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Galapagos Island Conservation Volunteer Projects in Ecuador

  • Placement location: Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal Island
  • Role: To work in partnership with the Galapagos National Park, focusing on wildlife conservation and animal monitoring
  • Main Research Focus: Giant tortoises, sea lions, Galapagos birds and eradication of invasive species
  • Local Environment: Island
  • Accommodation: Shared volunteer housing
  • Length of placement: From 1 week
  • Start dates: Flexible

Volunteers doing conservation work in the Galapagos

Ecuador has been named by ecologists as one of the world’s ‘megadiversity hotspots’ and is one of the most species-rich countries on earth. The Galapagos Islands are 1000km off Ecuador’s Pacific coast. Due to their isolation, the islands are home to many unique species of flora and fauna and are famous for their uniquely evolved wildlife which helped Darwin formulate his theory of species evolution.

Projects Abroad volunteers work in the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on the island of San Cristobal in the Galapagos archipelago, and conservation volunteers work closely with the Galapagos National Park.

One of the greatest threats to the Galapagos Islands is the alien species of plants and animals brought in on boats and planes by humans. These alien species out-compete indigenous species for resources and this often results in the decline of indigenous species, some of which are endemic to the Galapagos. Unless action is taken to reverse this trend, we could lose these wonderful species forever.

10 Key Facts about Conservation in Ecuador

Conserving and Protecting the Native Species on the Galapagos Islands

Our overall aim is to contribute to the conservation and preservation of these unique and abundant marine and terrestrial ecosystems through much needed research and practical hands-on work.

Daily activities will include eradication of introduced species, coastal clean ups, sea bird and sea lion population monitoring. This will involve hiking to areas where the animals can be found and collecting data during animal observation. Volunteers will also work at the Galapagos National Park’s giant tortoise breeding centre; duties here will include locating nests with eggs, cleaning of ponds, feeding and general maintenance of the reserve.

Volunteer Conservation in Ecuador: Galapagos Islands Project

A typical week’s work for a volunteer will include:

A volunteer cleaning the pond at the tortoise breeding centre, Galapagos

  • Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre - The breeding centre is run by the National Park and is the only protected haven on the island where the giant tortoises, endemic to the Galapagos, can breed and live in safety. Volunteers will assist by feeding the animals, cleaning their pools, removing invasive plant species and collecting biometric data when the National Park performs their population surveys. You will also help with the maintenance of a plot of land on which the ‘otoi’ plant, a staple of the tortoise’s diet, is cultivated. The aim is to reduce the cost of the centre to the park service by making them self-sufficient.
  • Galapagos Petrel Protection - The Galapagos Petrel is an endangered seabird that is endemic to the Galapagos and is on the UICN Red List. This unique bird builds its nest in specific habitats dominated by the native Miconia plants. However, invasive species are out-competing the Miconia plants and a second intruder, the black rat, is destroying nests and feeding on eggs and chicks. Volunteers will help to eradicate these species and assess the success of our work and the behaviour within the bird colonies by monitoring the nests.
  • Sea Lion Monitoring - Sea lion monitoring is separated into two parallel studies: the first we have been running since 2013 and involves monitoring the populations of sea lions in and around the area of Puerto Baquerizo. We collect data on population numbers, sex ratios and breeding from several different beaches as we study the long term dynamics of the resident populations. The second project is run with the daily supervision of the staff from the park. It involves collecting similar data to our own project but in more remote areas of the island, and may include a rescue program to prevent the animals from getting stuck in the fishing nets. Note that this project can only be done by two volunteers at the same time per month as it requires a week’s training. If you are spending less than a month in the Galapagos you will not be able to join full time, but you will get a chance to go at least once and learn what the project involves.
  • Invasive Plant Removal - Volunteers will be working on the elimination and control of introduced plants, such as the blackberry, guava and supirrosa species in the protected areas located on the upper part of the island. These areas include Laguna del Junco, Cerro San Joaquin, La Comuna and Cerro Colorado, and are in need of help as the plants are altering the ecosystems of the Galapagos and displacing endemic plant species.
  • Plant Nursery - The removal of invasive plants is essential work but we must also help in the reforestation of endemic species. The activities include collecting soil to mix with compost, collecting seeds and small plants to bring to the nursery and cultivating the saplings for future planting. We are working with many endemic species but are concentrating on mangrove trees, which are essential to the coastal regions of the island.
  • Beach Clean Ups - Volunteers will be involved in coastal cleaning along the main beaches. The goals are to keep these areas free of garbage and ensure that the resident species are less likely to die because of contact with rubbish.
  • Marine Iguana Surveys - As with the sea lions, it is important to monitor and study the populations of the unique marine iguana on the islands. Transects will be walked and data collected on population numbers, sex ratios and population dynamics. Over time we will be able to assess the health of the marine iguana populations and evaluate their reproductive success.
  • Bird Surveys - Currently we operate two independent studies: one at Cerro Colorado and the other of marine species. Cerro Colorado is an area where we have been working since 2013 to remove invasive species and reforest endemic ones. By studying the bird populations we can evaluate if the change in flora is encouraging the return of endemic bird species. The seabird census is designed to study population numbers, nesting sites and migratory visitors.
  • Environmental Educational Programme - Volunteers will be involved in preparing and presenting workshops about conservation awareness in the local schools and community centres around the town of San Cristobal. It is vital that volunteers help to inspire the people of the island as they learn about conservation and the importance of preserving their unique home.

Volunteers usually work from Monday to Friday and occasionally on a Saturday morning too.

You can read more detailed information about the aims of the project in our Ecuador Conservation Management Plan.

Living on the Galapagos Islands

Projects Abroad Conservation volunteers control aggressive plants at Laguna del Junco, San Cristobal

You will gain a fantastic cultural experience by living with a host family in the town of Puerto Baquerizo.

In your free time at the weekends and evenings there are numerous beautiful beaches where you can swim, surf, snorkel or relax with a book. There are also wonderful opportunities to visit the other islands or take part in deep sea diving and snorkelling where it is possible to see sharks and sea turtles.

All volunteers taking part on any project in Ecuador now have the opportunity to add a 1 Week Conservation Add-On to the end of their main placement.

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