The miraculous, nearly untouched state of the Galapagos Islands and its unique ecosystem is largely thanks to the efforts of the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF). Established in 1959 with the help of IUCN, UNESCO, and a team of worldwide conservationists, the primary mission of the CDF is to provide both scientific knowledge and assistance by carrying out research and implementing programs in the Galapagos Archipelago to complement the research and protect the biodiversity in the Islands.
More than one hundred scientists, educators, support staff and volunteers from all over the world have assisted in the development of the Charles Darwin Foundation, working to develop extensive research projects and conservation programs. The first and most notable of its projects is the Giant Tortoise Repatriation Program, which began in 1975 and continues to this day. In response to the desperate situation of the tortoise population on Pinzon Island (200 adults, no hatchlings for more than a century) and on Española Island (14 adults, no hatchlings), the tortoises were brought into captivity, and a breeding and rearing program was put in place. This program stands to be one of the most successful programs implemented in the Galapagos Islands, and enormous strides have been made to ensure the survival of the remaining giant tortoise populations; more than 550 tortoises have since been repatriated to Pinzon and over 1,700 to Española. The CDF, along with the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) was also responsible for finding the last surviving Pinta Island giant tortoise in 1971, better known as Lonesome George. Lonesome George lived at the foundation facilities until he died in 2012.
The foundation has carried out numerous other conservation programs in the archipelago. These include the land iguana breeding and repatriation program (1976), as well as Project Isabela (1997), which successfully restored Santiago, Pinta & northern Isabela islands, completely eradicating feral goats from these areas. Technological advances and extensive research programs on ecology and genetics have enabled the CDF to implement programs unthought-of when it was launched.
Although the Charles Darwin Foundation was formed under Belgian law, it has worked closely with the Ecuadorian government and community since then, both on a local and national level. One of its more recent accomplishments was the massive 18,000 ml2 extension to the northern section of the Galapagos marine reserve. Led by the Ecuadorian government, this new sanctuary is a significant advance in protecting the Galapagos’ unique habitat, specifically the world’s largest concentration of sharks. This project was also supported by several other organizations, including the National Geographic Foundation.
However, from educational to quarantine programs and cleanup projects, the Ecuadorian government and CDF have developed a diverse range of programs over the years. The Charles Darwin Foundation has been working with the local government to encourage the protection of the Galapagos ecosystem since 1966, when it launched its first educational program for conservation. Furthermore, in 2000 it worked closely with the Galapagos National Park Directorate and several other organizations to implement the Galapagos Inspection and Quarantine Program, and prevent the introduction of new species, organisms and diseases to the Galapagos Islands. The protocols employed as a result include boat inspections, and fumigation and sanitation requirements. The CDF also played an essential role in cleaning up the oil spill from the tanker Jessica in 2000, in which more than 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled into the waters just a half a mile from land. In addition to staff assistance, the CDF responded with oil spill mitigation and monitoring activities, aiming to preserve the fragile state of the Galapagos Islands.
Recognition – Charles Darwin Foundation
The Charles Darwin Foundation has been recognized numerous times around the world for the important work it has done in the islands. In 1999, the CDF was awarded the Sultan Qaboos Prize for Environmental Preservation from UNESCO and, two years later, in 2002, it was awarded the Cosmos International award from Japan and the Distinguished Achievement award from the Society for Conservation Biology, specifically for its distinguished services in the field of conservation biology. The foundation was also awarded the BBVA Foundation Prize from Spain in 2004.
The CDF continues to work hard on preserving the natural state of the Galapagos Islands, encouraging visitors and residents alike to take part in their efforts. Visitors are welcome to visit the Charles Darwin Research Station to learn more about ongoing conservation efforts.