Conservation in Ecuador - Dreda Darling
As a person who had always been interested in the natural world, I was extremely excited and lucky to be able to spend a week in the unique ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands. With its abundance of endemic species and jaw-dropping scenery, I knew I was in for a treat. Travelling with my dad, we spent approximately 10 hours in airplanes and airports to finally reach our destination of San Cristóbal. Projects Abroad staff greeted us at the airport, and we took a taxi to our host family’s home. Our host family made us feel at home and we were invited to eat lunch with them.
The next day was a Sunday and we spent our time snorkelling in Las Tijeretas and exploring the city. Snorkelling was an extremely cool experience. There were many colourful fish, vibrant crabs and playful sea lions along the beach. We explored the city and tried our first taste of street food, empanadas. Back at our guest home, we were prepared for the activities of the upcoming week.
Sea lion monitoring
At 5am, our group was driven down to a beach and given a piece of paper on which we marked the number of female, adult male, sub-adult male, juvenile, and puppy sea lions. The narrow entrance to the beach was blocked by grumpy sea lions who didn’t want to be woken. After finally getting them to move, we embarked on our task to survey the population of sea lions at three separate beaches. Upon finishing, we were driven back to our guest home where we ate breakfast and prepared for the next activity.
After breakfast, we were driven to a plantation where otoy plants, the main source of food for the giant tortoises, are grown. Working with machetes, we cut and carried about 150 kg of otoy plants back to the truck and drove to Galapaguera, the tortoise breeding sanctuary. There, we worked with machetes to cut down invasive plants inside the reserve. This was hard work, but necessary for the well-being and survival of the tortoises living on the reserve. We then carried the otoy plants to two of the ponds, where most of the tortoises stayed. Watching the giant tortoises eat was quite amazing. We also got the opportunity to feed the hatchling and young tortoises who were very cute.
Petrel nest monitoring
The next day we drove up into the highlands to monitor the nests of the endangered Galapagos petrel. As we trudged through ankle deep mud, we came across a series of nests dug into the faces of hills. We carried a large bag of rat poison with us to control an invasive rodent which has severely depleted the native population of the Galapagos petrel. Each person was assigned a task: check the nest for a hatchling or an adult, put rat poison inside a tube, or record the nest number and its activity. Slogging through the mud and climbing up vertical slopes to check nests was tiring but exhilarating work.
On one of the days, we had the privilege of being able to visit La Lobería, an amazing place and the main breeding ground of the swallow-tailed gull. We took a list of the native birds and marked down every time we saw a specific species. The walk to the top of the cliff was short but exciting. Marine iguanas lay motionless on the rock, as if frozen in time, sea lions barked at each other along the beach, and friendly yellow warblers and the famous Galapagos finches flew past and landed within touching distance.
The view from the top of the cliffs was amazing. There was a large colony of swallow-tailed gulls nesting there, along with red-billed tropicbirds. In the ocean, we saw a bunch of sea turtles near the surface of the water. La Lobería is a perfect place for photography, with swallow-tailed gulls, red-billed tropicbirds and magnificent frigatebirds.
Coral reef clean-up
On our last day, we were fortunate enough to participate in a coral reef clean-up. With our snorkel equipment on, we jumped off the pier into 55 °F or 13 °C water. Although the water was cold, the reef was amazing. The amount of fish was astounding and I was even lucky enough to spot an octopus camouflaged on a rock. The clean-up work included removal of an old pipe, a large piece of old cloth, a metal board, a soup can, bottles, ropes and plenty of rubbish that had washed into the sea.
I was also fortunate enough to interact with a playful, female sea lion underwater. On land, sea lions have little grace, but in water, they are stream-lined and agile creatures. This one decided to swim circles around me as if beckoning me to come and play with her. She even touched my goggles with her nose as if to say hello! Later that afternoon, we left to return home. It all happened so quickly and I was sad to leave the amazing island of San Cristóbal.
My overall experience
As a 15-year-old adolescent, the opportunity to visit the remote and intriguing Galapagos Islands was an experience of a lifetime. The people I met and got to work with, the animals I was able to see and the scenery of the island were all amazing aspects of my journey. To be able to work with and conserve the ecosystem and its wildlife was an opportunity I will never forget. Thank you to the Projects Abroad organisation and staff for the wonderful experience. I hope I get to come back some day!