The Galapagos Islands have become a highly aspirational destination for wildlife lovers and those interested in the history and geology of our planet. Thousands of visitors arrive every year to embark on a wildlife cruise in Galapagos, for the opportunity to encounter the unique species of flora and fauna for which it has become famous.
There are few places more important than this remote archipelago in terms of evolutionary biology. It is here that British naturalist Charles Darwin arrived in 1835 (as part of his five-year voyage of discovery) to collect and study the specimens that would lead to the formulation of his theory of natural selection. In fact, it’s possible that the rest of the world would never even have heard of the region had it not been for the monumental discoveries of Darwin, which revolutionised our understanding of the natural world.
The Charles Darwin Foundation
In 1959, a team of conservationists established the Charles Darwin Foundation to “provide unique scientific solutions” to protect and preserve the islands. The foundation is a not-for-profit organisation working closely with the Ecuadorian government to promote and secure the conservation of the habitat and wildlife of the islands.
With the support of UNESCO, almost 60 years later the dedicated team at the foundation continues to work to raise awareness on a local and global level of the need to conserve this unique and fascinating area.
The Research Station
At some point in their itinerary, every visitor on a wildlife cruise in Galapagos will visit the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz. Established in 1964, the station is administered by the CDF and operates as an active breeding centre for the Giant Tortoises, one of the highest-profile animals in the archipelago. Visitors can see the tortoises at every stage of their growth â€“ from hatchlings to the massive full-grown adults.
The valuable research undertaken by scientists, naturalists and conservationists at the CDRS includes specimen collection and archival work, monitoring wild populations, breeding programmes, and developing innovations into the sustainability of the region.
The National Park Directorate
The Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) began operating in 1968, working with the foundation to establish the 14 rules of sustainability and responsibility, which all visitors are expected to respect. Working together, the GNPD and the CDF discovered the last remaining Giant Tortoise on Pinta Island, who came to be known as Lonesome George.
Some of the other important conservation projects the CDF has helped to facilitate over the past 60 years include:
â— The recognition by UNESCO of the GNP as a Natural Heritage Site for Humanity and a Biosphere Reserve
â— Establishment of a scholarship for Ecuadorian students, many of whom have gone on to work on local conservation projects in the archipelago
â— Repatriation and breeding programme for the Land Iguana
â— Launch of Project Isabela (which covered the restoration of Isabela and Pinta
â— Establishment of the Environmental Education Centres on Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristobel
â— Successful extension of the World Heritage designation to encompass the Marine Reserve
Recognition of Service
The valuable work of the CDF has been recognised by a slew of international conservation awards, including the prestigious BBVA award from Spain and the Cosmos International Award from Japan. In addition it has been bestowed with the highest honour of Distinguished Achievement in Biology from the Society of Conservation.
Support for Conservation
Those who explore the region on a wildlife cruise in Galapagos can be confident that supporting sustainable ecotourism to the region helps to raise awareness of the valuable work undertaken by the CDF and the other agencies that administer the islands. If visitors commit to travelling mindfully and respecting the rules of the GNPD throughout their stay, this “living laboratory” will survive for future generations to enjoy.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in the Galapagos Islands. For those interested in a wildlife cruise in Galapagos, Marissa recommends the itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of species in one of the most spectacular regions on Earth.