Galapagos Island Conservation Volunteer Projects in Ecuador
Ecuador has been named by ecologists as one of the world’s ‘megadiversity hotspots’ and is one of the most species-rich countries on earth. The Galapagos Islands are 1000km off Ecuador’s Pacific coast. Due to their isolation, the islands are home to many unique species of flora and fauna and are famous for their uniquely evolved wildlife which helped Darwin formulate his theory of species evolution.
- Placement location: Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal Island
- Role: To work in partnership with the Galapagos National Park, focusing on wildlife conservation and animal monitoring
- Main Research Focus: Giant tortoises, sea lions, Galapagos birds and eradication of invasive species
- Local Environment: Island
- Accommodation: Shared volunteer houses or host families
- Price: From
- What's included? Food, accommodation, transfers to and from our specified airport, insurance, personal webpage, induction and orientation, 24/7 support
- What's not included? Flights, visa costs, spending money
- Length of placement: From 1 week
- Start dates: Flexible
Projects Abroad volunteers work in the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on the island of San Cristobal in the Galapagos archipelago, and conservation volunteers work closely with the Galapagos National Park.
One of the greatest threats to the Galapagos Islands is the alien species brought in on boats and planes by humans. These alien species whether they are flora or fauna out-compete indigenous species for resources and this often results in the decline of indigenous species, some of which are endemic to the Galapagos. Unless action is taken to reverse this trend then we could lose these wonderful species forever!
Conserving and Protecting the Native Species on the Galapagos Islands
Our overall aim is to contribute to the conservation and preservation of these unique and abundant marine and terrestrial ecosystems through much needed research and practical hands-on work.
Daily activities will include eradication of introduced species, coastal clean ups, sea bird and sea lion population monitoring. This will involve hiking to areas where the animals can be found and collecting data during animal observation. Volunteers will also work at the Galapagos National Park’s giant tortoise breeding centre; duties here will include locating nests with eggs, cleaning of ponds, feeding and general maintenance of the reserve.
Volunteer Conservation in Ecuador: Galapagos Islands Project
A typical week’s work for a volunteer will include:
- Sea lion monitoring - Sea lion monitoring is separated into two parallel studies: The first we have been running since 2013 and involves monitoring the populations of sea lions in and around the area of Puerto Baquerizo. We collect data on population numbers, sex ratios and breeding data from several different beaches as we study the long-term dynamics of the resident populations. The second project is done with the daily supervision of the staff from the park. It involves collecting similar data to our own project but in more remote areas of the island and may include a rescue programme to save the animals from getting stuck in the fishing nets. Note that this project can only be done by two volunteers at the same time per month as it requires a week’s training. If you are spending less than a month in the Galapagos, you can also get involved. All volunteers can work with sea lions as part of their weekly activities. For example, a volunteer can do work with sea lions two to three times a week for a few hours, and then join other activities on other days. All volunteers, regardless of participation type, will receive the same training.
- Galapagos Petrel protection - The Galapagos Petrel is an endangered Sea Bird that is endemic to the Galapagos and is on the UICN Red List. This bird is unique and builds its nest in specific habitats dominated by the native Miconia plants. However, the arrival of man has led to the introduction of invasive species such as the blackberry and guava tree. These are out-competing the Miconia plants and a second intruder, the black rat, is destroying nests and feeding on eggs and chicks. Volunteers will help to eradicate these species and monitor the nests to assess the success of our work and the behaviour within the bird colonies.
- Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre - The breeding centre is run by the National Park and is the only protected haven on the island where the giant tortoises, endemic to the Galapagos, are kept safe and bred. Volunteers help in the upkeep of the centre by feeding the animals, cleaning their pools, removing invasive plant species and collecting biometric data when the National Park performs their population surveys. Volunteers also help cultivate and maintain a 2 hectare plot of land, which Projects Abroad has been responsible for since 2014. This land produces the “otoi” plant which is the tortoise’s staple diet and the aim is to reduce the cost of the centre to the park service by making them self-sufficient.
- Marine Iguana Surveys - As with the sea lions, it is important to monitor and study the populations of the unique marine iguana on the islands. Transects will be walked and data collected on population numbers, sex ratios and population dynamics. Over time we will be able to assess the health of the marine iguana populations and evaluate their reproductive success.
- Bird Surveys - Currently we operate two independent studies: One at Cerro Colorado and the other of marine species. Cerro Colorado is an area where we have been working since 2013 to remove invasive species and reforest endemic ones. By studying the bird populations, we can evaluate if the change in flora is encouraging the return of endemic bird species. The sea bird census is designed to study population numbers, nesting sites and migratory visitors.
- Working with plants at the nursery - Projects Abroad has its own nursery which focuses on producing indigenous plants to be distributed throughout the island. Removal of invasive plants is essential work but we must also help in the reforestation of endemic species. The activities include collecting soil to mix with compost, collecting seeds and small plants to bring to the nursery and cultivating the saplings for future planting. We are working with many endemic species but are concentrating on mangrove trees which are essential to the coastal regions of the island.
- Controlling introduced plants - Volunteers will be working on the elimination and control of introduced plants, such as Blackberry, Guava and Supirrosa, in the protected areas located on the upper part of the island. These areas such as Laguna del Junco, Cerro San Joaquin, La Comuna, the Tortoise Breeding centre and Cerro Colorado are in need of our help as these plants are altering the ecosystems of the Galapagos and displacing species of endemic plants like the Miconia, which are competing for food, light, nutrients and geographical space.
- Education programme - Volunteers will be involved in preparing and presenting workshops about conservation awareness in the local schools and community centres around the town of San Cristobal. It is important that they help educate local people of the island about conservation and the importance of preserving their unique home.
- Beach clean-ups - Volunteers will be involved in coastal cleaning along the main beaches where people frequent. The goals are to keep these areas free of garbage and ensure that the resident species are less likely to die because of contact with dangerous rubbish.
Volunteers can also work with the National Park and monitor sea lions as a full-time option. Volunteers who choose this option will spend five days a week on the placement and will work on population census, classifying gender and age and monitoring behaviour of different colonies. All data collected is processed at the offices of the National Park by the volunteers and local staff.
Basic Spanish is required for this option, and the minimum duration is 4 weeks, as it requires special training. Only two volunteers are accepted at a time, so volunteers should request this option when they apply for the Conservation project.
As a volunteer you will be working alongside the National Park authorities and our Conservation Coordinator. They will be guiding you and training you in specific work and techniques used on the project.
You can join the Conservation & Environment project in Ecuador for one, two or three weeks if you don't have time to join us for four weeks or more. This project has been selected by our local colleagues as being suitable for short term volunteering for both the host community and the volunteer. Although you will gain a valuable cultural insight and work intensely on a variety of conservation activities please be aware that you may not be able to make the same impact as someone volunteering for a longer period. Volunteers joining the Conservation & Environment project for just one week should arrive at a weekend.
Volunteers usually work from Monday to Friday and occasionally on a Saturday morning too.
You can read more detailed information about the aims of the project in our Ecuador Conservation Management Plan.