Saving the Galapagos

galapagos tortoise

Just imagine the Galapagos…with no majestic giant tortoise, no quizzical looking blue footed boobies, no sea lions taking over the park benches on the water front, or no dinosaur-like marine iguanas sun-baking on the rocks.

It’s a scary thought – but if not for one action 50 years ago, that’s how the Galapagos Islands could be now.

In the 1950s a young researcher, Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, went to the Galapagos archipelago on a research tour. At the time, giant tortoises were being slaughtered for food and their young ones sold as pets. Rats and introduced domestic animals that had run wild preyed on the unique fauna, while goats ravaged the vegetation on which the tortoises fed.

galapagos sea lion The researcher was fascinated by the uniqueness of the islands fauna and flora, but at the same time very concerned about its poor chances of survival unless it could be protected. At this time the need for wildlife conservation was still little understood and scarcely appreciated, even by scientists. The researcher reported his concern to the recently formed International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as well as to the Government of Ecuador and many potential sympathisers, urging the establishment of a biological research station on one of the islands as a means to protect them.

Irenäus’ idea won local and international support. Fifty years ago, on 20th of January 1964 with a ceremony held in a clearing amid the cactus and under the scorching equatorial sun on Santa Cruz Island, the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) officially opened.

The CDRS is the operative arm of the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) for the Galapagos Islands, an independent, international and non-governmental scientific organisation, and the only one exclusively dedicated to science for Galapagos. Its mission is to provide knowledge and assistance through scientific research and complementary action to ensure the conservation of the environment and biodiversity in the Galapagos Archipelago.

galapagos boobies

The creation of the CDF and the Galapagos National Park protected area soon followed in 1959. Since then, under an agreement with the Government of Ecuador, the CDF has served as its principal scientific and technical advisor, providing necessary independent research to address the many challenges to the unique and vulnerable Galapagos biodiversity.

The CDF’s conservation and scientific achievements and accumulated knowledge of Galapagos, is considered to outweigh that of any other organisation in the world. CDF staff and many hundreds of visiting scientists have conducted research in the CDRS with great success.

Their achievements are many and some highlights include:
– Conservation programmes such as the captive breeding of tortoises and land iguanas.
– Quarantine and inspection, which is critical with more than 30,000 residents and the constant movements of visitors.
– Ecosystem restoration initiatives such as Project Isabela, the largest island restoration program ever implemented in a protected area.
– Major advisory role in creating the Special Law for Galapagos that governs the activities allowed in the archipelago.
– A scholarship program that has enabled over 1,300 Ecuadorian scientists and conservationists the opportunity to train side by side with senior scientists.
– The creation of the Galapagos Marine Reserve and inclusion as a World Heritage Site.

CDF’s amazing work has been possible due to international donations, including contributions from travellers through The Intrepid Foundation.

It’s difficult to know what would have happened to the extraordinary ecological wealth that is the Galapagos, if the islands had not been declared a National Park and the CDF and CDRS had not come into being. However, despite the fact that much still remains to be done to protect the islands, undeniably this has been a successful and essential partnership that has benefited Galapagos, Ecuador and the rest of the world.

charles darwin centreIntrepid Travel has a wide selection of Galapagos Island tours, both land and boat based, from 6 to 17 days in length.

A visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station is included in most Intrepid Galapagos trips. There are fabulously engaging, educational and interactive displays. And there’s a great shop where you can know that all profits from your souvenir, book or clothing purchases are contributing to conserving the Galapagos’ wonders. (I spent a guilt-free small fortune there, and feel proudly smug and snug in my CDRS logo embossed fleece jacket!)

While you are in the area, there’s plenty more to discover on the Highlights of Ecuador, or you can combine wildlife wonders with Incan adventuring on our Galapagos and Peru Adventure!

Please support the wonderful work of the Charles Darwin Research Station through The Intrepid Foundation, and have your donation doubled by Intrepid Travel! (Up to AU$5,000 per donor and a total of AU$400,000 for all donors in each financial year.)

Photos © Jane Crouch


About the author'
Jane Crouch - Jane is a responsible business guru who writes about all aspects of how travel can bring positive environmental, social and economic benefits. Informed through travel on seven continents, leading Intrepid trips through SE Asia, work in outdoor education, energy conservation, international development, philanthropy and climate change action, plus a big love of walking, mountains and world music.

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Amazing place and great information. A friend and I are planning a visit in 2015. Do Intrepid have a volunteering program on the Galapagos as this is something we would love to be involved in'

Hi Joy,
What a great plan that is – you will LOVE the place. Intrepid’s key local support is donations through The Intrepid Foundation for the work of the Charles Darwin Research Station. As far as I am aware, the CDRS primarily only take PhD level research scientists as volunteers. But you might look into some of the options suggested on the Galapagos Conservancy site.
Good luck with this! We’d be very happy to help you with land or boat based Galapagos tour options.
Happy planning,
Jane, Responsible Business Specialist'

I would like to book a trip for 4 during the week of July 27, 2014. What boats are available?

Hi Suzanne,
It sounds like you are planning a fantastic adventure in July. I have passed on your query to our reservations team so they can contact you soon about availability in July. In the interim, you can also use the trip search function on our website to find more information about your preferred travel dates.
Happy adventures,
Sue, Intrepid Express editor.

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