Divers photographing a sunfish in the cold waters of Punta Vicente Roca, North Western Isabela Island.

Written in collaboration with Nicolás Moity

How many tourists come to Galapagos to dive? Where do these divers come from? Where are most of the sharks, mantas, turtles and other marine species of Galápagos observed by the divers? How does this information contribute to the management of the areas Protected from Galapagos? These and other questions will be answered by DiveStat Galápagos, a diving activity monitoring tool that allows you to know the demographic characteristics of the divers that arrive to the islands, their experience and diving profile, their levels of satisfaction and includes a visualizer of sightings of megafauna. The project also builds a baseline on dive safety and promotes best practices in the archipelago.

Since March of this year, the Charles Darwin Foundation (FCD) has been carrying out this project in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Galapagos National Park Management (DPNG) and the Galapagos Tourism Observatory (OTG).

Hammerhead shark, one of the most iconic species found in the Galapagos Marine Reserve.
Hammerhead shark, one of the most iconic species found in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Photo by: Nicolás Moity.

Galapagos is one of the main ecotourism destinations and is among the top five best dive sites in the world, making recreational diving one of the main marine tourist attractions of Galapagos. It is estimated that 30,000 tourists are divers, or 15% of all tourists arriving in Galapagos annually, which creates a positive impact on the local economy, but in turn, the number of arriving divers could have an impact on the marine environment. This is why for the islands it is very important to have a tool that allows us to know and disseminate good practices that promote the proper management and management of diving in the Galapagos Marine Reserve by the DPNG and in this way ensure that the activity is sustainable.

Scuba Diving in the Galapagos Marine Reserve.
Scuba Diving in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Photo by: Nicolás Moity.

This innovative tool incorporates a component of citizen science, when recording the sightings of marine species. In this way we can know the sites where we can find different species in greater or lesser quantity and how often, week by week. This way also the operators will be able to sell their product better and the tourists who have diving as their purpose can select the site based on their preferences. In addition, citizen science goes hand in hand with the scientific studies carried out on the islands as it allows scientists to obtain data on the species being studied, for example, their location, breeding sites, and new records, among others.

Eagle Ray, one of the most common species found in scuba diving tours in the Galapagos Marine Reserve.
An Eagle Ray, one of the most common species found in scuba diving tours in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Photo by: Nicolás Moity.

DiveStat information has been obtained through surveys of tourists and diving centers to learn the different aspects of safety. It is also intended to conduct surveys to health centers and hyperbaric physicians to determine possible improvements in the safety of operations. This pilot study has a long-term vision that seeks to involve the local actors, allowing the baseline of the mentioned indicators to be established so that the DPNG can continue with the data collection in the future and thus have the necessary information for making Management decisions.

The results of the DiveStat project are available online for consultation of operators, guides, visitors, DPNG, NGOs and the community.

 

Monitoring of non-flying cormorant nests on Isabela Island.

Written in collaboration with Gustavo Jiménez-Uzcategui.

Galapagos penguins (Spheniscus mendiculus) and non-flying cormorants (Phalacrocorax harrisi) are two endemic species of the Galapagos Islands. The penguins can be found commonly in Isabela, Fernandina, Bartolome and Floreana since they are reproductive zones. However, individuals have been registered in Santa Fe, Santiago, Rabida, Baltra, Daphne and the north and south of Santa Cruz. Non-flying cormorants are found only on the shores of Isabela and Fernandina.

Both species are vulnerable to both natural and anthropogenic impacts. Among its greatest threats are: climate change as water temperature increases, food decreases; and on the other hand, introduced species such as cats and rats that feed on adults, eggs and juvenile individuals. For this reason, the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), together with the Galapagos National Park Directorate (DPNG), performs three annual monitoring periods with the objective of knowing the status of the population of the two species in order to take the necessary conservation measures. Monitoring allows the determination of survival, mortality and reproduction of penguins and non-flying cormorants by tagging individuals, their nests and a census along the west coast of Isabela and the east coast of Fernandina to estimate the number and compare it with previous censuses.

CDF, GNPD and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) team looking for penguin nests in Caleta Iguana.
CDF, GNPD and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) team looking for penguin nests in Caleta Iguana. Photo by: Daniela Vilema / CDF.

On Monday, November 7, we left to the west of the archipelago to perform the last monitoring of the year 2016. We began the tour in Caleta Iguana, a bay to the south-west of Isabela Island where 14 penguins were tagged. To tag these animals they are captured, the measurements of the beak and wing, weight, cardiac, respiratory and temperature readings are taken and finally a pit-tag with a number is placed in one of its legs; this is placed in the subcutaneous part and has no negative impact on individuals. Before their release, red lines are made in the chest with a marker to not recapture them.

Dr. Gustavo Jimenez, CDF scientist, taking the heart frequencies of one of the penguins.
Dr. Gustavo Jimenez, CDF scientist, taking the heart frequencies of one of the penguins. Photo by: Daniela Vilema / CDF.

On the second day, we carried out the first of four censuses from Punta Essex to Playa de los Perros, where we found 101 penguins, 79 cormorants and hundreds of individuals of other species such as blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, sea turtles, pelicans, frigates, among others in smaller quantity. The census consists of crossing the coast identifying and registering all the animals present in the area, giving priority to the target species. The following days we continued with the tagging and censuses in Puerto Pajas, Albermarle Point (Isabela), Marielas Inlets, Punta Mangle and Punta Espinoza (Fernandina).

CDF and DPNG monitoring team carrying out one of the censuses at Isabela Island.
CDF and DPNG monitoring team carrying out one of the censuses at Isabela Island. Photo by: Daniela Vilema / CDF.

How can we differentiate the age of these species by capturing and tagging them? In the case of penguins, juveniles have white cheeks while adults have black cheeks and usually females are smaller than males. In the case of cormorants there is a clear difference between adults and juveniles, adults have turquoise eyes while juveniles have black eyes, adults are dark brown and juveniles are black.

Penguins released after the respective tagging and sampling on board.
Penguins released after the respective tagging and sampling on board. Photo by: Daniela Vilema / CDF.

These species of birds have unique characteristics because unlike other birds they cannot fly, so that their wings working as fins, along with their short but strong legs and webbed feet, allow them to swim and dive to get their food. Penguins feed on different species of fish in coastal waters, reaching up to a depth of 50 meters, while cormorants feed on octopuses, eels, fish and crustaceans from coastal areas and can dive more than 70 meters deep. Both species can lay two to three eggs, which take 30-35 days to hatch.

Adult flightless cormorant nesting on Isabela Island.
Adult flightless cormorant nesting on Isabela Island. Photo by: Daniela Vilema/CDF.

As part of the team were park rangers of the GNPD who captured individuals and became involved in the various activities, in addition to the crew of the Queen Mabel boat that supported us throughout the trip.

This project is led by DVM Gustavo Jiménez-Uzcategui of the FCD, and is developed thanks to the support of: Galapagos Conservancy Trust, Lindbland National Geographic, Penguin Fund Japan, Mr. Seishi Sakamoto, Blue Planet Film, with the collaboration of the University San Francisco of Quito, Colorado State University, University of Missouri, among others.

Mangrove finch released in May 2016 photographed in September 2016.

Written in collaboration with Daniela Vilema.

The mangrove finch (Camarhynchus heliobates) is a critically endangered species with a population estimated at 100 individuals with fewer than 20 breeding pairs. The survival of this species in the wild is threatened due to the parasitism of nestlings by the larva of the introduced fly Philornis downsi, which feeds on the blood of the chicks when they are in the nest. Despite the research that has been carried out, there is still no viable control for this fly to protect mangrove finch nestlings in situ, therefore the species continues to be at serious risk. In order to protect nestlings from P. downsi parasitism, since 2014, the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Ministry of Environment through the Galapagos National Park Directorate in collaboration with San Diego Zoo Global and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust have conducted head starting. This consists of collecting eggs or nesting chicks in the field raising them in a laboratory at the Charles Darwin Research Station and releasing the juveniles when can survive on their own.

Each year, the head starting season begins in February when eggs are collected from the wild on Isabela, where the only population of this species can be found. The Mangrove Finch Project team is responsible for rearing chicks at the Research Station facility, while wild breeding pairs can continue laying eggs that could breed satisfactorily.

Mangrove finches reared in captivity in the Charles Darwin Research Station.
Mangrove finches reared in captivity in the Charles Darwin Research Station. Photo by: Liza Díaz Lávola/FCD.

In late March the team returns to the site and camps for several weeks to release the juveniles. The birds adapt to the site inside a large aviary in the mangrove forest and after four weeks they can be released into their natural habitat. In order to monitor them, a tiny radio transmitter is attached on the tail, which allows the team to detect their initial movements. In addition, a unique color band combination is placed on the legs in order to obtain re-sighting data following the short battery life of the transmitters. Since 2014, 36 mangrove finches have been reared and released into their natural habitat while it is estimated that 16 chicks have been able to fledge naturally during this time.

¨For me personally, the most exciting part of the season is the release and radio-tracking of the hand-reared birds, observing them as they become independent and behave as wild mangrove finches do, however the hardest part of the season is always at the very end when we must close the aviary and stop supplementary feeding, leaving the birds to survive on their own¨ Says Francesca Cunninghame, leader of the Mangrove Finch Project.

Mangrove finch prior to release in Isabela Island.
Mangrove finch prior to release in Isabela Island. Photo by: Francesca Cunninghame/FCD.

Monitoring the hand reared birds once the radio transmitters stop working is not easy as juvenile and non-breeding finches do not respond to recorded calls or establish territories. Observational monitoring is only reliable during the breeding season as the males call and establish mating territories, which additionally makes it possible to monitor reproductive pairs. Initial post-release survival of head started juveniles is 97%; however, during the two years prior to 2016 there was only one mangrove finch reared in captivity that was observed following the initial telemetry monitoring period.  However, in 2016, between February and May, three individuals from 2014 and 2015 were observed and in September three juveniles released in May of the same year and one from 2014 were observed. The individual from 2014 was calling and exhibiting territorial behaviour F. Cunninghame received the following news from her colleague D. Anchundia:

¨These further observations of hand-reared mangrove finches surviving longer term in the wild signifies a huge amount to the Project and the value of the management techniques currently being used. To have one individual from 2014 calling and showing early breeding behavior, in addition to confirming that three of the 15 juveniles released earlier this year have survived for four months on their own is stupendous”.

Mangrove Finch released with adult plumage and beak colour photographed in September 2016.
Mangrove Finch released with adult plumage and beak colour photographed in September 2016. Photo by: David Anchundia.

The long-term objective of this project is to increase the size of the mangrove finch population and thus far the methodology used has presented very satisfactory results. Soon the 2017 breeding season will begin, of which we will continue reporting the details.

The Mangrove Finch Project is a bi-institutional project carried out by the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park Directorate in collaboration with the San Diego Zoo Global and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. The project is supported by Marguerite Griffith-Jones, GESS Charitable Trust, Decoroom Limited, and Holbeck Charitable Trust, Foundation Ensemble, Friends of Galapagos Switzerland, The Prince Bernhard Nature Fund, Individual donors via the International Community Foundation, The Leona, M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, Galapagos Conservation Trust and The British Embassy in Ecuador.

The Aquatimer

IWC, one of our main donors supporting our conservation work in Galapagos, has launched a new watch, the Aquatimer Chronograph "Sharks".

The special edition watch with production limited to 500 pieces features a unique hammerhead shark engraving on the case back. The Aquatimer Chronograph Edition “Sharks” is exclusively bundled with a copy of Michael Muller’s book of the same name. The limited Collector’s Edition TASCHEN book is signed by the photographer and presented in a bite-proof metal shark cage. Famed for his portraits of Hollywood stars, the American photographer travelled the globe to document shark species with an unprecedented degree of technical perfection. 

IWC Schaffhausen presented the limited edition Aquatimer Chronograph Edition “Sharks” during an exclusive Cocktail at the IWC Boutique on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles on December 9. The launch event was attended by photographer Michael Muller, baseball player CJ Wilson, Joe Hahn and Chester Bennington from Linkin Park and actor Daniel Dae Kim. 

The special edition watch with production limited to 500 pieces features a unique hammerhead shark engraving on the case back. The Aquatimer Chronograph Edition “Sharks” is exclusively bundled with a copy of Michael Muller’s book of the same name. The limited Collector’s Edition TASCHEN book is signed by the photographer and presented in a bite-proof metal shark cage. Famed for his portraits of Hollywood stars, the American photographer travelled the globe to document shark species with an unprecedented degree of technical perfection. 

More Information

Robb Report: "Watch of the Week: IWC Aquatimer Chronograph Edition “Sharks”.

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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