin and Wolf.

The shark biomass research team collected data using stereo-video surveys at seven sites in collaboration with the Galápagos National Park Directorate. The quantitative surveys recorded at Darwin and Wolf are considerably larger than those reported at Costa Rica’s Cocos Island National Park and the Chagos Marine Reserve in the Indian Ocean, home to the world’s next largest shark biomasses.  

CDRS Marine Scientists conducting shark census using stereo-video surveys.
CDRS Marine Scientists conducting shark census using stereo-video surveys. Photo by: Pelayo Salinas-de-Leon/CDF.

According to the CDRS and National Geographic Society scientists: “The study published today adds to the growing body of literature highlighting the ecological uniqueness and the irreplaceable value of Darwin and Wolf — not only for Ecuador but for the world.”

Download and read the full publication

Largest global shark biomass found in the northern Galápagos Islands of Darwin and Wolf
Pelayo Salinas de Leon, David Acuña-Marrero, Etienne Rastoin, Alan M Friedlander, Mary K Donovan, Enric Sala.

About the Charles Darwin Foundation

The Charles Darwin Foundation’s mission is to provide knowledge and assistance through scientific research and complementary action to ensure the conservation of the environment and biodiversity in the Galápagos Archipelago.

About the National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization driven by a passionate belief in the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to change the world. The Society funds hundreds of research and conservation projects around the globe each year and works to inspire, illuminate and teach through scientific expeditions, award-winning journalism and education initiatives. The National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas project seeks to help protect the last wild places in the ocean. The project’s partners include Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water, among others.

NOTE: More photos and video related to the National Geographic Society/Galápagos Shark Biomass announcement.

For more information contact:

Pelayo Salinas de León, Ph.D.
Charles Darwin Foundation
(+593)-997478133 (mobile)
(+593)-5-2526-146/147, ext. 123 (office)
Pelayosalinascdf (Skype)
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Claire Gwatkin Jones
National Geographic Society
(202) 857-7756
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Jorge Herrera at the Charles Darwin Research Station.

In 1986, our dear colleague Jorge Herrera became a part of the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) staff. With the motivation to achieve a college scholarship that the Foundation could grant, Jorge accepted the position of Supplies Manager. He soon found himself in a very friendly atmosphere where he would make great friends who have been very supportive of him. Soon after his start with the Foundation, the CDF was recognized as the most prestigious institution in Galapagos. Jorge describes those years of the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) as "younger days". No doubt his work was vital to the functioning of the operations of the organization and its successes.

CDF staff members commemorating the 43 years of the Galapagos Province.
CDF staff members commemorating the 43 years of the Galapagos Province.  Photo by:  CDF.

Three years after he started working at CDF, Jorge Herrera's life changed drastically when he suffered an accident that left him bound to a wheelchair. Despite the personal challenges, Jorge has continued to work with great tenacity and remembers gratefully the support of Dr. Gunther Reck, former director of the Charles Darwin Research Station. Dr Reck supported him immensely during that time and Jorge remembers Dr Reck and his family used to invite the staff to share moments in their home -- always very considerate of the personal situations of each member of the Foundation.

CDF staff members at the Charles Darwin Research Station.
CDF staff members at the Charles Darwin Research Station. Photo by: Liza Díaz Lalova/CDF.

In 1990 Jorge took on a new challenge for his career at CDF when he was transferred to the accounting department of the Foundation. In that year, manually accounting processes were still performed and Jorge had a lot of new things to learn. He did so energetically and with great vigor.

Our dear colleague says the CDF has given him many opportunities for training both as a supplies manager, and when he assumed his current position of Accountant Assistant.

"I didn't even know the word accounting, I wanted to be a biologist, but my life changed and now I like what I do," says Jorge while talking about the work done in this department.

Jorge, a great person and with a stunningly positive outlook, has faithfully devoted three decades of work to the Charles Darwin Foundation. He is proud of his 30 years as a member of CDF staff, and his tenacity has led him to accept both job changes and personal challenges that life has brought him with grace.

As he says, "You learn every day."

"If you are disabled, it is probably not your fault, but it is no good blaming the world or expecting it to take pity on you. One has to have a positive attitude and must make the best of the situation that one finds oneself in; if one is physically disabled, one cannot afford to be psychologically disabled as well."
Stephen Hawking

'Charles Darwin' Exhibition Hall at the Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora.

A year ago the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) initiated a project to create an area within the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) with the primary objective of showing visitors and the local community about the role that the CDF has fulfilled in the Galapagos Islands for over 50 years.

Dr. Arturo Izurieta, Executive Director of the Charles Darwin Foundation explains, “It became imperative to share our current projects and ongoing activities and evident that there was a need to improve the quality of visit and experience tourists have during their trip to our beloved Charles Darwin Research Station.”

Carlyn Iverson
Carlyn Iverson. Photo by: CDF.

The components of the Charles Darwin Exhibition Hall Project are taking place in two phases. The first phase is the completion of the main floor which will feature information panels, a photo gallery of Galapagos images taken by local community members as well as national and international photographers, a theater for presentations, and a donations point. The Hall will be open from Monday to Sunday from its official in the coming months onward.

The second phase of the exhibition is being designed with the support of the research team and management of collections and will feature a sample of the collections held in the Charles Darwin Research Station. This second phase is expected to be completed by June 2016.

Clovis Patiño
Clovis Patiño. Photo by: CDF.

In the Charles Darwin Exhibition Hall Project we have been fortunate enough to have the participation of local artists Isaac Delgado and Clovis Patiño, who are working on the murals of the Hall. Isaac Delgado is working on the high relief map of Galapagos and Clovis Patino is painting murals depicting the giant tortoises.

The mural of the ocean was a collaboration of artistic work with the designer of the Hall, Carlyn Iverson, who said "It has been an honor for me to offer my time as a volunteer and work with the team of the Charles Darwin Foundation on this project. All those involved have demonstrated their love for Galapagos and this sentiment is reflected in every corner of the Hall."

Isaac Delgado
Isaac Delgado. Photo by: CDF.

The team of scientists at the Research Station and the Communications area continue to work together so that the information on the scientific work carried out by the Charles Darwin Foundation in Galapagos is available to the community and visitors.

Local artists painting the 'Charles Darwin' Exhibition Hall
Local artists painting the 'Charles Darwin' Exhibition Hall. Photo by: CDF.

Paola Diaz, Coordinator of the project’s implementation says, "Thanks to the support of international donors who want conservation work in the archipelago to be shared at all levels, we have been able to move forward with the Exhibition Hall project. It is very important that our work in Galapagos is known."​

Current progress of the project

  • The concept design considers safety aspects for visitors, emergency exits, signage in each area, public restrooms with international standards, access for wheelchairs and international standards of interpretation materials with content in Spanish and English.
  • The woodwork inside and outside of the Hall has been made by local artisans Micelin Rojas and Luis Gualcapi.
  • The outside space has a large shaded terrace with tables and chairs for visitors to use, as well as a lookout point with informative panels. Soon a refreshment stand will open, operated by the gentleman that currently operates the kiosk on the way to the giant tortoise corrals of the Galapagos National Park Directorate.
Floor Design -
Floor Design - "Charles Darwin" Exhibition Hall

The Collections Room of the Hall and the renovation work of the building will continue throughout the coming weeks until the official opening of the Exhibition Hall. The building is expected to complement the visit to the facilities of the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center of the Galapagos National Park Directorate and the collaborative work between the two institutions is reflected in the exhibition for visitors. 

We want to thank our donor the COmON Foundation for all the support received for the set up of our new "Charles Darwin" Exhibition Hall. The funding received is critical for the Charles Darwin Foundation projects and the promotion of our work at local, national and international levels. At the moment we continue with the installation of the exhibit, and look forward to have an operational showcase of our work.

“The mission of the CDF 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.”

Contact Information for the Press

Paola Díaz
Communications Coordinator
Charles Darwin Foundation

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

Mangrove Finches fledglings during feeding at CDRS.

Written in collaboration with Liza Diaz Lalova.

For the third year running, the rarest of “Darwin's finches” is being captive-reared at the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS), the operating arm of the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF). The Mangrove Finch Project team, led by the CDF and the Ministry of Environment via the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), collected nests and young nestlings of the critically endangered Mangrove Finch (Camarhynchus heliobates) in the wild at Playa Tortuga Negra from February 6 to March 1 for the 2016 head-starting program.

After eight weeks of successful rearing in the laboratories of the Charles Darwin Research Station, fifteen fledglings will return to their place of origin, their natural habitat at Playa Negra Tortuga, which will be monitored by scientists and park rangers to determine their initial survival and contribute to the natural species survival.

With an estimated population of 80-100 individuals, inhabiting just 30ha at two sites on Isabela Island, all wild hatched nestlings during February have a high probability of mortality in their natural habitat due to parasitism by the introduced parasitic fly Philornis downsi. This year local weather conditions were dry and consequently because of low rainfall, Mangrove Finch breeding was slower, with many territories not having nests. These nests are found high in the canopy and rope tree climbing techniques were required to access them.

Mangrove Finches fledglings at CDRS.
Mangrove Finches fledglings at CDRS. Photo by: Beau Parks/SDGZ.

During the collection, hopeful news broke; a chick found near fledging age and older than ideal for head-starting, became the first wild-fledged Mangrove Finch to be observed in February (during the early breeding season) in seven seasons. This may well be due to the team lowering it from the mangroves and removing P. downsi larvae from the chick before returning it to the nest.

Two captive-reared fledglings released in 2014 and 2015 were observed in the wild, with both birds identified by their unique color bands. This is very positive news for the project as until now no captive-reared fledglings observations made three months following their release. The cryptic nature of juvenile and non-breeding mangrove finches means that obtaining reliable sightings of young individual birds in the wild is rare. The two year old fledging responded to a woodpecker finch playback tape of a collaborating scientist with a mangrove finch call and flew into the mist net, where it was carefully removed and released. The one year old fledging was observed foraging at the forest’s edge.

Newly hatched Mangrove Finch chick being cared for at CDRS.
Newly hatched Mangrove Finch chick being cared for at CDRS. Photo by: Jenny Ruales.

In total, eight nests were collected and fifteen eggs – along with four young nestlings – were transferred to Puerto Ayora on three separate occasions (February 13, 23, 29). The first eggs and four young nestlings arrived at the captive rearing facility at CDRS on February 16 and the very next day the first eggs hatched in captivity, later fledging on March 4. The first chick, brought back from the wild as small nestling, fledged on February 23. This was the first mangrove finch chick to fledge in captivity for the 2016 season. Both hatchability of eggs and chick survival in captivity have been high.

Mangrove Finch Project leader, Francesca Cunninghame says,: "It has been very rewarding to conduct head-starting of the critically endangered mangrove finch for the third season running working closely with both local and international partners and collaborators. Although climatic conditions were dry and fewer pairs were nesting than anticipated, we were still able to collect sufficient nests to provide us with a good number of chicks to raise, while the birds are able to re-nest in the wild and rear their own young. Even better was finally obtaining wild sightings of two fledglings hand-reared in previous years, with this observation we can be sure that our efforts are producing juveniles capable of surviving in the wild and our goal of boosting the population of the rarest bird in the Galapagos can most likely be achieved through head-starting".

Mangrove Finch Project leader Francesca Cunninghame ready to get nests from high in the canopy at Playa Tortuga Negra.
Mangrove Finch Project leader Francesca Cunninghame ready to get nests from high in the canopy at Playa Tortuga Negra. Photo by: Beate Wendelin.

Artificial incubation and hand-rearing of the critically endangered mangrove finch is led by project collaborators San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG). Eggs and chicks are kept in a specially designed room under quarantine conditions to ensure that they do not come into contact with any avian diseases present in Puerto Ayora that are not present in the wild mangrove finch population. Captive chicks are fed on a diet developed for insectivorous passerines and adapted to products available in Galapagos, such as papaya and invasive wasp nests. For the first 15 days they are fed every hour from 6am until 8pm.

Mangrove Finches chicks ready to fledge at CDRS. Photo by: Beau Parks/SDZG.

Mangrove finch eggs take 15 days to complete incubation and hatch, while chickstake between 16 – 19 days from hatching to fledging (leaving the nest and flying).

Project collaborator from SDZG, Beau Parks, comments: "We're excited to be back in Galapagos working with the Mangrove Finch head-starting project for a third year. It's incredibly rewarding for Ann and I to be able to share the experience that we've gained in our years of raising birds at the San Diego Zoo's Avian Propagation Center and to put what we've learned to work to prevent the extinction of the Mangrove Finch”.

Mangrove Finch fledgling getting ready to get back home.
Mangrove Finch fledgling getting ready to get back home. Photo by Jenny Ruales/CDF.

Special thanks from the project team to the support of Metropolitan Touring, Linblad Expeditions and Galatour S.A. for transferring Mangrove Finch eggs and chicks from North Western Isabela to Santa Cruz.

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 and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. The project is supported by Galapagos Conservation Trust, The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, The Swiss Friends of Galapagos, as well as several individual donors.

Become an official supporter of the Mangrove Finch Project

More information

Mangrove Finch Conservation Project Page

A Darwin Finch, Crucial to Idea of Evolution, Fights for Survival

The “Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands”, in French “Fondation Charles Darwin pour les îles Galapagos”, Association International sans but lucratif, 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, (the “AISBL”).

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