Going back to a plastic pollution free Galapagos

Project Background

As a low-cost, versatile and durable product, plastic is an extremely useful material. Since it started to be mass produced in the 1950s, we have used huge quantities of it. This combined with our disposable lifestyles means that large amounts of plastics have entered the environment. An estimated 12 million tonnes of plastics enter our oceans each year, which can be transported across the world via ocean currents and gyres.

The retention of plastic within marine ecosystems causes severe issues for wildlife, including entanglement and ingestion. Plastic is being found in the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) and is posing a threat to the unique biodiversity of Galapagos. In fact, at least 18 species have been recorded either entangled by plastic, or have been found to have ingested it.

© Andy Donnelly

Example of discarded fishing equipment washed up on a beach in Galapagos © Andy Donnelly

Whilst there is anecdotal evidence of the impact this is having on species in Galapagos, there has been little robust, scientific research into the problem. However, according to expert scientists and local community leaders, Galapagos is now best placed of anywhere in the world to show how a marine reserve can tackle plastic pollution in our oceans.

This long-term programme aims to support the Galapagos National Park and other partners to reduce marine plastic pollution on the Islands, working towards the world’s first plastic pollution free archipelago.

The programme has three key areas:

  • Gather evidence on the impacts of plastics on Galapagos wildlife
  • Find out what the major sources and sinks of plastic pollution are in Galapagos, and how we can tackle these more effectively
  • Work with businesses to find sustainable solutions and build on our education programmes to empower local community champions to promote behavioural changes towards plastic usage.

Achievements to date

In early May 2018, working with the Galapagos Science Center, GCT organised a Science to Solutions plastics workshop on the Islands to gather key stakeholders from Galapagos, as well as some of the expert scientists from our plastics panel at Galapagos Day in 2017.  The goal was to discuss the crucial next steps in plastics management on the Islands, and to develop a five year management strategy (read our blog on the workshop here)

We supported pilot drone surveys on the Islands which will help us identify the extent of the problem in the Archipelago, as well as identify sources of plastic pollution, and the first micro-plastics sampling expedition occurred. 

In Galapagos we supported a pilot for a coffee cup deposit return scheme, as well as a campaign on San Cristobal to encourage people to use paper bags instead of plastics bags. We also ran a workshop in the UK with the Latin American Travel Association to explore with the tourism industry how they can make a difference. 

Future Goals

We will be working with a number of scientists, NGO representatives, local authorities, conservation managers, educators and business owners to share ideas and help formulate a five year action plan. In addition to this, we will be running risk analyses to determine which species are most impacted by plastics, such as marine iguanas and sea birds, and carrying out beach surveys to look at plastic accumulation rates across the Islands.

Having teamed up with local organisations and community groups, including Grupo Eco Cultural Organizado (GECO) (read more about this partnership here), GCT is seeking to promote responsible plastic usage on all four inhabited islands through an outreach and education programme. In addition to this, as part of GCT’s tourism strategy, we are working alongside tour operators in the UK and boat owners in Galapagos to promote responsible tourism practices, including reducing plastic consumption on the Islands.

How you can help

Please help us to make Galapagos plastic pollution free by donating today.

Coverage of the project

Our Chief Executive Sharon Johnson was interviewed by ITV News on May 29 2018 about this project which you can watch here. There was also extended ITV News coverage – to watch the clip follow this link and skip to 1 minute 45 seconds. 

In October 2018, this work was featured in a video on the BBC Plastics Watch website which you can see here.


In 2018 and 2019 the Woodspring Trust have kindly supported this programme.