COVID-19: an open letter from GCT’s CEO

You may have seen through our social media channels, that due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Galapagos Conservation Trust office is temporarily closed with all staff now working from home. As I sit in my own home working from my makeshift office, with my children in the room next door, I am struck by how much has changed for us all in just a few strange weeks. I hope that whatever situation you find yourself in, you and those close to you are well, and you are managing to cope. This is a time for solidarity and support for each other – and a time to grasp change and be as flexible as we can.

Ecuador’s borders were shut completely on Sunday 14 March for three weeks. Major efforts are taking place in Galapagos to evacuate all tourists and non-residents off the Islands and Galapagos will soon be almost entirely cut off from the rest of the world. We were saddened on 23 March to hear of four confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Galapagos, two on Santa Cruz and two on San Cristobal. All cases are permanent residents of Galapagos who travelled from the mainland and are now in isolation.

Conservation work is being affected – with all field trips having been suspended by the Galapagos National Park and educational activities with children and communities postponed. We are concerned about how this situation will affect the work we are undertaking, particularly projects to protect species such as the mangrove finch which are reliant on fieldwork taking place during key nesting periods. But it is too early for us to know yet how long fieldwork will be on hold.

However, our dedicated project staff are pulling out the stops and working flexibly to ensure some continuity where possible. On the Islands, teachers and educators are developing new ways of sharing ‘stay-at-home’ activities for local and national families and students. At the end of last week, I heard from the Charles Darwin Foundation who run a number of projects we fund. Their President stated that they are still managing to continue some scientific work, analysing data and publishing academic papers to share findings. Other project partners who are working on protecting species such as giant tortoises, whale sharks, Floreana mockingbirds and the little vermilion flycatcher are able to use this time to continue many of their activities, including readjusting plans for future field trips.   

Fortunately, some of the main components of our Plastic Pollution Free Galapagos work can continue. Beach cleans and field trips are obviously postponed, but key analysis work to understand where the plastic pollution is coming from and how it moves around the Islands, is at an exciting and crucial stage. Work to analyse and understand how microplastics are affecting birds and other marine life in Galapagos can also carry on. This is key work that needs continued and vital funding.   

Work must and will continue. Despite the serious global health challenge of COVID-19, we remain fully committed to maintaining work to protect the unique and fragile wildlife of Galapagos.

Galapagos Conservation Trust is currently in a robust financial position thanks to the support given to us by many loyal and committed members and supporters. We, in turn, have made a commitment to give funds to many project partners – often over a number of years. Each project has been chosen for the long-term impact it will have for Galapagos wildlife and the passionate commitment of the people involved. Now, even more than usual is a time to stick together and to support each other as much as we can.

As the COVID-19 situation continues to unfold, we are in contact with our partners regarding their projects, how they think these may change and the implications for their funding requirements. We will continue to update our website, blog and social media channels. 

On Friday, I had some exciting news which I want to share with you from Jonathan Green who heads up work on whale sharks in Galapagos, and last year successfully satellite-tagged a few individuals. One of these, number 184027, was given the name of ‘Hope’ by the team. Hope was headed out to the Southern Pacific Ocean around French Polynesia, but has now made a very dramatic about-turn and is headed back in the general direction of Galapagos. Early days still, but if she does return, this will be an extremely important track, the first long-distance round trip of a whale shark migration ever recorded by satellite data. Such exciting times, as this type of information is critical to helping conserve these magnificent animals. It seems that ‘Hope’ was aptly named.

If you want to escape from the news for a few moments of respite, our website and blog are full of wonderful imagery of the iconic species you help protect and news of other exciting strides our fabulous on-the-ground teams are making to protect Galapagos. Our Discovering Galapagos teaching resources are perfect if you are homeschooling and would like to teach your children evolution, conservation, history and science with Galapagos as the case study.

We are all in this together. So thank you for all the support you give to us, enabling us in turn to help our project teams in their work. Please keep safe. Our thoughts are with you all.

With best wishes from all the staff at GCT.

Sharon Johnson
Chief Executive
Galapagos Conservation Trust