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Iguanas From Above

A drone image sample captured at Cabo Douglas, Fernandina
© Amy MacLeod / Iguanas from Above
Launching a drone in Galapagos to survey the coastline
© Andrea Varela


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.

Project Partners

University of Leipzig Zooniverse
Marine iguana and lava lizard on Fernandina
© June Jacobsen

The problem

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.

Amy Macleod, Iguanas from Above

Once analysed, we are confident that this work will provide the first full and detailed marine iguana population survey ever undertaken, which will enable effective conservation of all 11 marine iguana subspecies.

Dr Amy MacLeod, Iguanas from Above
Iguanas from Above team on Fernandina
© Amy MacLeod

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!


Drone imagery of Punta Espinoza, Fernandina
© Iguanas from Above

Project goals

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

International Iguana Foundation
Swiss Association of Friends of the Galapagos Islands
Marine iguana expelling salt from its nostrils
© Joseph Sullivan

Project updates

Marine iguana and lava lizard on Fernandina island
23rd May 2024
Citizen science Technology

Iguanas from Above: Drones, citizen science and machine learning

The Iguanas from Above project is using cutting-edge technology to assess the health of marine iguana populations across the Galapagos Archipelago.
Read more
Marine iguana expelling salt from its nostrils
2nd May 2024
Technology Women in science

How can we use technology to save the Galapagos marine iguana?

Andrea Varela of the Iguanas From Above project shares her experience studying the iconic marine iguana using the latest technologies.
Read more
Attaching a GPS tracker to a Galapagos giant tortoise
8th Apr 2024
Research Technology

How technology is changing conservation in Galapagos

From unmanned drones and acoustic sensors to remarkable advances in artificial intelligence, new technologies are playing a key role in the conservation of the Galapagos Islands.
Read more
22nd Nov 2022
Citizen science

Iguanas from Above: Citizen science in action

Find out how marine iguanas have become the subject of one of the most innovative citizen science projects in the Galapagos Islands.
Read more

How you can help

Please help us protect marine iguanas by donating to GCT or by counting iguanas on Zooniverse.

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