Galapagos Day 2017 – Inspiring Conservation

by GCT volunteer Beth Byrne

While we can all agree that the Galapagos Islands are one of the most unique, scientifically important, and biologically inspiring places on Earth, the Archipelago is not resistant to the pressures of modern convenience. This year around 300 attendees came to Galapagos Day to learn how plastic pollution is affecting Galapagos’ vulnerable and endemic species, and how society can change to combat the increasing plastic reaching the shorelines and oceans around the Islands.

After a wonderful welcome from Dr Mark Collins, GCT chairman, there was a moving tribute to Nigel Sitwell, a founding member of GCT, who sadly passed away this year. Then His Excellency, the Ambassador of Ecuador gave a short speech reiterating the government’s full commitment in protecting Galapagos. Sharon Johnson, Chief Executive of GCT, highlighted that whilst plastic pollution is a global issue, in Galapagos the problem was unique, as the majority of plastic on its shores appeared to be sourced from the Islands themselves. Societial changes towards plastic usage throughout the Archipelago therefore stands to make a huge difference to this issue in Galapagos. 

© Akemi

GCT Chairman, Dr Mark Collins, giving his tribute to Nigel Sitwell © Akemi Yokoyama

Liz Bonnin, GCT Ambassador, inspired us with captivating insights from her adventures in Galapagos, including stories about descending into the darkness of the deep sea in a submersible. She then went on to explain how the modern world has impacted Galapagos and that “part of the puzzle is how we use plastics”. Liz emphasised that single-use plastics are easily replaced with reusable alternatives, and reducing these could make a difference to the eight million tonnes of plastic entering our oceans each year. Following from this, GCT’s Andy Donnelly  demonstrated just how important our education and outreach work on the Islands is, as 40% of the 30,000 Galapagos residents are under 15. A grassroots approach therefore has the potential to change attitudes towards plastics for generations to come.

We then launched into our exciting expert panel discussion, chaired by Liz Bonnin, featuring biologists, an oceanographer, an ecotoxicologist, a behavioural psychologist and a contemporary archaeologist. Dr Erik van Sebille discussed plastic management, and how we need to strive forward in understanding how plastics are moving from our recycling and refuse bins into our ocean systems. Andy Donnelly demonstrated that while we should view plastics as precious, instead we take something 20 million years old and use it for 20 minutes. Dr Sabine Pahl highlighted that often we blame younger generations for the faults of society, but instead we should simply educate and help them understand how our faults have impacted the environment. Professor Brendan Godley, rounded off the talks with a very memorable statement that “every marine vertebrate on earth has plastic in its guts, and so does every human”.

The evening’s plastics panel © Akemi Yokoyama

The inspiring conservation theme also extended into print in the fantastic GCT photography competition and the Falmouth University students’ exhibition, which both captured the heart of the Enchanted Isles with some wonderful photographs.

Guests enjoying Falmouth University’s brilliant photography competition © Akemi Yokoyama

GCT would like to say a big thank you to His Excellency the Ambassador of Ecuador, our special guest speaker Liz Bonnin, and our expert panel: Dr Sabine Pahl, Prof. Brendan Godley, Dr Erik Van-Sebille, Prof. John Schofield and Prof. Tamara Galloway. We would also like to thank Metropolitan Touring for donating the raffle prize and to everyone who bought raffle tickets – we raised over £11,000! Finally, a huge thank you to everyone who came along to support us and to all our volunteers for helping the event be such a success. We look forward to seeing you next year!

Our Galapagos Day Gallery is available here and a recording of our plastics panel, complete with a short introduction from our Chief Executive, Sharon Johnson, is available to listen to or download here

If you would like to help us in our bid to make Galapagos the first plastic-free Archipelago in the world, you can donate online here