Centuries ago, great whaling ships would take to the seas to hunt these magnificent creatures. The ships would spend years at a time catching whales and processing them for their oil, which was very valuable. Only when the ship’s hold was full of barrels of whale oil would the ship return to port.
The most amazing part of this historical tale is that the system is still working! Every year, thousands of Galapagos visitors drop off letters and postcards in Post Office Bay. Other visitors headed close to an addressee will pick up the letters and take them home.
Project to Floreana
Floreana, an unassuming, mid-sized island in the south of the Galapagos archipelago, has something most Galapagos Islands don’t: a reliable source of fresh water. For this reason, it was among the first islands to be colonized. The early colonists brought with them plants and animals that they believed necessary for their survival, including pigs, cats, donkeys and plants like fruit trees and vegetables.
Decades later, Floreana is now one of the Galapagos Islands most contaminated by these introduced species, which have had a devastating effect on the ecosystem.
Floreana in Crisis
These introduced species have had a disastrous effect on Floreana. The once-common Floreana mockingbird now survives only on two offshore islets and is one of the most endangered species in the Galapagos. Although introduced species such as donkeys have been eradicated, others, such as rats and many plants, have not. Even the marine ecosystem near Floreana’s only town has been overfished and needs protection.
Now, biologists from the Park Service and the Charles Darwin Foundation are ready to turn back the clock on Floreana and do everything in their power to return the island to a pristine, natural state.
How to Save Floreana
Unlike other conservation efforts, Project Floreana is taking a much more holistic approach to reach its goals. The people of Floreana have been involved in the project from the start, and a group of Floreana youths serves as on-site assistants to the scientists and biologists. As much effort is being put into education as into direct control of invasive species. Scientists know that without local support, the program is doomed to fail. Much of the project focuses on sustainable development and improved quarantine procedures.
A Blueprint for Success
It is hoped that this community-based model of co-operation between locals and scientists will become a model for future efforts to clean up other islands and ecosystems, in Galapagos and elsewhere, where introduced species and poor ecological practices have severely damaged native ecosystems.
A Wide Base of Support
Although the program was designed and initiated by the Charles Darwin Foundation and the National Park, other international institutions are helping, with personnel and resources as well as with coming up with the estimated $1.7 million that the program is likely to cost over the course of five years. The Universities of Missouri and Zurich, the St. Louis Zoo and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, among other institutions, are involved in the project.
Optimism is high in Galapagos for Project Floreana, which will give hope to other affected ecosystems and habitats around the archipelago. Most importantly, Project Floreana marks a change in the philosophy of conservation in the islands: no longer are biologists waging a defensive battle against invasive species, but rather have taken the offensive, enlisting community support to make a damaged island whole again. Here’s hoping for success in this noble endeavor!
Floreana Gets Complete Biodiversity Report
Most of the Galapagos Islands have been harmed in one way or another by the presence of humans and the introduction of non-native species. Nowhere is this more evident than the island of Floreana, which has the longest history of human habitation.
Many of its species, such as the Floreana Tortoise, are extinct, while many more, such as the Floreana Mockingbird, are in serious danger. It has therefore been singled out for “Project Floreana,” an ambitious project designed to turn back the clock on the damage done to the island, located in the southern part of the Galapagos archipelago.
Because of the ongoing work on Floreana, researchers at the Charles Darwin Foundation decided to do a complete, intensive survey of all of the plants and animals that call Floreana home. For nearly a month in January 2011, five teams did a comprehensive survey at 30 sites on Floreana.
The sites were selected in order to represent all of the biodiversity zones on the island. The teams were made up of specialists in their chosen fields, and the surveys included vertebrates, invertebrates, soils, vascular plants and bryophytes and lichens. Here’s what each team found:
- Vertebrates (leaders Gustavo Jiménez and Luis Ortiz): The researchers found a total of 23 bird species and two reptile species within the confines of the study areas. An additional 10 bird species, six reptile species and two mammal species were observed outside of the study zones. Researchers were pleased to find the critically endangered Medium Tree Finch in several of the highland or humid investigation zones. Invasive cats and rats were not seen but traces of them were found.
- Invertebrates (leader Henri Herrera): the focus of the invertebrate group was primarily land-bound insects, particularly ants, as opposed to flying ones like wasps (which are a serious problem on Floreana). Introduced and harmful fire ants were reported in several of the study areas, particularly in the highlands. These ants are endangering local ant species. The invertebrate group will continue their surveys in coming months, as they have determined that more field work is necessary.
- The vascular plant study team (leaders Patricia Jaramillo and Anne Guezou) collected 148 species: 39 endemic, 66 native and 43 introduced. Among these were four plants previously unknown on Floreana. Many of the specimens they found will be used to update the Charles Darwin Foundation’s collections and database.
- The bryophyte and lichen team (leaders Frank Bungartz, Frauke Ziemmeck and Alba Yanez) found a number of interesting species, including two very rare ones. One of them had not been sighted since 1971 on Santiago! Some of the samples are awaiting laboratory analysis.
- The soils team (leader Rodolfo Martinez) collected samples from all 30 sites. Lab tests will need to be done to create a soil map of the island, which in turn will help with the agricultural development part of Project Floreana.
The information gathered by this exhaustive survey will be of great value as a comprehensive plan for Floreana’s rehabilitation, proceeds for the next few years. Scientists and researchers will be working on removing invasive species, helping native and endemic wildlife to flourish, and hopefully making the island safe once again for species like the Floreana Mockingbird. Success on Floreana could lead to similar programs on other islands.
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