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Galápagos Islands: A Little World Within Itself

Sarah Darwin travels with BBC news to relive her great, great grandfather Charles Darwin’s voyage to the Galápagos. In doing so, she learns about restoration efforts by Island Conservation and partners.

When Charles Darwin traveled throughout the Galápagos Islands 182 years ago, he found a wide array of endemic wildlife living on the remote archipelago. Fast forward more than 100 years; his great, great granddaughter Sarah Darwin takes a trip back to the islands with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to see how the archipelago has changed over time. On Floreana Island, she finds that, much like Charles Darwin had predicted, the introduction of non-native predators has altered the island landscape and now threatens native species.

On his visit to the island, Charles Darwin had noted:

We may infer from these facts what havoc the introduction of any new beast of prey must cause in a country before the instincts of the indigenous inhabitants have become adapted to the strangest craft or power.

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A Galápagos Giant Tortoise on Floreana Island. Credit: Gregg Howald/Island Conservation

Charles Darwin’s trip to Floreana Island revealed that whalers and buccaneers had decimated the endemic Floreana Giant Tortoises. The island, which once had more than 10,000 endemic tortoises, had so few remaining when Darwin visited that he could not find a single one. The Floreana Mockingbird, which Darwin once studied, is no longer found on the island for which it is named, and the only remaining wild individuals live on surrounding islets. Karl Campbell, Project Director for Island Conservation, commented:

The Floreana Mockingbird is no longer present on its namesake island and is present on only on two small islets off the coast. It is considered Critically Endangered which means it is going to go extinct in the near future if things are not done to save it.

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Floreana Mockingbird. Credit: Island Conservation

Before Floreana Mockingbirds can be returned to their namesake island, invasive species need to be removed. The removal of invasive rodents from Floreana will make way for the reintroduction of the rare bird and 12 other native species to the island. The past removal of invasive goats on Isabella Island brought back the native forests. Campbell explains:

Areas that were previously denuded now have forest that has re-established on them, more dryland areas of native vegetation that are coming back. So that is really creating the habitat, but some of this habitat is still unsuitable for certain species such as the Mockingbird because we have feral cats or rodents in there that would predate on them if they were here.

Now Island Conservation and partners are working on the island with local people to plan for the removal of invasive rodents. Together the partners aim to return the island to something similar to what Darwin saw over a century ago.

Hear more about Sarah Darwin’s Trip and Island Conservation’s work on Floreana by listening to the BBC’s Galapagos Islands: A Little World Within Itself.
Featured Photo: A male and several female Marine Iguanas on Floreana Island, Galápagos. Credit: Tommy Hall/Island Conservation

About Emily Heber

Emily is a recent graduate from UC Santa Barbara with a BS in Zoology. As a student, she discovered that she had a passion for the conservation of endangered species and their ecosystems. Her background in informal education has allowed her the opportunity to share her passion for animals with others, something she seeks to continue doing while working with the communication team. In her spare time, Emily enjoys exploring the amazing hiking trails found in Santa Cruz and tries to SCUBA dive whenever possible. Emily is excited to join the Island Conservation team and to help share the amazing work that is being done here.

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