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Plastic Pollution Free Galapagos

Beach clean-up in Galapagos
© Conservation International / GNPD
PPSS partner logos

Overview

We have been working closely with the Galapagos National Park and other partners to understand the best approach to tackling the issue of plastic pollution in the Archipelago since 2017. The result is the Plastic Pollution Free Galapagos programme, a multi-million pound, multi-year project, which feeds into broader work looking to tackle pollution across the Eastern Pacific region through the Pacific Plastics: Science to Solutions Network. 

Lead Project Partners

Pacific Plastics: Science to Solutions Galapagos National Park

Plastic pollution in numbers

Beach clean in Galapagos

> 8 t

Over 8 tonnes of plastic is removed from Galapagos beaches every year

Plastic bottle next to sea lion in Galapagos

69 %

of plastics found on Galapagos coastlines are single-use items

Green turtle entangled in plastic

38

Galapagos species recorded as entangled by or having ingested plastic

Plastic waste on a Galapagos beach

45 %

of plastic used on Pacific coast of Latin America inadequately managed

Flightless cormorant nest contaminated with plastics
© Greg Lewbart

The problem

Plastic pollution is a global scourge, posing a devastating and direct threat to habitats and species around the world and exacerbating other threats such as climate change and unsustainable fisheries. It is estimated that 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. This is predicted to double by 2025 if no action is taken.    

While the Galapagos Archipelago remains one of the most pristine ecosystems in the world, sadly it is not immune to the devastating effects of plastic pollution. More than eight tonnes of plastic are removed by the local community from Galapagos beaches every year, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. At least 38 different species have been found to be entangled in plastic, living in affected habitats or having ingested plastic after mistaking it for food.   

The problem of plastic pollution doesn’t end with the harm it inflicts on precious endemic species. Plastic is also a climate, health and social justice issue. Most plastic is made from fossil fuels, releasing pollution and climate-altering substances into the environment throughout its lifecycle. Once plastic is in the natural environment, it enters food webs, disrupts socioeconomic activities and accumulates in isolated habitats often far removed from the source of the problem.

Jen Jones, Head of Programmes, Galapagos Conservation Trust

We hope our approach – identifying the issues and possible solutions with local involvement at every stage – can provide a 'toolkit' that could be used to tackle plastic pollution elsewhere in the world.

Dr Jen Jones, GCT

How we’re tackling it

Within this flagship programme, GCT brings together an alliance of NGOs, local community groups and international scientists from the fields of oceanography, marine biology, ecotoxicology, environmental psychology and even archaeology, to combine ground-breaking scientific research with coordinated education and outreach to make Galapagos plastic pollution free once again. We are building a large body of evidence on the sources and impacts of plastic pollution in Galapagos, which inform innovative solutions co-designed with local communities.  

To keep Galapagos plastic pollution free, we have teamed up with over 30 organisations around the world to find solutions that reduce pollution across the whole South-Eastern Pacific region.

Beach plastics survey at Punta Espinoza, Galapagos

Project goals

The project is split into three streams: physical, biological and human. 

  • The Physical System team set out to answer questions such as where does the rubbish come from, how does it get there and what happens to it? 
  • The Biological System team are answering questions such as: which Galapagos species are most at risk from marine plastic, how does it move through the ecosystem and how do we lower the risk it poses? 
  • The Human System studies set out to understand what the level of understanding of the issue was in Galapagos, what the main barriers are to using alternatives, how effective policy changes are and what the most effective form of education and awareness campaigns are. 

Interventions at a regional scale are planned with the communities and industries identified as being the primary polluters. The aim is to prove in Galapagos methods that can be applied to coastal national parks around the world suffering from plastic pollution problems.

Marine iguana and lava lizard
© June Jacobsen

Project updates

Lava lizard and plastic pollution in Galapagos
21st May 2024
Plastic pollution Technology

Testing the latest technology in the fight against plastic pollution

Henry Moreau-Smith, Masters student at the University of Exeter, introduces us to his research and the technology he hopes will rid the Galapagos Islands of plastic pollution.
Read more
14th May 2024
Plastic pollution Women in science

Researching plastic and chemical pollution in Galapagos

Georgie Savage, PhD student at the University of Exeter, introduces us to her work on plastic pollution and shares stories from her recent research trip with GCT to Galapagos.
Read more
Rapa Nui Pacific Leaders' Summit 2024 - Group photo in front of Moai
30th Apr 2024
Plastic pollution

Sharing knowledge on plastic pollution at the Rapa Nui Pacific Leaders’ Summit

Galapagos and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) share many challenges, and we also have much to learn from each other, as we discovered at the 2024 Pacific Leaders' Summit.
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Plastic waste found in Galapagos giant tortoise faeces
13th Nov 2023
Plastic pollution

New research shows that Galapagos giant tortoises are ingesting plastic waste

A new study published in the journal Environmental Pollution has found that giant tortoises on Santa Cruz island are ingesting items including medical face masks, glass and plastic bags.
Read more

Help us keep plastic pollution out of Galapagos

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