The Charles Darwin Research Station is only a 15 minute walk from our hotel.  On the way there we walked past the shed where the fresh fish are prepared for sale to local hotels and restaurants. The men working there had numerous helpers.

The pelicans in particular seemed to have no concept of the size of their beaks compared to the size of the pieces of fish, and would try to eat pieces that were several times larger than their heads.  It reminded me of the rhyme that my grandfather taught me: “Oh what a bird is the pelican, his beak can hold more than his belly can”. One of the pelicans was allowed to break the no feeding rule as it had a broken beak and was unable to feed itself in the ocean.

On arrival at the Station, Ros from the Charles Darwin Foundation gave us an informative talk about how the Foundation works with the local people to educate them in conservation and changes Governmental policy to preserve this unique habitat. One of the key themes is, “If we are still doing it, its not right yet”.  Their mission is to hand over to local government and businesses their projects as soon as possible. For example, they are trying to encourage local people to plant native Galapagos species in their gardens to reduce the threat of invasive non native species. They have started a nursery to sell native plants and are now looking for a local entrepreneur or business to take over this role.

We also saw the entomology lab where insect invaders were studied and a threat analysis done. They have had a great success in using ladybirds to control a scale insect that was threatening the local mangrove trees with extinction. We also learnt about how they were changing practices on the many cruise ships that tour the Galapagos: by changing the colours of the bulbs on ships they were attracting less insects. Also by switching the external lights off before sailing to a different island they had managed to reduce the accidental transfer of insects between islands.

They had also campaigned to get the insides of planes treated with insecticide before landing on the islands after a visiting entomologist had witnessed a moth flying onto a plane during boarding.  He captured it and found it was a pregnant female of a species not found on the islands.  We had witnessed this preventative measure on our flight into Baltra.

Then it was time to see the captive breeding programs – both successful and unsuccessful.  We saw land iguanas, many sub species of saddleback tortoises (that have evolved to reach up to vegetation off the ground – the Spanish for saddle is “Galapagos”) one of which was of course the world famous Lonesome George (Solitario Jorge) who is the last remaining Pinta Giant Tortoise. Unfortunately all attempts to breed with Lonesome George since his capture in 1971 have been unsuccessful. But the removal of the last 15 Espanola tortoises to the station and their subsequent captive breeding and release back onto the island has resulted in a modern population of more than 1,500 Espanola tortoises. We were lucky enough to see some eggs that had just been collected. They were labelled with the date, name of the female and egg number and also marked with a cross to make sure that they are placed in the incubators the right way up.

The young tortoises were very cute!  They were all numbered and had a colour code to show which island sub species they were so that they didn’t get mixed up when reintroduced.

I would like to thank everyone at the Research Centre for hosting us. They were all so knowledgable about the local flora and fauna and had a realistic approach to what could be done. You have to accept that the Galapagos Islands are changing and their mission is:

Conservation and sustainable development can only be successful if they are based on sound economic and social understanding.
– Peter Kramer, President of the Charles Darwin Foundation

The Foundation’s 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.

Within this context, their vision for 2016 is to be the world’s leading research institution dedicated to the conservation of the biological diversity and natural resources of Galapagos, and committed to building a sustainable and collaborative society to achieve this objective.

Amy Sanders from the Wellcome Trust very kindly signed St Cyres up to be a friend of the Charles Darwin Foundation. We look forward to future collaborations between our students and the foundation. You can learn more about the work done by the Foundation, and make a donation, on their website.