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18/03/2021 COVID-19

Supporting the UNDP’s ‘Save Galapagos Islands’ campaign

The loss of tourism due to the global pandemic has hit Galapagos hard. We are supporting initiatives to reactivate the local economy, such as a ’Cash for Work’ scheme.

Photograph of Clare Simm

Clare Simm

Former Communications Manager at Galapagos Conservation Trust

The loss of tourism due to the global pandemic has hit Galapagos hard. Around 8% of Galapaguenian families on the Islands were already living below the poverty line. Now many more are struggling. We are supporting initiatives to reactivate the local economy, such as a ‘Cash for Work’ scheme. This provides emergency income to collect plastic pollution from local beaches while offering an excellent opportunity to pilot data collection methods for our Plastic Pollution Free Galapagos Programme.

Supporting livelihoods in Galapagos

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism industry in Galapagos employed more than 80% of its population. According to the Provincial Chamber of Tourism, the Archipelago lost $200 million between March and May 2020 alone. This loss of jobs and income has increased the pressure on the Islands’ natural resources and, in turn, could damage the very biodiversity that tourism relies on.

While tourists are slowly returning to the Islands, mostly from mainland Ecuador, numbers are still a long way from what the locals need to make ends meet. GCT is using the lessons learned in 2020 to support initiatives that will allow locals to become more self-sufficient, provide more employment on the Islands, and offer training opportunities outside of the tourism industry. We need to support the local community to continue to live and work sustainably.

Searching for microplastics at the UNDP beach clean in February 2021 supported by Galapagos Conservation Trust © Juan Carlos Guzman

Cash for work

We are very pleased to be supporting the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Ecuador, which launched a campaign in November 2020 called “Save Galapagos Islands, empower its people”.  The first two ‘Cash for Work’ events took place in November and December. 90 local beneficiaries were paid for their help with local beach cleans across Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristobal.

“Overall, I found it to be a great experience in terms of learning and teamwork. Sunday was a hard day but we learned several things and I was proud of the fact that even in the middle of a storm we continued working. It is something that shows the great effort that the new generation gives in supporting a healthier and cleaner planet.”

Rubén Gil – young plastic scientist – Galapagos Conservation Trust


We trained and supported two young plastic scientists, Rubén and Sebastian, who are both ex Mola Mola club members, to pilot our Garbology photography methods during these two events. This data will be uploaded to GCT’s Citizen Science portal and feed into our more comprehensive Plastic Pollution Free Galapagos Programme research into plastic sources and sinks.

Garbology is an emerging field of science that can help us understand where plastic is coming from. We are using information such as the sell-by-dates, degree of weathering, production codes and language to create a narrative and map the life history of plastic items washing up in Galapagos.



Following on from the successful events in 2020, we funded a further beach clean event across a weekend in February 2021. This time, the event was focused on working with 25 young people to help them support their families. On the first day of the event, Rubén and Sebastian delivered training on our Garbology methods to the rest of the beneficiaries, as part of a suite of training sessions all the young people received. The second day was focused the clean ups and microplastic surveys on local beaches.

Here are some quotes from the participants:

Edgar Ríos is collecting microplastics found during the beach clean and storing them in a jar for anaylsis later on © Anne Guezou
Edgar Ríos collecting microplastics found during the beach clean and storing them in a jar for analysis later on © Juan Carlos Guzman

“I want to thank you for the invitation and for sharing these informative spaces. As experience I take away with me the active participation and interest that we had in the group of young people in each of the exhibitions and their topics taught by professionals that are very committed with what they do.”

Alexandra Castillo


Ttaking part in the pre-beach clean training session © Juan Carlos Guzman

“It was a very good experience: they taught me a lot of new things and I could meet new people. In addition, I was able to help on taking care of our islands that are a paradise.”

Skarlet Amay



“Participating in this event was very beautiful and rewarding. Seeing how we all motivate ourselves with pure energy to achieve a common good greatly encourages me to be part of this incredible action. I learned the importance of seriousness and conscience when making decisions about the garbage we produce, doing something more for good even with small acts and with love, and that together is better and fun.”

Juliana Villagomez
A group of young people searching for microplastics at the UNDP beach clean in February 2021 supported by Galapagos Conservation Trust © Anne Guezou
Sorting the microplastics found during the beach clean © Juan Carlos Guzman


“I learned a lot: I learned to listen, to relate to others, to participate and above all the importance that many young people have in the environment and that together we can achieve a radical change in Galapagos for future generations.”

Edgar Ríos

What can you do to help?

It is crucial that we continue our education and outreach activities during these challenging times to ensure that the young people in Galapagos, like Rubén and Sebastian, continue to have opportunities to strengthen their skill sets and connect with their environment. By doing so, we hope to encourage them and their families to protect the Islands and their wildlife and ensure that they remain a place of wonder for when tourism does resume around the world. Please donate today.

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