Joshua Vela

Restoration in urban and rural areas in Galapagos

Active since 2023

While a mere 3% of the Galapagos Islands are home to people, our presence in this small fraction of the archipelago has put the native vegetation at risk. Our restoration program in urban and rural areas engages the local community in conservation and restoration efforts to secure the long-term health of these unique ecosystems.

Joshua Vela

The challenge & why it matters

In recent decades, a surge in both tourists and residents has led to increased pressure on Galapagos’ natural resources and urban and rural settlement expansion. This is particularly noticeable on the four inhabited islands: Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, Isabela, and Floreana. With more people comes greater demand for space, intensified agriculture, expanded infrastructure, increased raw material requirements, greater need of public services and heightened waste production.

Three key issues are significantly impacting the islands' biodiversity:

1. Urban Expansion: The rapid and unplanned growth of urban settlements has resulted in the building of houses in natural areas, the introduction of alien plants and the displacement of native and endemic flora.

2. Agricultural Transformation: Native vegetation in rural areas is being replaced with low-diversity monocultures. Moreover, abandoned farmlands act as incubators for invasive species.

3. Expansion of Special Use Sites: Garbage dumps, and the expansion and increase in raw material mining for construction are consequences of population growth that generate environmental degradation.

Restoring such degraded ecosystems is possible, but crucial knowledge gaps remain. We need to better understand the most suitable plant species that can facilitate recovery, and how aid technologies could increase the survivorship of planted species in each unique island context.

The Charles Darwin Foundation, through its Galapagos Verde 2050 team of restoration professionals, aims to address these knowledge gaps to restore degraded ecosystems of inhabited islands and find more sustainable ways to balance human activities while safeguarding the islands' biodiversity.

Program objectives

  • Raise awareness of the need to recover native and endemic plant species in towns, especially those that are threatened (vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered), according to the IUCN Red List.
  • Engage the local community through educational and experiential initiatives on the importance of integrating native and endemic plants in public spaces to promote biodiversity conservation while providing urban spaces adequate for human recreation.
  • Restore degraded ecosystems on agricultural farms using native and endemic plant species, and evaluate the most efficient water-saving technologies for each environment.
  • Enhance ecosystem services in degraded rural environments, providing benefits both to farmers and biodiversity.
Special Use Sites
  • Restore special-use sites using native and endemic plants and evaluate their degree of recovery.
  • Characterize biodiversity in special-use sites after enacting restoration measures and compare them with surrounding natural areas.
  • Focus on garbage dumps and gravel mines.

our impact

Carlos Espinosa-CDF

In Puerto Ayora, the largest town on Santa Cruz Island, our restoration specialists are leading a campaign to raise awareness and encourage the community to plant the endangered plant Scalesia affinis, native to this specific area of the Island.

To date, 468 individuals have been successfully planted, which represents 45% of the total population of the species on the island. The entire community's support is needed to guarantee that such species are reinstated in the town’s gardens. Recovering this species is vital for the urban ecosystem of Puerto Ayora.

The Charles Darwin Foundation works with communities of urban areas of the Islands of Floreana, Santa Cruz and San Cristobal, to create gardens with endemic and native plant species and in doing so, promotes the conservation of these species that are typical of these Islands.

Carlos Espinosa-CDF
Coffee plantation in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island which is integrating native and endemic plants.

The program's efforts to incorporate native plants into agricultural systems are a win-win for farmers and the environment. Native plants can help to improve soil quality, reduce erosion, provide shade, foster bird nesting and feeding grounds, sequester carbon and attract pollinators.

To date, we have partnered with 15 farms in Floreana, San Cristobal and Santa Cruz islands. Through these partnerships, the Charles Darwin Foundation has established more than 2,300 plants of 20 native and endemic species into agricultural systems, mostly in coffee stands. The opportunity to scale and accelerate our impact across more farms is clear.

Rashid Cruz-CDF
Restoration work at the gravel mine in Floreana Island.

In only three years, our team restored 98% of the vegetation cover of the dry forest at Floreana's gravel mine – the oldest in the archipelago. We are also working at the gravel mine of Cerro Colorado, on San Cristobal Island, where we aim to restore the critically endangered Calandrinia galapagosa and the threatened Lecocarpus darwinii. These are two of the most important endemic species on this island, and their recovery is essential to the local ecosystem's health.

On Baltra Island, one of the most degraded islands in the archipelago, we have planted more than 1,400 plants of 12 different species at the old garbage dump, helping transform the dump into a lush and productive ecosystem.

About Galapagos Verde 2050 (GV2050)

The GV2050 program has a multidisciplinary research team that brings together professionals from various fields, including ecologists, conservation biologists, biotechnologist, botanical taxonomists, and environmental engineers.

We have worked with the Galapagos National Park Directorate for more than a decade, leveraging both institutions' scientific expertise and practical knowledge. This fosters a comprehensive approach that aligns scientific guidance with effective on-the-ground restoration efforts.

Why you should support us

The Galapagos Islands are a unique and irreplaceable part of our planet cataloged as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. By supporting our urban and rural restoration program, you can help to ensure that these islands are conserved for future generations.

Here are some specific ways that your sponsorship can help:

  • Fund research projects developing new ways to restore degraded ecosystems.
  • Support educational programs that share the importance of conservation with the Galapagos people.
  • Purchase equipment and materials needed for restoration efforts.
  • Help cover the costs of seed collection, plant care, and planting expeditions.
  • Cover the travel and transportation costs for researchers and volunteers.

Jaramillo, P., Shepherd, J. D. and Heleno, R. (2021) Guía de Semillas y Propágulos de Galápagos. Edited by P. Jaramillo, J. D. Shepherd, and R. Heleno. Puerto Ayora-Isla Santa Cruz. 91 pp.

Jaramillo, P. et al. (2015) ‘Galapagos Verde 2050: An opportunity to restore degraded ecosystems and promote sustainable agriculture in the Archipelago’, in GNPD et al. (eds) Galapagos Report 2013-2014. Puerto Ayora, Galápagos, Ecuador, pp. 133–143.

Jaramillo. P. (2009) ‘Scalesia affinis , “ la Scalesia de Puerto Ayora ” casi extinta en Santa Cruz’, El Colono, p. 7.

Jaramillo, P., Tapia, W., Negoita, L., Plunkett, E., Guerrero, M., Mayorga, P., & Gibbs, J. P. (2020). El Proyecto Galápagos Verde 2050 (Volumen 1) (P. Paramillo, W. Tapia, & J. P. Gibbs (eds.). 130 pp. https://www.darwinfoundation.org/images/publications/GalapagosVerde2050_es.pdf&sa=D&source=docs&ust=1702307601743777&usg=AOvVaw31y2wb1gttx-cgN9MIdv3m

Atkinson, R., Jaramillo, P. and Tapia, W. (2009) ‘Establishing a new population of Scalesia affinis , a threatened endemic shrub , on Santa Cruz Island , Galapagos , Ecuador’, Conservation Evidence, 6, pp. 42–47.

Plunkett, E., Negoita, L., Velasco, N., Sevilla, C., & Jaramillo, P. (2023). Enhancing restoration success of rare xeric plants through water-saving technologies: A case study of Scalesia affinis ssp. affinis in the Galapagos Islands. PeerJ, 11(e16367), 1–20. http://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.16367

Jaramillo, P., Tapia, W. and Tye, A. (2018) ‘Scalesia affinis Hook. f.’, in Araujo, P. et al. (eds) Atlas de Galápagos, Ecuador: Especies Nativas e Invasoras. Quito-Ecuador: FCD y WWF-Ecuador., pp. 56–57.

Andres Cruz

Protect Galapagos, Impact the World

The impact you make on this small ecosystem of enormous biodiversity is part of a larger footprint you are leaving for the world's future. Join us on our mission to safeguard one of our planet’s most important natural treasures through science and conservation action by making a donation today. Thank you for making an impact with us.