Ecological restoration of key species on Española Island

Ecological restoration of key species on Española Island

Ecological restoration of Española Island through adaptive management for the recovery of Opuntia megasperma var. orientalis on Española Island PC-13-22

This project is currently Active

The Galapagos Verde 2050 program carries out ecological restoration of native and endemic species that are key to the ecosystem of the island of Española. Among these key species is Opuntia megasperma var. orientalis, since among its ecosystem services is providing food and shade to other species that inhabit the island. Unfortunately, the population of O. megasperma has been radically reduced by the presence of invasive species and its very slow growth, which is why its restoration has been seen as crucial.

Our Research Team

Patricia Jaramillo Díaz

Principal Investigator

Patricia is an Ecuadorian researcher who came to Galapagos in 1996 to work on her PhD thesis about the “human impact on native, endemic and introduced flora on the Galapagos Islands” and since...

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Anna Calle


Anna has always been fascinated by the biodiversity of the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon rainforest. Her desire to protect these unique ecosystems motivated her to pursue a Bachelor of Science in...

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David Cevallos


David holds a Bachelor degree in agricultural engineering from the Army Polytechnic School (ESPE) in Ecuador, a master in environmental science from the university of Debrecen in Hungary in and a...

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Nicolas Velasco


Nicolás has a great curiosity for plant species, their reproduction, ecology and how these disperse. Coming from Chile, started his career as an Agronomist studying the reproduction of fruiting...

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Pavel Enríquez-Moncayo

Project Assistant

Pavel has always admired the people behind the great scientific discoveries both in his home, the Galapagos, as well as worldwide. Further, growing up in the "Enchanted Islands" allowed him to...

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Paúl Mayorga

Project Assistant

I was born and raised in these "Enchanted Islands", which meant from a young age I was naturally immersed in the conservation of the place where I live. Growing up with relatively little technology...

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Danyer Zambrano

Field Assistant

Danyer arrived to Floreana Island when he was only two years old. As he grew up on the island, he always enjoyed the idea of living in a green environment full of natural life, as well as learning...

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Project Details

How do we help restore the keystone species O. megasperma on Española Island?

Opuntia megasperma var. orientalis is a species of cactus endemic of island of Española. This keystone species serves as a food source for giant tortoises, nesting structures and food for birds, and refuge for many other endemic and native species that inhabit the island. Unfortunately, the population of O. megasperma was drastically reduced by feral goats, which were introduced to Española two centuries ago. Although the goats were eradicated in 1978, O. megasperma has not been able to recover due to its slow growth (approx. 2 cm per year), the natural herbivory of the endemic fauna, and the arid climatic conditions of the island. Therefore, this project seeks to contribute to the restoration of the ecological integrity of Española Island through the recovery of the population of Opuntia megasperma var.

More about ecological restoration on Española Island (Spanish): 


What tools does the Galapagos Verde 2050 program use for the ecological restoration of key species on Española Island?

One of the important limitations in the Galapagos Islands is the availability of fresh water, which is why it is necessary to optimize its use using water-saving technologies. The GV2050 program uses the following water-saving technologies that are widely used and proven worldwide for their effectiveness: Groasis Waterboxx®, Cocoon, Growboxx® and Hydrogel.

Groasis Waterboxx®. It is a technology that collects rainwater, storing it to provide it through a constant supply of water to the plant, allowing it to develop better. 

Information on the use of this technologyInformation on the use of this technology

Cocoon biodegradable boxes. With functions similar to Groasis Waterboxx®, but made of biodegradable material that does not need to be removed at the end of its use. 

The video shows how Cocoon technology is used in other ecological restoration projects

Growboxx®. Also developed by Groasis, made of biodegradable material, it has a hole in the center where the plant to be restored is planted and four holes in the lid where seeds can be germinated hydroponically. 

More information on how this technology is used

Hydrogel. They are gels of polymeric materials that allow the retention of water in the soil to benefit the vegetation present on the site. 

The benefits of hydrogel as a water saving technology

gv2050 espaniola figura2
Water saving technologies used in the GV2050 program. a) Groasis Waterboxx®, b) Cocoon, c) Groasis Growboxx®, d) hydrogel powder


In what phases is the project timeline divided?

gv2050 espaniola faces
Map of the study sites of Opuntia megasperma var. orientalis on Española Island divided by the different phases of ecological restoration.

Phase 1: This project began at the end of phase 1 in July 2017 in the study site Las Tunas.
Phase 2: This project began in August 2017 and will end in August 2027. In-situ and ex-situ experiments were launched. The effectiveness of water-saving technologies was evaluated. In September 2022, permanent plots were established. The effectiveness of ecological restoration tools will be evaluated. Two new experimental sites will be added to the project: Punta Cevallos and South Española.

Phase 3: The last and most extensive phase of the program (2027-2050) will continue with the restoration of the species Opuntia megasperma var. orientalis, in existing localities.


The main objective of the project is to contribute to the restoration of the ecological integrity of Española Island through the recovery of the population of Opuntia megasperma var. orientalis

The specific objectives of our project are:

  • Continue the process of ecological restoration of Española by increasing the population of Opuntia megasperma var. orientalis in at least 750 individuals until the end of 2025.
  • Develop a monitoring protocol that allows long-term recording of changes in plant-animal interactions as a result of Opuntia restoration.
  • Determine the most appropriate method, depending on the cost-benefit, for the restoration of the population of Opuntia megasperma var. orientalis.
  • Communicate the results of the ecological restoration of Española, based on the evidence obtained for Opuntia megasperma var. orientalis in various formats (ie, scientific paper, ecological restoration manual and communication document)

Our results

What results have we obtained from the ecological restoration of O. megasperma on Española Island?

We have developed a method for the asexual reproduction of Opuntia megasperma var. orientalis and was tested in 2017 ex situ germination trials using seeds from turtle droppings.

A total of 340 specimens have been planted since the beginning of the project in three different sites on the island of Española (Road, Center and West). 240 were found alive at the end of 2020, although this is an excellent start, this is not enough to maintain the Opuntia population on the island, so new ecological restoration strategies will be implemented.

Which are the steps to follow?

Five new experimental plots have been implemented for the restoration of Opuntia megasperma var. orientalis on a larger scale, a new experimental design will be carried out where ecological restoration tools will be tested with the aim of obtaining sufficient vegetative material to continue the propagation of the species on the island.


gv2050 espaniola resultados

Aerial view of the experimental plots for Opuntia megasperma located in the site Las Tunas – Española Island

Would you like to know about the results obtained by the Galapagos Verde 2050 program in 2021?

Watch the following video:

We have also analyzed data collected in the field and, as a result, two manuscripts published in internationally recognized scientific journals have been generated.
Overall, our findings suggest that water-saving technologies are not always universally applicable, but may increase seedling survival and growth rate under certain conditions, providing in some circumstances a useful tool to improve breeding results of the restoration of rare plants of arid ecosystems.
Efficacy of water-saving technologies during the early stages of restoration of endemic Opuntia cactus in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Cost-effectiveness of water-saving technologies for restoration of tropical dry forest: A case study from the Galapagos Islands, EcuadorCost-effectiveness of water-saving technologies for restoration of tropical dry forest: A case study from the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Read more about our project on Española Island (Blogs):
Life re-emerging! Galápagos Verde 2050: Cacti recovering on remote islands
Tortoises are not the only ones returning to Española Island (Galapagos Verde 2050)
Galapagos Verde 2050 is Starting the Process of Ecological Restoration on Española Island

Would you like to know what awards the Green Galapagos 2050 initiative has won?

A) Green Latin America Awards

The GV2050 initiative was a finalist in the fifth edition (2018) of the Latin America Green Award and obtained THIRD PLACE in the “Water” category among 2,733 projects. Additionally, Galapagos Verde 2050 was awarded the Directv PROTAGONISTAS award "for having been one of the most outstanding stories, for the clarity of its purpose, its impact, its legacy and its ability to inspire positive change for the region and for the planet”.
Watch videos about Galapagos Verde - Summary Prizes

Read more about the success and Green Latin America Awards for the GV2050 (Blog):
Galapagos Project Finalist of the Green Latinamerican Awards 2018

B) DirecTV Protagonist Awards and Inspiring Stories:

Watch video (we can cut the section GV2050) 

Watch inspiring women video 
Inspirational stories in Galapagos, Mexico, Chile




Keywords: Galapagos, water saving, ecological restoration, water scarcity, threatened species, sustainable agricultural practices, Groasis Waterboxx®, Hydrogel, Cocoon

Bibliographical References

Gibbs, J. P., Márquez, C., & Sterling, E. J. (2008). The role of endangered species reintroduction in ecosystem restoration: Tortoise-cactus interactions on Española Island, Galápagos. Restor. Ecol., 16(1), 88–93.

Jaramillo, P., Tapia, W., Negoita, L., Plunkett, E., Guerrero, M., Mayorga, P., & Gibbs, J. P. (2020). El Proyecto Galápagos Verde 2050 (Volumen 1).

Marquez, C., Vargas, F. H., Snell, H. L., Gibbs, J. P., & Tapia, W. (2019). Why are there so few Opuntia on Española Island, Galápagos? Ecol. Apl., August, 12.

Coronel, V. (2002). Distribución y Reestablecimiento de Opuntia megasperma var. orientalis Howell. (Cactaceae) en Punta Cevallos, Isla Española - Galápagos.

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