The marine iguana, the world’s only sea-going lizard, is one of the Galapagos Archipelago’s most iconic endemic species. However, these remarkable animals face a number of threats, including predation by invasive species, plastic pollution, toxins from oil spills and scarcity of algae, their main food source, during El Niño years. We are supporting the Iguanas from Above team in their work to map populations of marine iguanas by photographing the Archipelago’s coastlines using drones, with citizen scientists then able to directly support marine iguana conservation from the comfort of their own home by counting the number of marine iguanas in each image.
The remote and rocky terrain where most marine iguana colonies are found makes data collection difficult using traditional fieldwork methods, and prior to the start of this project there was no reliable data available for nine of the 11 subspecies of marine iguanas. This data is essential for reassessing the species’ IUCN Red List status, monitoring threats and changes in their numbers over time, and recommending appropriate conservation actions.
How we’re tackling it
Led by our partners at Leipzig University since 2019, the Iguanas from Above project is building a comprehensive database of drone survey imagery from across the Archipelago. Drones offer a non-invasive, time- and cost-efficient solution for surveys of marine iguana populations, and have been a key method for the field team. Drone surveys are delivered with great skill from a boat, and our team are at the forefront of developing safe boat-based drone survey methods together with Galapagos National Park Rangers.
Individual photos are then uploaded to Zooniverse, a web portal for citizen science. Here, public volunteers can join scientists in analysing the photos for the presence of marine iguanas, other wildlife and plastic pollution. Anyone with a phone or laptop and an internet connection can take part – why not take part yourself and join a community of over 11,000 other volunteers!
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The project aims to
- produce revised and accurate population estimates for all subspecies of marine iguana
- determine which marine iguana colonies are most threatened by plastic pollution arriving on ocean currents
- inform conservation actions to protect marine iguanas across the Archipelago
This project is kindly supported by
Project Update: Iguanas From Above
British Science Week 2022
Conservation in the digital age – drones in Galapagos
Reintroducing Land Iguanas to Santiago
"This is a major conservation achievement, and strengthens our hopes of restoring islands that have been severely affected by introduced species."
The return of the Galapagos land iguana to Santiago, where it had been locally extinct since the early 20th century, will help to restore the ecological health of the island.
Plastic Pollution Free Galapagos
"45% of all plastic used along the Pacific coastline of South and Central America is inadequately managed, leaking 1 million tonnes of plastic each year."
We are working with partners across the Eastern Pacific to make Galapagos plastic pollution free once again, identifying the sources and impacts of plastic and supporting innovative solutions.