Rashid Cruz/CDF

Mangrove ecology and climate change

Active since 2015

Mangroves in Galapagos provide important habitat for endemic and threatened species, offer essential ecosystem services like carbon sequestration, and support the well-being of local communities through tourism and fisheries. Despite their importance and pristine condition, these mangrove ecosystems and their potential for climate mitigation remain understudied.

Rashid Cruz/CDF


Unlike on the Ecuadorian mainland, where mangrove forests have been severely impacted by deforestation for shrimp aquaculture, mangroves in Galapagos are nearly pristine, with no shrimp or fish farming allowed. As a result, they provide a living laboratory where we can study natural processes with minimal human impact, and isolate and identify the effects of climate change.

In the absence of rivers and estuaries, mangroves in Galapagos grow in an arid coastal environment and on bare, geologically young lava rock instead of fine sediment. This means that mangroves in Galapagos are outside of their typical physiological range, with potentially unique evolutionary adaptations. Due to relatively frequent volcanic eruptions, mangrove colonization of bare lava is constantly taking place, making it an ideal setting to study how mangroves become a foundation species over time, transforming an extremely harsh colonization environment into a haven for biodiversity.

To date, mangroves remain largely understudied in Galapagos and much remains to be understood about their potentially different ecology and unique role in providing vital ecosystem services.


Like elsewhere in the world, mangroves are a key ecosystem along the coastlines of the archipelago, providing the islands with numerous vital ecosystem services.

A critical habitat for endemic & threatened species

Mangroves provide shelter, feeding and nursery grounds for at least 300 animal species, of which more than 60 are endangered or endemic, such as sharks, rays and turtles, including the iconic and critically endangered hammerhead shark and Mangrove finch. They are also used by sea lions and marine iguanas for roosting, and harbor small pelagic fish that are eaten by emblematic bird species, such as the endangered Galapagos penguin, flightless cormorants and boobies. Mangroves are also critical for decomposers and other fishery species, such as sea cucumbers and lobsters.

Pelayo Salinas
Carbon sequestration

Mangroves are known to be the most efficient carbon capture and storage system in the world, storing more carbon per unit area than any other ecosystem. For this reason, their importance in mitigating climate change is outstanding, and they are considered a pillar of nature-based solutions in the fight against climate change.

Rashid Cruz-CDF
Supporting the well-being of local livelihoods

Mangroves are a critical part of the life cycle of seafood that supports Galapagos artisanal fisheries (snapper, lobster), including the endangered Galapagos sailfin grouper. They also contribute to the local tourism industry, given their important role as nursery grounds for iconic species, such as sharks, which attract visitors from all over the world.

Rashid Cruz/CDF


Our program seeks to study mangrove ecology and assess the impacts of climate change on the ecosystem and its ability to provide key ecosystem services in the Galapagos. Our approach takes into consideration the entire ecosystem and its interconnected components:

Understanding the ecology of mangroves

We study the ecology of mangrove forests and their role as key habitats for numerous species. We are studying landscape-level mangrove distribution and change over time through the use of satellite and drone imagery, while fine-scale studies are done at the forest level. We assess species composition, size, and growth of mangrove forests, including their density, amount of plant material (biomass), number and size of dead trees, and the process of new plant recruitment by means of permanent monitoring plots. We study mangrove production, that is, the amount of leaves, fruits, flowers and twigs that mangroves produce per unit area, and the proportion that is decomposed by microorganisms and invertebrates, and transferred to the food chain and other marine ecosystems. We are also pioneering studies on the microbial community in mangrove soils.

Studying mangrove connectivity and genetic diversity

We study mangrove connectivity through genetic studies and mangrove dispersal in an effort to understand how mangrove populations are connected among islands, and with the continent. Genetic studies can also tell us if mangroves in Galapagos have evolved differently from those found on the mainland or elsewhere in the world.

Investigating the role of mangroves for key marine species

Many important marine species use mangroves for food, shelter and reproduction, including ten species of sharks and rays. We are studying the marine species that use mangroves, their connection to other marine ecosystems, and how their use of this ecosystem is changing with increasing climate variability and human use.

Updating the IUCN Red List of Threatened Ecosystems

We are contributing to the first IUCN Red List of Threatened Ecosystems assessment of mangrove forests, an important first step in putting Galapagos mangroves on the global map. This list assesses the potential of a given ecosystem to collapse through a standardized, comprehensive assessment of its health status and loss of critical habitat.

Studying carbon sequestration and storage

We are studying the mangroves' blue carbon capacity; that is, their capacity to sequester and store carbon, which is crucial for climate change mitigation efforts. We are also studying the rate at which mangroves sequester carbon in soils, and how this has changed since they first colonized Galapagos.

Assessing the impact of climate variability

We study the impact of changes in climate, in particular the effects of El Niño and La Niña phenomena on mangrove ecology and the biodiversity found in them, the growth rate of mangrove forests, and other aspects, such as reproduction and germination. We are also looking at the potential impacts of climate variability on carbon sequestration, their function as habitat for marine species and their ecosystem services.

Studying landlocked mangroves

Galapagos is home to landlocked mangroves, meaning that these mangroves have no physical access to the sea, which is highly unusual. Such landlocked forests are now home to the critically endangered Mangrove Finch. We are studying these landlocked mangrove forests to learn more about how they survive and thrive, and the unique conditions that allow them to exist in the first place.

Environmental education

We work closely with CDF’s education and community outreach program to develop educational activities with the local community on the importance of mangroves in the Galapagos Islands through experiential learning using mangroves as a classroom.

Program Objectives

  • Measure how much carbon mangroves store across different areas of the archipelago.
  • Study how mangroves affect other marine life: how much they produce, break down, and grow.
  • Understand how vital mangroves are for animals like sharks, turtles, and fish.
  • Predict how climate change will impact carbon storage, mangrove structure, and fish populations.
  • Investigate how people, mangroves, and wildlife interact.
  • Assess which mangrove areas provide higher levels of ecosystem services to aid in the prioritization of conservation efforts.
  • Raise awareness to the importance of mangroves among the local community.
Rashid Cruz/CDF

Our impact

Mapping mangrove forests in Galapagos

We have updated the distribution of mangroves in Galapagos using satellite imagery; we know how much mangrove there is and where it is, which represents a first step in understanding any ecosystem. We also made a first assessment of the change in mangrove cover over 10 years, showing that it is one of the few places on the planet where mangrove expansion has occurred without human intervention.

Estimating mangrove value

We have conducted an initial assessment of the economic value of their key ecosystem services, which amounts to more than US$70 million, highlighting their outstanding economic conservation value.

Promising early carbon sequestration results

Early pilot studies conducted by our scientists indicate that mangroves in Galapagos have the potential to store 1.8 million tons of blue carbon, which would be roughly equivalent to taking 1.4 million cars off the road for an entire year! More studies to assess Galapagos mangrove’s precise blue carbon capacity are currently underway.

Tracking El Niño in mangrove ecosystems

More than 30 temperature loggers have been strategically placed throughout the Galapagos Marine Reserve to track El Niño-induced temperature fluctuations and their impact on biodiversity and mangrove forest change.


By supporting our mangrove conservation program, you are helping us understand and conserve a critically understudied ecosystem, vital for climate change mitigation, for endemic and threatened fauna and flora, as well as local communities.

Here are some specific examples of how your donation could be used:

  • Support studies that help us estimate the carbon storage capacity of Galapagos mangroves.
  • Help us roll out more experiential activities with local kids to raise awareness of the importance of mangrove forests.
  • Fund field trips to remote landlocked mangrove forests on Isabela Island during the Mangrove Finch nesting season to study this unique habitat.
Rashid Cruz/CDF

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Andres Cruz

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