Exeter University Field Trip – Diary Blog Part 4

Guest blog by Alix Zelly

Whilst in Galapagos it was important for us to not simply visit, but to get under its surface, beyond taking a few dips in the ocean! Being based at the university campus, we heard talks from a range of students on the incredible research taking place, from investigating microplastics to using citizen science for monitoring turtles.

One of Darwin's 15 finch species © Alix Zelly

One of Darwin’s 15 endemic finches susceptible to invasive parasitic species © Alix Zelly

We joined up with Josh Lyton-Jenkins, a PhD student from the University of Exeter, conducting his postgraduate research on San Cristobal. He aims to understand the prevalence and diversity of blood parasites (Haemosporidia) in native and endemic bird species. San Cristobal is a highly connected island in the Archipelago; housing the second largest urban population, a busy seaport and an airport situated incredibly close to the main town. These factors increase the island’s risk to introduced parasites.

Mangrove restoration project on San Cristobal © Alix Zelly

Mangrove restoration project on San Cristobal © Alix Zelly

His work will provide an understanding of parasite prevalence compared across urban, rural, highland and lowland areas. During our field trip, we assisted Josh in his data collection, using mist nets to catch birds and then acquiring a small blood sample before safe release. This will then be used in the lab to extract DNA and screen samples. This phase has yet to commence but some preliminary results suggest much higher prevalence of parasites than previous literature reported.

Through this fieldtrip we had an amazing opportunity to visit and explore a unique corner of the planet, one which is on a knife-edge from a multitude of human threats. Given this, a group of students from the trip led by Philip Wilson decided to fundraise through cake sales, raffles and quiz nights. The money raised was gifted to Ecosistema Galapagos, a local project aiming to restore mangrove habitat on San Cristobal. Before we left, we saw this project in action by helping plant red mangroves in Playa de los Marinos. Further donations were made towards a fund for young members of the community wishing to start up their own environmental based projects.

Marie Nute with San Cristobal firefighters © Alix Zelly

Marie Nute with San Cristobal firefighters © Alix Zelly

Another student on the field course, Marie Nute, set out to supply equipment to the fire service on San Cristobal through the help of a friend, Patricia Hadfield, in the London Fire Service and Davie Kay, founder of the International Fire and Rescue Association (IFRA). Marie said “I made contact and Davie offered to help get the project going with the donation of 26 full sets of Personal Protection Equipment. The logistics of getting it to the island were a nightmare and the IFRA offered to pay for a pallet to be sent as there was no way any of us could carry that amount of equipment ourselves.

Firefighters on San Cristobal in full protective gear © Alix Zelly

Firefighters on San Cristobal in full protective gear © Alix Zelly

As our trip drew to its close, the 35 students left San Cristobal with an unquantifiable number of photographs, a lifetime’s worth of stories, locally made gifts including my personal favourite, coffee liqueur from the highlands, and an array of weird tan lines. When visiting Galapagos, remember the responsibilities you have to respect the wildlife, who quickly let you know exactly whose island this is, and to submerge yourself in the culture and people who call Galapagos home.

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