The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) — we’ve all heard about it, we all know it’s something socially positive, but what’s the story behind it exactly? Ever since it was founded back in 1959, the CDF has been at the forefront of conservation efforts in the Galapagos and seeks to provide scientific knowledge and support for the archipelago, its wildlife and its communities. All of this of course, with the main goal of protecting the biodiversity that exists today.
The efforts and commitment of countless educators, volunteers, scientists and support staff from various parts of the world have had a tremendous role in promoting and helping build the project from its inception over 50 years ago. The Giant Tortoise Repatriation Program is probably the most successful and well known of all these efforts. The contrast between now and when the project starts back in 1975 is astounding. Giant tortoise populations have had their fair share of disadvantages due to the introduction of new animals and the presence of a human, specifically on Pinzon and Española. As it turns out, tortoises on these islands had difficulty reproducing, and there only around 200 and 14 adults left on each island, respectively.
As part of the breeding program, the CDF gathered as many tortoises and eggs as possible to begin a process that continues to this day. Lonesome George, probably the biggest and most famous example of the conservation projects run by the CDF, was also protected with the support from the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD). After living at the foundation’s facilities for over 40 years as the last member of Pinta Island giant tortoises, Lonesome George tragically as the last of his line of giant tortoises and passes away in 2012. Recently, the remains of Lonesome George returned to the islands, where he is now the center of a permanent exhibition dedicated to him.
Land iguana and repatriation programs are among the other efforts that the foundation has successfully created. These have helped struggling populations of iguanas to survive and flourish. In 1997, Project Isabela helped foster the population of land iguanas located on the northern portion of Isabela (along with Pinta and Santiago islands) while eliminating the terrible population of feral goats on these islands. Advances thanks to the CDF are helping the islands every year more and more, with technology and a continually expanding knowledge base serving as indispensable sources of progress.
Locals and the national government alike have been vital pieces in contributing and assisting with tonnes of the work that the CDF has done. Ecuadorian people have also between a vital component of the foundation who, together with the local government, helped establish the first education conservation program back in 1966. In addition to this, the Galapagos Inspection and Quarantine Program with the Galapagos National Park Directorate was co-founded in 2000. This program allows for the control and inspection of introduced organisms to the archipelago via boat and plane inspections that even go as far as having fumigation and sanitation processes. During the catastrophic and tragic oil spill in 2000, the CDF assisted with the clean up of 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel that leaked into the ocean within the archipelago.
More recently, the Charles Darwin Foundation worked with the Ecuadorian government to add an additional 18,000 ml2 to the marine reserve, significantly increasing the size of protected waters in the Galapagos, as well as the breeding grounds of the largest concentration of sharks in the world. This project was also supported by several other organizations, including the National Geographic Foundation.
As a result of these projects, 95% of the natural state of the Galapagos Archipelago has been preserved. This work has been celebrated by the scientific and international community in general, for which the foundation has received numerous awards, including the Sultan Qaboos Prize in 1999 from UNESCO, the Cosmos International Award from Japan in 2002 and the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Society for Conservation Biology. It was also awarded the BBVA Foundation Prize from Spain in 2004.
The Charles Darwin Foundation widely encourages all visitors to the islands, as well as its residents, to join the foundation in its efforts. Visitors are welcome to visit the Charles Darwin Research Station to learn more about present conservation efforts.