Gravel crunches under feet as a group of tourists follows the trail up to the corral where Lonesome George once lived and to another where Super Diego – father of over one thousand Española Island giant tortoises – lives with his five mates.
In a conference room, a scientist presents her latest findings on the Blue Footed Boobie.
Down at the BioMar docks, marine biologists are preparing for an expedition to one of the islands. In another part of the world, a student logs into the Datazone to gather information for his school paper.
Who makes this all possible? The Charles Darwin Foundation does.
In 1959, conservationists along with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUNC) met in Belgium to establish the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands (CDF). Since then, CDF has been a major player in the protection of this unique archipelago. It works hand-in-hand with the Galapagos National Park, which was created in that same year.
CDF inaugurated the Charles Darwin Research Center in 1964. Located in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, these laboratories are where scientists work and where each year thousands of tourists visit.
CDF has been a primary actor in breeding and repatriation programs, allowing the giant tortoise and land iguana to rebound from the brink of extinction. Presently the foundation’s scientists are saving the mangrove finch. In February 2014, the first mangrove finch was born in captivity – an essential step in this species’ rescue.
CDF is also involved in education. It promotes programs in local schools and provides university scholarships to Ecuadorian students. For many decades, CDF has sponsored Galapagos’ only library, the Biblioteca G. Corley Smith, one of the world’s most complete collections on Galapagos literature. The library’s catalogue, as well as the herbarium and museum collections – the Datazone – can be viewed on the CDF website darwinfoundation.org.
In 2013, in partnership with Galapagos National Park and Google, Galapagos 369 was launched on Google Maps. Now anyone can visit the islands from any place in the world.
CDF, as advisor to the local and national governments, helps to maintain the quarantine program (to prevent the introduction of non-native species). Along with these institutions and the national park, environment restoration projects like Proyecto Isabela have been undertaken.
Over the decades, CDF has won a number of prestigious international awards in recognition of its conservation work. Behind the scenes, its corps of international and national scientists and volunteers continues to work with Galapagos National Park to protect the fragile Islands. Meanwhile, on the forestage, thousands of tourists flock to the Charles Darwin Research Station to visit Super Diego.