Volunteer Review: Young J., Galapagos Island Conservation in Ecuador
Arriving in Ecuador
From 3 June to 17 June this summer, I traveled to the Galapagos Islands in order to work as a Conservation volunteer. For two weeks, eleven volunteers from all over the world worked with plants, tortoises, seabirds and sea lions. It was the best time of my life because I was doing what I loved doing. It was always my dream to visit the Galapagos Islands, because their ecology is unique and it is the birthplace of Darwin’s theory of evolution. I am not the only person who feels this way and ten other volunteers from around the world came to do the same thing.
Traveling was a big concern because I had to take three separate flights on my way to the island. From San Francisco International Airport I flew to San Cristobal Island via New York and Guayaquil, Ecuador. It was my first time traveling alone, so I expected some difficulty in the transfer process. Furthermore, the majority of the Guayaquil airport employees did not speak English. They spoke Spanish and I had to make do with my two years of Spanish classes in school.
My Conservation Project
My job was to work with the plants and animals of the island in our effort to protect them. The first job I did was feeding the land tortoises at the Galapaguera breeding facility. The facility protects 38 adult land tortoises and breeds them to maintain their wild population. Many of the tortoises were over three feet long and were more than sixty years old. The tortoises eat large stalks of endemic plants and the volunteers carried the four feet long stalks into open areas for the tortoises to eat. As we put down the stalks one by one, those that were near us came lumbering over to eat.
After this, we walked around inside the large fenced environment to record the location and check the health of the adult tortoises. Another job was to cut invasive plant species in the mountains at the center of the island. The thorny vines of blackberry plants, which were introduced to the island less than thirty years ago, covered a large part of the landscape. We were each handed a machete, two feet long, to cut the vines to clear space for the endemic plant species. It was hard work that caused blisters to form on many of our hands and we found ourselves looking forward to feeding tortoises instead.
My favorite activity was counting sea birds at their nesting area by the sea. We had to get up at five in the morning to be able to watch the birds before they went out to sea to feed. It was a long walk along a narrow path made of large, rough volcanic rock. We arrived at a cliff that towered above the waves and we were able to see several species of seabirds including seagulls, frigates and boobies.
The Galapagos Islands were the birthplace of Darwin’s theory of evolution and today remain a unique ecological marvel. As we can see from Darwin’s books, he was astounded by the immense biological significance that the organisms of the islands had when he visited Galapagos in 1835. Perhaps the islands are even more important nowadays when a lot of the earth’s environment has been severely disrupted. However, the environment in Northern California is no less important than that of the Galapagos Islands.
We should work toward keeping humanity aware of the importance of conserving nature wherever we are in the world. By keeping us aware of the importance of conservation efforts worldwide, I hope to keep planet Earth healthy.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.