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.

Darwin Arch, in the north of Galapagos. Photo by: Patricia Martí Puig.

A long-dreamed opportunity for any biologist, I finally found my way to the Galápagos Islands last March. On the second week of my new position at the research station of the Charles Darwin Foundation, we embarked on a week-long field trip to the north of the archipelago: the islands of Darwin and Wolf, the sharkiest place in the world. Welcome to Galapagos to me!

Why Galapagos?

The Galapagos Marine Reserve was declared a protected area in 1998, giving this archipelago the opportunity to stay almost as pristine as it was before human settlement. Although finding balance is challenging, the community here understands the importance of protecting the islands’ natural resources as tourism is the main economic source here. This protected archipelago is an example of a productive relationship between human and nature. There is hope.

Sharks are heavily fished worldwide as a source of protein and also for Chinese soup, which has led many species of sharks (and their cousins, the rays: next blog) to decline during recent decades. Largely due to SCUBA diving, sharks have become a tourism attraction in many localities worldwide, such as Galapagos. It is now recognized that sharks are worth more alive than dead and thanks to the efforts of many scientists, conservationists and the community, sharks are now protected in Galapagos waters. Because of this, the northern islands of Darwin and Wolf were recently declared a sanctuary by the Ecuadorian government. This sanctuary was created to protect a key ecosystem that supports the largest biomass of sharks found globally so far, says the study done by scientists at Charles Darwin Foundation. It will hopefully ensure that the declining populations of sharks have a refuge to recover from the overfishing happening elsewhere.

School of hammerhead sharks at Darwin & Wolf. Credits: Pelayo Salinas-de-León / CDF.
School of hammerhead sharks at Darwin & Wolf. Photo by: Pelayo Salinas de León / CDF.

The sharks team from the Charles Darwin Foundation, now led by Dr. Pelayo Salinas, has been monitoring sharks in Galapagos for a few years with the aim of understanding the role of this archipelago as a key habitat in the life cycles of sharks.

“These islands are a key ecosystem likely connecting populations of migratory sharks across the islands and mainland of the Eastern Tropical Pacific, and this information is vital for understanding the role of the Galápagos Marine Reserve in protecting threatened shark populations”
says Dr. Salinas-de-León.

So, twice a year the team embarks on a journey to the amazing islands of Darwin and Wolf located to the north of the Galapagos archipelago and kind of in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The aim of these field trips is to continue with the monitoring of sharks and large pelagic fish, and eventually assess the impact of the new sanctuary on sharks’ populations.

The team I joined during this trip was formed by six other scientists with different backgrounds, which made the trip even more interesting.

Part of the team on Queen Mabel’s roof.
Part of the team on Queen Mabel’s roof. Photo by: Patricia Marti Puig / CDF.

Two principal scientists at the Charles Darwin Station, Dr Patricia Marti Puig, expert on corals and deep water invertebrates, and Dr José Marin Jarrín, expert on fisheries and Science Coordinator, joined the expedition. Also on the trip were field work coordinator and marine scientist Salomé Buglass and staff from the Galapagos National Park Directorate: Head of the Marine Biological Resources Program Harry Reyes and an external collaborator from the University of British Columbia, an expert on fisheries and climate change modeling, Dr Tyler Eddy. This mix of scientists was a great introduction for me into the Galapagos and the awesome work done by the Charles Darwin Foundation.

Part of the team in Queen Mabel’s common room. Photo by: Florencia Cerutti / CDF
Part of the team in Queen Mabel’s common room. Photo by: Florencia Cerutti / CDF.

How do we monitor sharks? We take videos!

Baited Remote Underwater Videos (BRUVs) and Diving Operated Videos (DOVs) are two tools used to monitor marine life using underwater videos that are later analyzed in the lab. Basically, a BRUV is a camera mounted on a metal frame with a PVC tube holding bait in front of the camera, the frame is attached to a rope and buoys so that it can be deployed in the water for a set time, and then retrieved.

A DOV is a camera mounted on a smaller metal frame with small buoys and held by a SCUBA diver during an underwater transect. They are both ways to do underwater visual surveys, allowing the scientist to “revisit” the site as many times as needed through a video to get a more accurate identification of fish and other data.

During the trips to Darwin and Wolf, we used “stereo-BRUVs” and “stereo-DOVs”, which means that the frames each have two cameras instead of a single camera.

Having two cameras allows scientists to take measurements of fish and other wildlife seen in the video using software designed to do this. Measurements are then used to calculate biomass–which in this case would be the total mass of sharks per square meter.

Deploying stereo-BRUVs (right) and diver with stereo-DOV during underwater transect (left). Photo by: Pelayo Salinas-de-León / CDF
Deploying stereo-BRUVs (right) and diver with stereo-DOV during underwater transect (left). Photo by: Pelayo Salinas-de-León / CDF
Team prepping the BRUVs and loading the zodiac.
Team prepping the BRUVs and loading the zodiac. Photo by: José Marin Jarrín / CDF.

Cruising aboard Queen Mabel, it took us about a day to slowly get to our destination — and a about another day to get back — and during five days we deployed BRUVs in eight key sites around each island, leaving them in the water for a couple of hours to film. We also did seven transects SCUBA-diving with DOVs at each island. The team is currently analyzing about 24 hours of videos taken by the BRUVs and about five hours taken by DOVs!

We expect to have results of a few years’ data from BRUVs and DOVs next year. This will be used to understand the use of Darwin and Wolf islands by sharks as key habitat, and to address other important questions like the effects of changes in temperature (climate change) on sharks.

The Queen Mabel.
The Queen Mabel. Photo by: Florencia Cerutti / CDF.
Shark team member Ana Moya analyzing BRUVs.
Shark team member Ana Moya analyzing BRUVs. Photo by: Florencia Cerutti / CDF.

But besides the scientific and sharky part of this trip...

“This place never stops surprising me with all the wildlife I see surrounding my boat every time I visit” said Vico, the captain of the Queen Mabel during the trip. Indeed, we got to see a lot of marine life on and around the islands: sea lions playing with the unaware divers in front of me during transects; many (so many!) birds nesting on the cliffs; a massive pod of dolphins that surrounded us and played with the smaller boat we were on; fins of orcas and sun fish breaking the sea surface.

Frigate bird at Darwin island.
Frigate bird at Darwin island. Photo by: Patricia Marti Puig / CDF
Dolphins accompanying the Queen Mabel.
Dolphins accompanying the Queen Mabel. Photo by: Salomé Buglass / CDF

These were my first dives in Galapagos and what a trip it was diving in Darwin and Wolf! It is amazing indeed to be able to see nature like this, untouched and yet protected. It makes you want to know more and understand these isolated ecosystems. It gives us hope that we can have an impact through our work as scientists. It makes me want to dive again there! Soon.

Happy me at Darwin island.
Happy me at Darwin island. Photo by: Salomé Buglass / CDF.

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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.

Welcome of Galapagos students in Haha-jima Island in the Ogasawara archipelago in Japan.

The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), with the support of the Boninology Institute, the Japanese Association for Galápagos (JAGA) and several collaborators and authorities from Japan, carried out a student exchange program between the Galápagos and the Ogasawara Islands in Japan. The Ogasawara Islands have been a Natural World Heritage Site since 2011. Ogasawara is an archipelago of about 30 volcanic islands located 1,000 km south of Tokyo. The largest is similar in size to Floreana in Galápagos, with a population of approximately 2,500 people.

To make this exchange possible, the Japanese Association for Galápagos and the authorities in Japan relied on the Charles Darwin Foundation to select four young people from Galápagos, who traveled to Ogasawara.

During the visit to Japan, these students learned about the local community and culture, as well as the challenges of working on the conservation of the Ogasawara Islands. For about three intense weeks, the young visitors from Galápagos had the opportunity to meet authorities from the islands and from Tokyo, as well as several researchers, professors, and students. Their visit coincided with activities, which had been developed throughout this entire year, to commemorate a century of diplomatic relations between Ecuador and Japan. It is in the interest of the municipality of Ogasawara, the Governor of Tokyo, the CDF and our collaborators in Japan to maintain this long-term program.

Roberto León, from Jacinto Gordillo High School on Isabela Island, shared his experience with us after the visit: "I am really excited to have gone to Japan, it has been an unforgettable trip. I enjoyed meeting so many kind, funny and punctual people; sharing with them was unique, I felt as if they were part of my family. I also liked to travel to the Ogasawara Islands, it was interesting to see how they protect and take care of the place where they live, as well as the coexistence between the community and nature".

At the end of August we will receive a group of students from Ogasawara, who will share time and experiences with local authorities, students, and the community here in Galápagos.

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.