The Galapagos Verde 2050 team.

During May and June our team of scientists and volunteers, along with the collaboration of the Galapagos National Park Directorate, continued the initial phase in the process of ecological restoration of South Plaza through the recuperation of the cacti population (Opuntia echios var. echios). This species not only shapes the ecosystem of the island but is the main food source for terrestrial iguanas, whose population is very abundant in South Plaza.

Baby cacti hand grown to restore South Plaza populations.
Baby cacti hand-grown to restore South Plaza populations. Photo by: Liza Díaz Lalova/CDF.

During these two months 430 seedlings were planted in three sites where historical evidence showed that they were once populated by cacti. Due to the extreme arid conditions of the island, one part of the seedlings were planted using the Groasis technology to save water and another part under natural conditions for control.

Getting supplies at the dock on South Plaza Island.
Getting supplies at the dock on South Plaza Island. Photo by: Liza Díaz Lalova/CDF.

Even though the planting process took only a couple of weeks, we needed more than a year and a half of arduous work to arrive to this crucial moment in the island restoration.

South Plaza Island on restoration process .
South Plaza Island on restoration process. Photo by: Liza Díaz Lalova/CDF.

Our work included several phases, mainly: the recuperation of seeds from ripe fruits and iguana droppings, germination, care, a rigorous quarantine, transportation to the island, and finally sowing and protection with nets until the plants will be old and big enough to avoid being preyed by iguanas and birds.

Maintaining water levels is key during monitoring.
Maintaining water levels is key during monitoring. Photo by: Liza Díaz Lalova/CDF.

Our work continues, and our challenge is to recuperate the ecological integrity of the island and its capacity to generate services to human beings such as the aesthetics of the landscape and its unique biodiversity.

The Project Galapagos Verde 2050 is implemented by the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park Directorate with the support of various strategic partners like the Autonomous Decentralized Government of Floreana, the Ecological Airport of Galapagos, the Agency of Regulation Biosecurity Control and Quarantine of Galapagos (ABG), the Navy of Ecuador and the Ecuadorean Air Force (in Baltra). Financially this project is possible thanks to the support of the COmON Foundation, The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and BESS Forest Club.

Mangrove Finch fledgling adapting to its natural habitat.

A team of Charles Darwin Research Station 'Mangrove Finch Project' staff carried out the successful release of 15 mangrove finch (Camarhynchus heliobates) fledglings this May. The team spent six weeks camping in the field in order to safely release the fledglings back into their native habitat, within the mangrove forest at Playa Tortuga Negra (PTN) on Isabela Island.

Mangrove Finch project team at Playa Tortuga Negra.
Mangrove Finch project team at Playa Tortuga Negra. Photo by: Tui de Roy.

Fledglings were repatriated for the third time since 2014 once again in collaboration with the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD). The transport boxes were taken aboard the GNPD vessel Sierra Negra. The birds were then maintained on site within a specially designed pre-release aviary at PTN for the first three weeks. There the captive-reared fledglings were provided with natural substrates such as fallen logs, bark, foliage, and leaf litter that were found in the mangroves to encourage foraging and to aid in the re-assimilation process. All fledglings were fitted with miniature radio transmitters attached to the base of their tails for monitoring purposes and then, on April 26th, the aviary doors were opened and the birds were free to leave. As a “soft-release,” supplementary food was provided within the then opened aviary for a further three weeks.

Aviary in the mangrove forest at Playa Tortuga Negra, Isla Isabela. Photo by: Tui de Roy.

The light-weight transmitters, weighing only 0.3g, resulted in a short battery life which allowed fledglings to be radio tracked for up to 18 days post-release. Monitoring efforts showed that the fledglings maintained similar dispersal and foraging behavior to both wild-reared  and captive-reared mangrove finch fledglings from the previous seasons.

Mangrove Finches feeding in the aviary.
Mangrove Finches feeding in the aviary. Photo by: Tui de Roy.

During the majority of the time the fledglings stayed within the mangrove forest at  PTN, and were found interacting with wild (adult and juvenile) mangrove finches. Eight individuals traveled as far as 1.5km from the aviary, crossing the surrounding  lava fields to forage in arid zone vegetation. At the end of the monitoring period, fledglings still visiting the aviary were recaptured and their transmitters were removed.

Mangrove Finch fledglings raised at CDRS re-adapting back to the wild.
Mangrove Finch fledglings raised at CDRS re-adapting back to the wild. Photo by: Francesca Cunninghame/CDF.

This breeding season was particularly challenging for the mangrove finches. Dry weather conditions shortened the breeding season which generally occurs until late April or May, however this year no mangrove finch nesting occurred later than March.

Tracking Mangrove Finches through telemetry after releasing them back in the wild.
Tracking Mangrove Finches through telemetry after releasing them back in the wild. Photo by: Francesca Cunninghame/CDF.

Obtaining observations of juvenile non-breeding mangrove finches is exceptionally challenging, due to their cryptic nature. However, three juveniles that were captive-reared in 2014 and 2015 were observed during May, which shows that captive-reared mangrove finches are capable of surviving longer term in the wild. This was great news as for head-starting  to be effective at conserving the species, captive-reared birds must recruit into the wild breeding population and increase the population size of this critically endangered species.

Mangrove Finch foraging in the wild (Photo by Francesca Cunninghame/CDF)
Mangrove Finch foraging in the wild. Photo by: Francesca Cunninghame/CDF.

The Mangrove Finch, a species endemic to the Galapagos Islands, is on the brink of extinction with their greatest current threat due to the impact of the parasitic larvae of the introduced fly Philornis downsi which causes exceptionally high mortality in wild nestlings.

Mangrove Finch Project leader, Francesca Cunninghame, during the release of the fledgelings back in the wild.
Mangrove Finch Project leader, Francesca Cunninghame, during the release of the fledgelings back in the wild. Photo by: Jorge Jimenez.

It is estimated that the entire population of this critically endangered species consists of approximately 100 individuals with fewer than 20 breeding pairs. While various control methods for Philornis downsi are being researched, the mangrove finch head-starting program began in 2014 as an attempt to immediately increase annual fledging success within the Mangrove Finch population.

Mangrove Finches feeding in the aviary.
Mangrove Finches feeding in the aviary. Photo by: Tui de Roy.

With this past month marking the release of the third group of captive-reared fledglings since 2014, a total of 36 mangrove finches have now been released into the wild and the team are hopeful that within the next couple of years captive-reared birds may be observed nesting, saving the mangrove finches one bird at a time for future generations.

Mangrove Finch fledgling back on Isabela Island.
Mangrove Finch fledgling back on Isabela Island. Photo by: Francesca Cunninghame/CDF.

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, Marguerite Griffith-Jones, GESS Charitable Trust, and Decoroom Limited, The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, the Swiss Friends of Galapagos, Fondation Ensemble, the Holbeck Trust and several individual donors.

 

 

'Protect The Fins And The Ocean Wins' Campaign set out to educate the local community about sharks and humans coexistense.

Did you know that a shark generates more than 5 million dollars in the span of its entire life in the Galapagos? Or that the Darwin and Wolf Islands host the highest shark biomass on the planet? These and many other interesting facts will be presented in the campaign titled “Protect the Fins and the Ocean Wins” that the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) will publicize during the upcoming months.

Galapagos Sharks in the recently declared Marine Sanctuary in Darwin and Wolf Islands.
Galapagos Sharks in the recently declared Marine Sanctuary in Darwin and Wolf Islands. Photo by: Pelayo Salinas-de-León/CDF.

The campaign aims to promote the coexistence of humans and sharks, using the Galapagos as a sustainable model. We will spread informative messages that can change the negative perception some people may have about these animals. The bad publicity sharks have received through movies or social media has spread fear in our society. Sharks, however, aren´t the dangerous creatures many imagine them to be. If we took the time to understand them better, we would see that they are truly fascinating animals that also play a fundamental role in maintaining healthy oceans.

CDF marine team conducting key research for recent findings at Darwin and Wolf Islands.
CDF marine team conducting key research for recent findings at Darwin and Wolf Islands. Photo by: Pelayo Salinas-de-León/CDF.

But how are humans connected to sharks? We are actually connected in many ways! Sharks are the top predators of the oceans, feeding on weak, sick or dead animals, stabilizing the populations of their prey and keeping the oceans healthy. As humans, we rely heavily on marine resources for food, especially as a source of protein. Promoting healthy ecosystems ensures we can continue to benefit from the resources that are so important to us.

Painting shark tattoos of the different species we study at CDF.
Painting shark tattoos of the different species we study at CDF. Photo by: Liza Díaz Lalova/CDF.

The Galapagos has a world-renowned reputation for being one of the best conserved places on earth. The more pristine a place is, the more tourists are inclined to pay to enjoy it. As such, tourism is one of the main economic drivers in the Galapagos. According to recent studies carried out by the CDF and the Pristine Seas Initiative of the National Geographic Society, and in collaboration with the Galapagos National Park Directorate, the Darwin and Wolf Islands hold the greatest shark biomass on the planet, which is why the islands have recently been declared a marine sanctuary. The great density of sharks attracts a large number of tourists each year who are willing to pay considerable amounts of money to be able to dive with sharks. When you take into account the amount of money a shark generates through tourism, the value of a living shark throughout its life in the Galapagos has been determined to be more than 5 million dollars.

'Guillo The Hammerhead Shark' and 'Vanessa The Tigress' at Miraflores Market, Puerto Ayora.
'Guillo The Hammerhead Shark' and 'Vanessa The Tigress' at Miraflores Market, Puerto Ayora. Photo by: Liza Díaz Lalova/CDF.

As part of the campaign, we will carry out an environmental educational campaign to teach children the importance of understanding and protecting these animals. An educational fair about sharks will be conducted in all the local schools on the islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela and Floreana geared towards children between the ages of 9 and 12. We will also host different events to involve the local community in our shark conservation efforts. Five characters will serve as ambassadors, representing the most emblematic species of Galapagos: Guillo the Hammerhead shark, Ramona the shark (Whale Shark), Vanessa the tigress (Tiger shark), Pancho of the Warf (juvenile Blacktip shark) and Ron the shark. Ron was first introduced in a previous campaign against shark finning created by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Sharks are key to maintaining healthy marine ecosystems, we need to protect them to avoid them disappearing.
Sharks are key to maintaining healthy marine ecosystems, we need to protect them to avoid them disappearing. Illustration by: Otto Whitehead.

More than 100 million sharks worldwide die yearly, mostly due to shark finning, which is why more than 90% of the populations have disappeared. The Galapagos provides a refuge in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for over 30 species of sharks, thanks to the protection afforded by the Marine Reserve. But the most interesting aspect of the Galapagos is how the community has learned to coexist sustainably with these animals. Given the number of sharks in the Galapagos, many would believe that we frequently see attacks, but this is not the case.

"Protect The Fins and The Ocean Wins' campaign leader, Daniela Vilema, educating kids from Galapagos. Photo by: Liza Díaz Lalova/CDF.

The locals have learned to be respectful towards the ocean and the creatures that inhabit it. For example, many surfers regularly enter the islands’ oceans (with precaution), even though sharks are known to be present. The abundance of marine life that can be observed in the archipelago is impressive, and sharks are a common attraction in all activities. Seeing a shark is an amazing opportunity many want to experience, and snorkeling gear is probably the first thing many travelers consider taking with them when visiting the islands! The Galapagos provide a clear example of how people have learned to live in sustainable coexistence with sharks, which allows this place to be an example of shark conservation for the entire world. If we can achieve it here, why couldn´t we do so in other places as well?

Shark tattoo painting at Miraflores Market in Puerto Ayora.
Shark tattoo painting at Miraflores Market in Puerto Ayora. Photo by: Beatriz Marino/CDF.

Even though it is true that sharks are very fascinating animals, it´s necessary to take precautions when we are in a place where we are certain that they are present. Let´s not forget that even though we aren´t their objective prey, they might confuse us with prey such as turtles or sea lions. We might also touch or hit them when we don´t see them in the water, which could lead to unintentional accidents. From 1989 to 2011 (22 years), 17 attacks and unconfirmed cases were registered, with insufficient data to support the claims of the unconfirmed cases. Many of these attacks were connected to improper activities that took place in shark breeding and feeding grounds. None of these attacks resulted in the death of the victim; however, we can take this information into account to ensure we take proper precautions before entering the ocean to prevent an attack:    

  • Always enter the water with company.
  • Do not enter the water with an open wound, since blood attracts sharks.
  • Avoid wearing bright colors, which sharks might confuse with fish colors. 
  • Do not enter the ocean at night.
  • If you are diving, maintain a distance of at least 2 metres from the shark.
  • Do not enter the ocean in places where organic waste is disposed of.
  • NEVER attempt to touch them.
Hammerhead Shark school at Darwin and Wolf Marine Sanctuary.
Hammerhead Shark school at Darwin and Wolf Marine Sanctuary. Photo by: Pelayo Salinas/CDF.

How can you become part of our campaign? If you are on the Galapagos, you can join us at the community events that will be publicized previously. If you aren´t in the Galapagos, you can still help spread the word! Upload a picture of yourself with any of our characters and download the characters here:

Upload them with the hashtag #ProtectTheFins

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as @DarwinFound

Join us and learn more about these amazing animals!

CDF marine team sharing recent findings with the Galapagos Islands local community.
CDF marine team sharing recent findings with the Galapagos Islands local community. Photo by: Liza Díaz Lalova/CDF.

This campaign is sponsored by Save Our Seas Foundation and Lindblad – National Geographic. With the support of: Consejo del Régimen Especial de Galápagos, Gobierno Autónomo Descentralizado de Santa Cruz, Ministerio de Turismo, Instituto Oceanográfico de la Armada, Dirección de Intereses Marítimos, Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana – Núcleo Galápagos and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Freda Chapman retires.

Last week our Grants and Contracts Manager, Freda Chapman, retired. We wish Freda all the best in her new endeavors and want to thank her for all the years of hard work and dedication to the protection and conservation of Galapagos.

Freda got involved with the Charles Darwin Research Station helping as a volunteer, and then worked for over a decade managing our Grants Program. She lived in Galapagos for many years, truly becoming part of the community and with her heart is in the Islands.

Freda Chapman retires.
Freda Chapman retires. Photo by: CDF.

Freda was a key player of our team in preparing fundamental fund raising proposals to uplift the Charles Darwin Foundation, especially during challenging times in 2014.

Freda Chapman retires.
Freda Chapman retires. Photo by: CDF.

Freda has gone above and beyond all these years through her work for our organization and we will be always grateful. You will surely be missed by all of us. Thank you and hope to see you soon back in Ecuador! The best wishes from all of us at the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands.

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.