Darwin Center – Galápagos Digital an online news website about Galapagos Fri, 18 Dec 2015 19:09:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.3 Dr. Arturo Izurieta Named new Darwin Foundation CEO /2015/06/03/dr-arturo-izurieta-named-new-darwin-foundation-ceo/ /2015/06/03/dr-arturo-izurieta-named-new-darwin-foundation-ceo/#respond Wed, 03 Jun 2015 06:57:55 +0000 /?p=1490 Arturo Izurieta in 2014

Galápagos National Park

Arturo Izurieta in 2014

The Charles Darwin Foundation announced Wednesday June 3 that Dr. Arturo Izurieta has been named as the foundation’s Chief Executive Officer. Izurieta was formerly the Director of the Galápagos National Park. He replaces Swen Lorenz, who had served as the Darwin Executive Director since 2011.

In making the announcement, Professor Dennis Geist, Darwin Foundation President, said, “This is a transformation for the Charles Darwin Foundation, a real opportunity to take a major step forward in our scientific support of Galápagos conservation and support of national scientific capacity. Dr Arturo Izurieta Valery is just the person to meet this challenge. Arturo is a well-known professional with experience in science, protected area management, and local issues, being an Ecuadorian and permanent resident of the Galápagos.”

Swen Lorenz (file photo)

Charles Darwin Foundation

Swen Lorenz (file photo)

On Sunday, in a final message to the Darwin Foundation board of directors, Lorenz expressed deep concern about the organization’s financial future, despite his efforts to secure funding including a recent $2.5 million commitment from an Asian donor.  “Since my dismissal,” he wrote, “funding has dried up, at least temporarily. CDF is heading into June without sufficient funds.”

 Izurieta acknowledges that one of his first challenges will be to address the Foundation’s financial situation. “We’re working very hard on that,” he told Galápagos Digital, “The president and the board members are in contact with the majority of the donors assuring them that the changes are for the better and so far, the response has been positive.”

He also said, “I am pleased and enthusiastic to be able to continue contributing to this unique place that is so important to the world.”

The personnel of the Darwin Scientific research station on Santa Cruz Island posted a farewell note of appreciation to Lorenz on Facebook, saying, “We greatly value and appreciate Swen’s vision and passion – his dedication to the cause is an example of what is needed if we are to continue preserving these enchanted islands.”

]]> /2015/06/03/dr-arturo-izurieta-named-new-darwin-foundation-ceo/feed/ 0 11 New Mangrove Finches–New hope for Species /2015/03/17/11-new-mangrove-finches-new-hope-for-species/ /2015/03/17/11-new-mangrove-finches-new-hope-for-species/#respond Wed, 18 Mar 2015 01:34:49 +0000 /?p=1420 Meal time for a newly-hatched mangrove finch

Laura Diaz Lálova / Charles Darwin Foundation

Meal time for a newly-hatched mangrove finch

Staff members at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island and at the Galápagos National Park are crowing about their new arrivals–eleven mangrove finches hatched in captivity as part of a major effort to stave off the extinction of their species.  The mangrove finch, rarest of “Darwin’s Finches,” has an estimated population of only 80, with fewer than 20 breeding pairs.

Between February 3 and March 3, members of the Mangrove Finch project team collected 30 eggs from the wild at Playa Tortuga Negra, on northwestern Isabela Island. The finches there are threatened by an introduced parasitic fly, Philornis downsi, that preys on the young nestling finches, causing up to 95% fatalities.

At present, scientists haven’t come up with an environmentally safe method for eradicating the fly, so the solution is to evacuate the finch eggs before they hatch and then rear the hatchlings in captivity until they can be returned to the wild safely. Efforts continue to find ways to get rid of the fly.

Eggs have been hatching over the past two weeks, according to a press release from the Charles Darwin Foundation. Chicks are being fed 15 times a day on a diet of scrambled egg and papaya, introduced wasp larvae, moth innards and passerine pellets.

This is the second year for the rescue project that added 15 young finches to the population last year.  This time around, project team members encountered some unanticipated problems.

Francesca Cunninghame (L) and other members of the finch rescue team transport eggs to Santa Cruz

Sue Maturin

Francesca Cunninghame (L) and other members of the finch rescue team transport eggs to Santa Cruz

“It was exceptionally dry at Playa Tortuga Negra,” said project leader Francesca Cunninghame,  and the mangrove finches were slower breeding, consequently we only identified 12 nesting pairs.”

We also experienced two days of high wind gusts, Cunninghame said,  “which made climbing trees up to 18 meters (59 feet) into the canopy, overwhelming and dangerous.”

The Mangrove Finch project team  is led by the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment via the Galapagos National Park Directorate, in collaboration with San Diego Zoo Global and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Nicole LaGreco, a lead aviculturalist from The San Diego Zoo said,  “With the success of last season, we were excited and eager to be asked to participate again this year. While this year has presented more challenges than last year, we are hopeful for another successful season.”

/2015/03/17/11-new-mangrove-finches-new-hope-for-species/feed/ 0
UPDATED: Darwin Foundation Struggles to Stay in Galápagos /2014/11/25/darwin-foundation-struggles-to-stay-in-galapagos/ /2014/11/25/darwin-foundation-struggles-to-stay-in-galapagos/#respond Tue, 25 Nov 2014 19:59:44 +0000 /?p=1360 Aerial photo of the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island

Charles Darwin Foundation

Aerial photo of the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island


After threatening to cease operations in Galápagos, the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) has decided to stay open for business, at least for the time being.  Following a meeting of the foundation’s General Assembly in Quito, the Ecuadorian capital, the organization said in a news release that it and the government of Ecuador have formed a work group to figure out ways of keeping the CDF’s work in Galápagos properly financed.

“The Charles Darwin Research station has to remain open and in operation,” the release said.

Dr. Arturo Izurieta, director of the Galápagos National Park was quoted in the news release as fully backing the foundation:  “We need the Foundation,” Izurieta said. “We need the link to the scientific community that provides us with first class scientific advice.  We thank you for that.”

The Darwin Foundation gift shop ordered closed by the Municipality of Santa Cruz

Charles Darwin Foundation

The Darwin Foundation gift shop ordered closed by the Municipality of Santa Cruz

Left unresolved is the question of what happens to the foundation’s souvenir shop on Santa Cruz Island, a major source of revenue for the CDF.   In July, local authorities ordered the CDF to close the shop after local business owners complained about competing with the foundation.  CDF Executive director Swen Lorenz told Galápagos Digital: “By the end of the year, we will have lost approximately $200,000 in income.”

“The closure of the store basically ruined our 2014 budget,” CDF president Dennis Geist told the weekly journal Nature. “We have no endowment. We don’t even have any reserve funds.” Geist is a volcanologist who has studied sites on the Galápagos Islands for three decades.

The closure has also made it difficult for the foundation to raise money from donors who would like to see the CDF become more self-supporting. “We have already lost a significant donation from someone who said that if the government of Ecuador doesn’t support us having a souvenir shop, then he won’t support us with a donation,” Lorenz told Nature. “We’re two and a half months late with salary, projects haven’t been running, and we’ve had one staff member leave.”

Leopoldo Bucheli, Mayor of Santa Cruz


Leopoldo Bucheli, Mayor of Santa Cruz

The threat to close the Darwin Research Station drew an angry reaction from the Mayor of Santa Cruz, Leopoldo Bucheli Mora. In an interview with the Ecuadorian daily El Universo, Bucheli called it “blackmail” and said that the CDF’s contract with the government of Ecuador does not include permission for commercial activity such as the sale of souvenirs in a store. “The main objective is to practice science, conservation and research but they do not have the authorization to engage in  this kind of business,” he added.

As for the contract between the CDF and the government–it has to be reviewed in 2016 and one result of the meeting with government officials is the appointment of a work group to discuss terms.

“This committee will then start a dialogue to strengthen the longer-term cooperation between the CDF and the government, and to strategically secure the operation of the research station,” the news release said.

As of right now, the meeting with government officials hasn’t changed the Foundation’s dire financial picture but a source close to the proceedings told Galápagos Digital that he hopes the government’s interest in keeping the CDF running will have a positive effect on future fundraising efforts.


/2014/11/25/darwin-foundation-struggles-to-stay-in-galapagos/feed/ 0
Darwin Foundation vs. Municipality of Santa Cruz: Struggle for Survival? /2014/11/21/darwin-foundation-vs-municipality-of-santa-cruz-struggle-for-survival/ /2014/11/21/darwin-foundation-vs-municipality-of-santa-cruz-struggle-for-survival/#respond Sat, 22 Nov 2014 03:25:50 +0000 /?p=1348 The Charles Darwin Foundation's souvenir shop on Santa Cruz Island

Charles Darwin Foundation

The Charles Darwin Foundation’s souvenir shop on Santa Cruz Island

In the beginning it was just a “little shop around the corner” from the Charles Darwin Scientific Research Station in Santa Cruz island, Galápagos. But when the Darwin Foundation Executive Director, Swen Lorenz, decided to upgrade and expand it, the Municipality of Santa Cruz reacted as though it were “the little shop of horrors.”  And, all flippancy aside, the fate of the Darwin souvenir shop started a battle that resulted in the Darwin Foundation threatening to shut down its operations in Galápagos.

For over 50 years  the foundation has cooperated with the Galapagos National Park and the government of Ecuador in conducting scientific research aimed at protecting biodiversity in the fabled archipelago. One of the Foundation’s most recent achievements is a project for saving the mangrove finches as reported in Galapagosdigital.com.

However, according to CDF President Dennis Geist, the organization is facing a severe financial crisis. Major donations are specifically directed toward scientific projects which leaves the foundation lacking operational funds to pay salaries, electricity, Internet access fees, etc.  

“We have long recognized the failure of the idea that CDF can simply exist due to the good will of others.,” he said, “we have moved toward a new financial model. One of the key aspects of this new plan was for the Foundation to secure its own recurring unrestricted income.”

A significant source of this income was the projected revenues from the expanded store which opened in February of this year. But in July the Municipality of Santa Cruz closed the store because, according to a spokesman for the Municipality, Daniel B. Proaño, “They changed the concept of it being a small store that sold Darwin Foundation souvenirs to a commercial one without the proper legal basis.”  

Swen Lorenz, Executive Director, Charles Darwin Foundation

Charles Darwin Foundation

Swen Lorenz, Executive Director, Charles Darwin Foundation

Lorenz contends that they had proper legal advice and claims that: “Since July 14th 2014, the CDF has been missing the unrestricted income generated by the store. By the end of the year, we will have lost approx. $200,000 in income.” Furthermore, he adds, ” “any significant delay in re-opening the shop may force the permanent closure of the research station before the end of 2014.”  The Foundation, on its website, also accused the Santa Cruz authorities of breaking several national laws in shutting down the store.

For its part, the municipality denies breaking any laws and accuses the Darwin Foundation of exceeding its mandate.

With the impasse unresolved, Deputy Mayor Washington Paredes, members of the city council and local artisans met today in Santa Cruz with the Vice President of the Darwin Board, Patricia Guerra, Darwin Board member Hans van Poelvoorde and Galapagos conservationist Felipe Cruz.  

During the lunch break Ms. Guerra said “we are having an excellent conversation and we hope to continue it in a similar manner this afternoon.”  This was confirmed by the Municipality spokesman Proaño who stated that the discussions were “more relaxed and we  hope to reach a better understanding.”   As of this writing, the meeting continues and no final statement has been issued. It will then be up to the whole Board of the Charles Darwin Foundation which is meeting in the capital of Ecuador, Quito, Sunday and Monday to decide on the next course of action.

]]> /2014/11/21/darwin-foundation-vs-municipality-of-santa-cruz-struggle-for-survival/feed/ 0 Celebrating Darwin and the Darwin Research Station in Galápagos /2014/05/14/celebrating-darwin-and-the-darwin-research-station-in-galapagos/ /2014/05/14/celebrating-darwin-and-the-darwin-research-station-in-galapagos/#respond Wed, 14 May 2014 19:05:40 +0000 /?p=1070 Charles Darwin--portrait by George Richmond, 1840

Charles Darwin–portrait by George Richmond, 1840

Exactly 158 years ago, on May 14, 1856, Charles Darwin began writing an extended treatise that would later become On the Origin of Species, his landmark work that laid out his theory of evolution by natural selection. That theory, inspired by his voyage to the Galápagos Islands and his observation of how creatures on the islands adapted to their surroundings, made him one of the most influential scientists in human history.

“Darwin was way ahead of his time,” said Dr. Frank Sulloway, a University of California, Berkeley professor who holds a PhD in the history of science.  According to Sulloway, Darwin gave an advance warning of present-day environmental woes, writing about “ecological cascades,” events, often triggered by humans, that could wipe out fragile ecosystems in places like the Galápagos.  Scientists, Sulloway said, have seen that borne out repeatedly in recent years.

As an example, he noted the decline of the Opuntia cactus on South Plaza Island, off Santa Cruz.  The reason? Man decimated the population of  Galápagos hawks that prey on the island’s iguanas.  Minus the hawks, the population of iguanas exploded and began devouring the Opuntia on South Plaza.  The iguanas, Sulloway said, are gorging themselves on the Opuntia now but could starve themselves to death as the cactus disappears.

George Lewis--Galápagos Digital

George Lewis / Galápagos Digital

Dr. Frank Sulloway, University of California, Berkeley

Sulloway noted that in addition to killing off wildlife like the hawks, man has introduced unwanted plants and animals to the islands. “Galapagos is overrun with all sorts of things we don’t want there, ” he said.

Speaking at a Monday event in Berkeley to mark the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the Charles Darwin Research Station, Sulloway said that Darwin once wrote: “The Galápagos seems a perennial source of new things.”  Sulloway said that Darwin would be fascinated by all the discoveries made in recent times by scientists using modern research tools that didn’t exist in the 19th century.

The Charles Darwin Foundation is planning a series of events this year to commemorate the golden anniversary of the station, started in partnership with the Ecuadorian government to foster scientific research and educational projects aimed at conserving the flora and fauna of the Galápagos Islands.  There’s more information on the Foundation’s website.

Swen Lorenz, CDF Executive Director with noted marine biologist Sylvia Earle

Swen Lorenz via Facebook

Swen Lorenz, CDF Executive Director with noted marine biologist Sylvia Earle

Swen Lorenz, the Executive Director of the Darwin Foundation spoke about efforts underway to improve the Darwin Center’s outreach to the public, including improvements to the interpretation center and library on Santa Cruz Island.

As the Foundation was marking the anniversary, authorities in Galápagos were still trying to figure out how to refloat the grounded cargo ship Galapaface I that has been stranded on the rocks off San Cristóbal Island since May 9.  Officials in Galápagos say that 19,000 gallons of fuel aboard the ship have been pumped off, avoiding an environmental disaster,  but that tons of cargo remain onboard.  They say efforts to remove the cargo are hampered by the fact that the ship is listing badly. The authorities have declared a provincial emergency as two tugboats and a crane are arriving from the Ecuadorian mainland.  Additional personnel are en route from other islands.

galapaface sea lions

Gina Andrade via Facebook

Sea lions Ignore the grounded cargo ship in the background.

Some Galapagueños have used social media to urge the enactment of more strict rules for cargo ships that call on the islands, including the use of pilots and tugboat escorts for vessels approaching Galápagos harbors.

Galápagos is indeed overrun with all sorts of things we don’t want there.


/2014/05/14/celebrating-darwin-and-the-darwin-research-station-in-galapagos/feed/ 0
Galápagos at Your Fingertips /2013/09/12/galapagos-at-your-fingertips/ /2013/09/12/galapagos-at-your-fingertips/#respond Thu, 12 Sep 2013 19:00:29 +0000 /?p=724 Daniel Orellana of the Charles Darwin Foundation with one of the Google cameras.

courtesy Google

Daniel Orellana of the Charles Darwin Foundation with one of the Google cameras.

Armchair adventurers have a new way to explore the Galápagos Islands, thanks to Google Maps.  A ground-level and underwater view of some of the archipelago’s most treasured spots is now live on the site, enabling users to do a “virtual tour” via computers, tablets and smartphones.  Google said it was releasing the images to mark the 178th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s first exploration of the Galápagos Islands.

The project involved teams of hikers and divers with arrays of cameras capturing thousands of images in and around the Galápagos Islands.  Those images were then stitched together by computers to provide users a dynamic view of the sights that can be manipulated remotely using the “Street View” feature of Google Maps.

Speaking from Sydney, Australia during a teleconference, Richard Vevers of the Catlin Seaview Survey, a partner in the venture, said, “It’s a great opportunity to bring our 360-degree cameras to Galápagos and record these environments.”

An announcement from the Charles Darwin Foundation, another of Google’s partners in the effort, said,  “This is a big day for Galapagos. Now, no matter where you are in the world, you can explore the Galapagos Islands from your computer or handheld device.”

Ironically, one place in the world that will have difficulty seeing the imagery is Galápagos.  Because of limited bandwidth on the islands, the many gigabits of photo data obtained by Google take hour after hour to download.

According to Graciela Monsalve, who handles scientific communications for the Charles Darwin Foundation, there will be a video presentation of the Google Galapagos project in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, on the evening of September 13.  Google experts will give hints on how to download the pictures in spite of sluggish Internet speeds.


Here’s a link to a sample of the Google Maps images.

Here is a video from Google illustrating the mapping project.

/2013/09/12/galapagos-at-your-fingertips/feed/ 0
Nature: Galápagos Rodents Targeted /2013/05/15/nature-galapagos-rodents-targeted/ /2013/05/15/nature-galapagos-rodents-targeted/#respond Wed, 15 May 2013 18:54:07 +0000 /?p=427 ratAn article published May 15 in the scientific weekly journal Nature details how Galápagos authorities are hopeful about their war on rodents that threaten native birds and reptiles.

“Five years ago,” the article states, “most of the major islands and smaller rocky outcrops in the Galapagos were home to a plague of invasive mice and rats. The rodents feed on the eggs and young of seabirds, land birds and reptiles, and have brought several species — including the rare Pinzón giant tortoise (Chelonoidisduncanensis) — to the brink of extinction.”

To turn that around, the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation developed a military-style plan of action to get rid of rats and mice on three islands with the focus on Pinzón.

It involved using specially designed poison that would attract rodents but wouldn’t be eaten by native creatures that the authorities are trying to save.  The poison was dyed a bright blue, a color avoided by the local birds.

It’s too early to tell if all the rodents on Pinzón are gone.  The authorities say it will take at least two years of intensive monitoring before they can declare success.

Next year, the eradication efforts plan to zero in on Floreana Island where the presence of human inhabitants complicates matters.  Felipe Cruz, who headed an earlier program to kill rodents on Floreana, said he hopes that the Galápagos Petrel, threatened by the rats and mice, will make a comeback.

“When I travel between the islands and I get to see groups of petrels flying about, I have to be quite honest,” Cruz told Nature, “My heart beats faster.”

You can read the entire Nature article by following this link.

/2013/05/15/nature-galapagos-rodents-targeted/feed/ 0
New Children’s Book From Darwin Foundation /2013/05/07/new-childrens-book-from-darwin-foundation/ /2013/05/07/new-childrens-book-from-darwin-foundation/#respond Tue, 07 May 2013 17:20:11 +0000 /?p=331
Author Lies Vervloet/Charles Darwin Foundation

Posted May 7, 2013 on the Darwin Foundation’s Facebook Page:

“Last month the Charles Darwin Foundation launched an educational children’s book in both Kichwa and Spanish languages. The book is called “Sisa: Discovering the Cultural Diversity of Galapagos” and is an example of our important work in human systems and environmental education.

“In the book, Sisa, a local indigenous girl, tells us about her own culture, how she feels at home on the intercultural island of Santa Cruz and her love of the natural surroundings.

“The book is beautifully written by former CDF Human Systems scientist Lies Vervloet (pictured here alongside her masterpiece!) and creatively illustrated by Laura Rodríguez López who was one of a number of volunteers on the project. The book has been distributed locally and everyone seems to love it!

“Design and printing was possible thanks to the support of The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Lindbland/National Geographic Fund. This publication is part of a larger project financed by the Galapagos Conservancy.”

/2013/05/07/new-childrens-book-from-darwin-foundation/feed/ 0
Endangered Turtles Watched Closely as They Nest /2013/05/06/endangered-turtles-watched-closely-as-they-nest/ /2013/05/06/endangered-turtles-watched-closely-as-they-nest/#respond Tue, 07 May 2013 02:27:22 +0000 /?p=317 greenturtleThe Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio reports that several endangered sea turtles are being monitored closely as they nest on Isabela Island.  The monitoring is being done by staff of the Galápagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation.

A statement from the park, reported by the paper, said that this is the fourth year of monitoring and that it will run until June.

Eduardo Espinosa, an expert on marine ecosystems for the National Park, said that during the height of the nesting season, 40 to 50 female turtles can be found on La Quinta Beach and other beaches in Isabela.

“On most beaches in the archipelago, there have been reports of nesting sea turtles,” said Macarena Parra of the Darwin Foundation.

Scientists are worried about humans disrupting the nesting which is why the turtles are being closely monitored, according to park officials.

In many Latin-American countries, the meat of the green sea turtle is considered a delicacy and some fisherman do not seem to pay much attention to their endangered status.   One bit of good news:  thanks to conservation efforts, the population of female nesting green sea turtles in Galápagos has remained relatively constant at about 1,400 over the years.

The original Spanish language version of this article is available at this link to El Comercio.

/2013/05/06/endangered-turtles-watched-closely-as-they-nest/feed/ 0
The Darwin Center’s Obit for “Lonesome George” /2013/05/06/the-darwin-centers-obit-for-lonesome-george/ /2013/05/06/the-darwin-centers-obit-for-lonesome-george/#respond Mon, 06 May 2013 23:16:18 +0000 /?p=311 Published June 25, 2012 by the Darwin Foundation on Santa Cruz Island:

Lonesome George/Darwin Center
(Lonesome George/Galápagos National Park)

On June 24th 2012, we received sad news regarding the death of Lonesome George (locally known as “Solitario Jorge”), symbol of the Galapagos Islands and a conservation emblem unlike few others, around the world.

As the last survivor of the Chelonoidis abingdoni, commonly known as the Pinta giant tortoise, referring to his island of origin, the loss of George is equivalent to the extinction of a whole species.

In 1972, a scholarship student of the Charles Darwin Foundation, Manuel Cruz, during an investigation trip on Pinta, discovered Lonesome George. Since his arrival in the Breeding Center of the Galapagos National Park, our team has had the honor to be involved in research relating to Lonesome George, mostly involving nutrition and reproduction issues.

We are deeply touched by the loss of this species. The Charles Darwin Foundation recognizes the dedicated and passionate work of the Direction of the Galapagos National Park in taking care of Lonesome George for many decades.

Lonesome George’s death should be an inflection point in man’s role in the caring of nature and in reconstructing the balance needed to assure protection to the species that inhabit not only the Galapagos Islands but also the whole planet.

For further information, please contact the Direction of the Galapagos National Park.


/2013/05/06/the-darwin-centers-obit-for-lonesome-george/feed/ 0