Galapagos Day 2022: Protecting Species & Preventing Extinctions
On Thursday 20 October we were delighted to return to the Royal Geographical Society for our first in-person Galapagos Day since 2019.
The event took place against the backdrop of dramatic declines in biodiversity worldwide, with many scientists now convinced that we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction. As Charmian Caines, Chair of the GCT Board of Trustees, discussed in her opening address, WWF’s recently released Living Planet Report gave us some alarming figures, telling us that the Earth’s wildlife populations have plunged by an average of 69% in less than 50 years. Just four years ago, it was at 60%.
Despite a day of high political drama in Westminster, we were joined at Galapagos Day by Lord Goldsmith, the UK Minister for Asia, Energy, Climate and Environment, who spoke about his visit to the Galapagos Islands earlier this year, contrasting his delight at realising a childhood dream and encountering the Archipelago’s incredible wildlife with the depressing reality of microplastics washing up on seemingly pristine beaches. He also spoke passionately about the importance of ocean protection in building climate resilience, and congratulated Ecuadorian Ambassador Sebastián Corral Bustamante, also in attendance, on the leadership shown by Ecuador in declaring the new Hermandad Marine Reserve at COP26 last year.
In his address, the Ambassador highlighted the threats posed to the Marine Reserve from human activity beyond Ecuador’s Exclusive Economic Zone, and in particular the impact of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. He also stressed Ecuador’s commitment to securing a legally binding global treaty to tackle plastic pollution.
The evening was hosted by GCT President, TV presenter, marine biologist and professional diver Monty Halls, who spoke about his own personal connections to the Islands, their unique ecology and their fascinating history, before introducing our first pre-recorded video talk, from Dr Paula Castaño of Island Conservation. She gave us a fascinating update on efforts to restore habitats and reintroduce locally extinct bird species on the islands of Pinzón and Floreana, and the occasionally surprising results of her work.
decline in Earth's wildlife populations in just 50 years
Then we heard from Dr Ainoa Nieto Claudín, who gave an engaging and, at times, shocking presentation on her work with the Charles Darwin Foundation as part of the Galapagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Programme. There was an audible gasp from the audience as Ainoa showed us examples of some of the plastic waste that has been found in tortoise dung on the Islands.
Ainoa then handed over to Anne Guézou, GCT’s Education and Outreach Coordinator on the Islands, who gave an inspiring talk about her work to engage local communities. One of the projects that she discussed was our bilingual children’s book Tessa the Giant Tortoise, which was a big seller at the merchandise stall afterwards! Following Anne’s talk we enjoyed a video from Galapagos-born biotechnologist Gislayne Mendoza Alcívar, who described her work investigating giant tortoise health at the Charles Darwin Foundation.
Finally we turned to oceans, and GCT Head of Programmes Dr Jen Jones shared her experiences as part of a recent expedition in the Galapagos Marine Reserve led by legendary oceanographer Dr Sylvia Earle. Jen revealed the incredible biodiversity of the deep sea around Galapagos, and discussed the need to protect 30% of Ecuador’s oceans by 2030 in the face of threats such as climate change, overfishing and plastic pollution. Her talk led neatly into videos from Dr Alex Hearn, professor of marine biology and founding member of the MigraMar network, who spoke about the successes and challenges in protecting the ocean around Galapagos, and Dr Diana Pazmiño, who left us with a message of real optimism as she shared her work on engaging local girls in shark science through the Gills Club outreach programme.
After the talks, our guests had the chance to view our photography expedition, speak to our project team, visit our corporate partners Big Wild Thought and Rhyme & Reason, and buy tickets for our raffle, with the fantastic top prize of a seven-night luxury cruise kindly provided by Ecoventura.
We would like to thank all of our speakers, our partners and our wonderful volunteers who helped out on the night, along with everyone who attended in person and online. If you missed the event then don’t worry, as you can watch the recording of the event on YouTube:
Tessa the Giant Tortoise
In our second educational storybook we join our adventurer, Tessa, on her migration to and from the highlands of Santa Cruz island in Galapagos, as she faces perils such as busy roads and non-native species.