Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Charles Darwin Research Station - Fifty Years of Conservation

Charles Darwin Research Foundation
A "must see" destination for any visitor to the Galápagos Islands is The Charles Darwin Research Station. Once known primarily as the home of Lonesome George, now that George is gone, visitors are recognizing it for so much more: a major center for scientific study and the preservation of all species on the Galapagos Islands.




The scientists and conservationists responsible for founding the CDRS showed tremendous insight and foresight.  Long before conservation and sustainability were trendy, the CDRS saw that human intervention was needed to assure survival of the diversity and uniqueness of the Galapagos Islands.

Tortoise Breeding Project
This endeavour started in the 1950s when a young researcher, Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, came to the Galapagos Islands and became fascinated by the uniqueness of the islands fauna and flora, but likewise concerned about its future survival and the need for conservation.  He shared his findings with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), among other organizations, and strongly advocated for a biological research station for study and laboratory experimentation. Originally established as a center for tortoise breeding projects, CDRS has expanded to the forefront of organizations determined to protect endangered species and restore them to unprotected status.

Tortoise Hatchlings
The creation of the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park protected area soon followed in 1959.  Since then, in conjunction with the Government of Ecuador, the CDF has served as CDRS's principal scientific and technical advisor.  It provides necessary independent research to address the many challenges unique to Galapagos' vulnerable biodiversity.



Galapagos Penguins


They now have not only an extensive tortoise breeding program, but also a laboratory dedicated to incubating and rearing Mangrove Finches, an endangered finch species - one that Charles Darwin himself identified.  Eggs are being incubated and the first chicks are hatching.

There is an extensive project to increase the number of endemic Galapagos penguins, the rarest and most endangered penguin species in the world and the only penguins found at the equator. Because there are limited options for nest sites, scientists have intervened to provide what has been described as "high-quality, shady nest sites ('penguin condos') on Isabela, Fernandina, and Bartolomé' Islands, where penguins currently breed."  There are already signs of success.  Read my extensive post about Galapagos penguins for more about this unique and remarkably cute species.

Land Iguana at Charles Darwin Research Station
Iguana at CDRS
Iguanas are being studied.  And, all types of introduced species are being eradicated in very extensive projects. Many more projects are spear headed at the CDRS as well.











We can't know just how much damage would have been done to the extraordinary ecological wealth and biodiversity of the Galapagos archipelago if the islands had not been declared a National Park and the CDF and CDRS had not come into being. However, despite the fact that much still remains to be done to protect the islands, undeniably this has been a successful and essential partnership that has benefited Galapagos, Ecuador and the rest of the world.

To learn more about the CDRS and its work, visit my earlier blog post on the subject and the Galapagos Conservancy web site.





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