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Luis Vayas Valdivieso at Galapagos Day 2023
30/10/2023 Events Rewilding

Galapagos Day 2023: Rewilding Galapagos

On Thursday 19 October we gathered once more at London’s historic Royal Geographical Society for Galapagos Day, our biggest event of the year.

Tom O'Hara

Communications Manager

We were thrilled to be joined by so many of our members, supporters and partners, along with many new faces. Our theme this year was ‘Rewilding Galapagos’, and we took an in-depth look at some of the ways in which rewilding and island restoration can repair damaged ecosystems, both in Galapagos and here in the UK.

Our programme of talks began with an introduction from Charmian Caines, GCT’s Chair of the Board of Trustees, who outlined some of the threats to Galapagos, including the impacts of a growing human population, the arrival of avian flu in the Islands, and a developing El Niño event, turbocharged by climate change, which is likely to exact a heavy toll on marine life. Against such a worrying backdrop, the rewilding and island restoration work supported by GCT offers hope for a better future: one where invasive species are removed, habitats are restored, missing species are reintroduced and humans are able to thrive in balance with nature.

Galapagos Day 2023 speakers
Our speakers (L-R: Dr Jen Jones, Ambassador Luis Vayas Valdivieso, Dr Sarah Darwin, Dr Birgit Fessl, Charmian Caines, Professor Alastair Driver) © Akemi Yokoyama / GCT
Galapagos giant tortoise amongst vegetation

Rewilding Galapagos: Giving nature a helping hand

What does rewilding mean in the context of Galapagos, where 97% of the land is already a protected National Park?

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Charmian then introduced Dr Jen Jones, who was appointed our new Chief Executive earlier this year after more than a decade at GCT. Jen shared some key statistics on the impact of invasive species in Galapagos, and highlighted some of GCT’s inspiring community-focused projects that are inspiring the next generation of Galapagos-born conservationists and helping to create new green jobs on the Islands, including the Co-Galapagos project and our work to trial rain and fog harvesting as a more sustainable source of freshwater in the highlands of Santa Cruz. Jen also spoke movingly about two visionary conservationists and GCT Ambassadors who we have sadly lost this year, Randal Keynes and Godfrey Merlen, and about what they meant to her personally.

We were honoured to be joined at Galapagos Day by His Excellency Mr Luis Vayas Valdivieso, the Ambassador of Ecuador to the UK and one of the elected Chairs of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for the future Global Plastics Treaty. Ambassador Vayas shared some of his memories of visiting the Galapagos Islands as a young man, before giving us a detailed insight into the current state of the treaty negotiations, and he also talked about the proposal to sign the treaty in Galapagos.

Dr Jen Jones, Ambassador Luis Vayas Valdivieso and Charmian Caines at Galapagos Day 2023
Dr Jen Jones, Ambassador Luis Vayas Valdivieso and Charmian Caines at Galapagos Day 2023 © Akemi Yokoyama / GCT
Luis Vayas interview

Global Plastics Treaty: An interview with Luis Vayas Valdivieso

At the second round of negotiations in Paris, we spoke with Ambassador Luis Vayas Valdivieso, Ecuador’s current Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and one of the elected Chairs of the Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee.

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After the Ambassador’s address, we enjoyed one of the most anticipated moments of the night as our ‘mystery guest’ was revealed, with a special video message from actor, comedian and veritable national treasure, Stephen Fry. In his own inimitable style, Stephen spoke about Galapagos giant tortoises and their incredible powers as ‘ecosystem engineers’, as well as the ways in which they have suffered at the hands of humans over the centuries, before ending on an uplifting note by talking about the work that GCT is now supporting to reintroduce tortoises to islands such as Floreana.

Stephen Fry on screen at Galapagos Day 2023
Stephen Fry on screen at Galapagos Day 2023 © Akemi Yokoyama / GCT
Adopt a Galapagos giant tortoise

Adopt a giant tortoise

Our Galapagos giant tortoise adoption pack includes a fact file and a personalised certificate printed on 100% recycled paper, plus a soft toy.

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Jen then handed over to botanist, artist and GCT Ambassador, Dr Sarah Darwin, who spoke about our growing understanding of the connections between the Galapagos Islands and the rest of the world, and reflected on the importance of community support for rewilding initiatives, describing early examples where invasive species such as goats that had been eradicated from the Islands were subsequently reintroduced. Sarah also shared some of her own memories of Godfrey and Randal, and spoke about the courage and commitment required to protect Galapagos from the many threats to its wildlife, or, as she put it: “We have to run to stand still.”

At GCT we believe strongly in working collaboratively across disciplines, and being creative in our approach to the conservation of the Galapagos Islands, so we were delighted to welcome Professor Alastair Driver, Director of Rewilding Britain, to give us his expert perspective on the current state of nature here in the UK, and bust some myths around rewilding. Although there are many differences between the Galapagos Islands, where 97% of the land is protected as a National Park, and Britain, one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, there are also many parallels. Alastair spoke about the importance of grazing herbivores, whether it’s rare breed cattle or giant tortoises, in shaping and rewilding the land, and also about the economic benefits that rewilding can bring, with compelling data from the Rewilding Britain network showing the new jobs created in areas such as nature tourism.

Prof Alastair Driver at Galapagos Day 2023
Professor Alastair Driver at Galapagos Day 2023 © Akemi Yokoyama / GCT
The Galapagos land iguana, an important ecosystem engineer

Rewilding Galapagos: The power of ecosystem engineers

Rewilding in Galapagos can repair degraded habitats, thanks to the amazing powers of ‘ecosystem engineers’ such as giant tortoises and land iguanas.

Find out more

Our final talk of the night came from Dr Birgit Fessl, Coordinator of the Galapagos Land Bird Conservation Plan at the Charles Darwin Foundation. Birgit has been studying landbirds in Galapagos for over 20 years, and gave a fascinating talk on efforts that GCT is supporting to protect charismatic species such as the little vermilion flycatcher from the threats posed by invasive species such as rats, hill raspberry and the avian vampire fly.

Dr Birgit Fessl speaking at the audience Q&A, Galapagos Day 2023
Dr Birgit Fessl speaking at our audience Q&A © Akemi Yokoyama / GCT
Little vermilion flycatcher with juveniles © Agustín Gutiérrez / CDF

Red Alert for Galapagos

Help us save the little vermilion flycatcher from extinction.

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Along with the talks, we enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with old friends and build new connections – such an important part of events like Galapagos Day. It was a successful evening too in terms of fundraising, with over £9,000 raised through a combination of ticket, raffle and merchandise sales, corporate sponsorship and generous donations made on the night.

Photo exhibition at Galapagos Day 2023
Photography exhibition at Galapagos Day 2023 © Rachel Mann

Other highlights included the exhibition of the winners from our most recent Galapagos Photography Competition, and a stand showcasing the educational materials that we are currently developing for use on Floreana island, including a beautiful poster designed by Lisa Brown, the incredible illustrator whose style many of you will recognise from our series of Galapagos Journey storybooks.

Thank you to everyone who joined us this year at Galapagos Day, including our wonderful volunteers who helped the event run so smoothly; we thought it was one of the best ever. And for those who weren’t able to attend this time – see you in 2024!

New! Floreana T-shirts

Check out our brand new designs celebrating the Restoring Floreana project, one of the most important island rewilding projects in the world. Our T-shirts and sweaters feature Lisa Brown’s beautiful illustrations of species including the Floreana giant tortoise, little vermilion flycatcher and Floreana mockingbird.

Shop now

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