Galapagos Island Conservation Volunteering in Ecuador
- 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
- Requirements: None
- Main Research Focus: Giant tortoises, sea lions, Galapagos birds, and eradication of invasive species
- Local Environment: Island
- Accommodation: Shared volunteer housing
- Length of placement: From 1 week
- Start dates: Flexible
Volunteering in the Galapagos Islands with Projects Abroad is a gateway for you to experience living and working in one of the most naturally diverse environments on earth. In fact, Ecuador has been named by ecologists as one of the world’s “mega-diversity hotspots” and the Galapagos Islands, which are 1000km (621 miles) off Ecuador’s Pacific coast, are home to hundreds of unique species of flora and fauna. This varied range of wildlife is famous for helping Charles Darwin formulate his theory of evolution.
Our volunteers live and work in the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on the island of San Cristobal in the Galapagos archipelago, where they work closely with the Galapagos National Park to help protect endangered species.
One of the greatest threats to the Galapagos Islands is the alien species of plants and animals brought in on boats and planes by humans. These alien species compete with 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, we could lose these species forever.
Conserving and Protecting Native Species with Projects Abroad
At the Galapagos Island Conservation Project, we work in partnership with the Galapagos National Park. The overall aim is to contribute to the conservation and preservation of the unique and abundant marine and terrestrial ecosystems through crucial research and practical hands-on work.
You have a vital role to play at this project by getting involved with a wide range of activities, such as eradicating introduced species, beach clean-ups, and species population monitoring. This will involve hiking to areas where the animals can be found and collecting data during animal observation.
Most of our monitoring work focuses on sea birds, particularly the Galapagos Petrel, an endangered sea bird that is endemic to the Galapagos. This bird is unique and builds its nest in specific habitats dominated by the native Miconia plants. However, human settlements have introduced 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.
You will also have the opportunity to work at the Galapagos National Park’s giant tortoise breeding center. This is the only protected area on the islands where giant tortoises, which are endemic to the Galapagos, are kept safe and bred. Here, you will assist with locating nests, cleaning ponds, feeding, removing invasive plant species, and general maintenance of the reserve. In addition, the National Park performs population surveys, which volunteers contribute to by collecting biometric data.
Volunteers also have another role at the breeding center. Projects Abroad is responsible for a two hectare plot of land at the center and volunteers help with cultivation and maintenance. This land produces the otoi plant, which is an important part of the tortoises’ staple diet. The goal here is to reduce the cost of the center to the park service by making them self-sufficient.
Habitat restoration work also plays a major role in our volunteers’ work on the island. Projects Abroad maintains a nursery that focuses on producing indigenous plants to be introduced throughout the island. Some of your time as a volunteer will be dedicated to eradicating invasive species and replacing them with indigenous species grown at our nursery. We are working with many endemic species but are concentrating on mangrove trees which are essential to the coastal regions of the island.
The local community is a significant part of conserving the future of the Galapagos Islands. Therefore, one of the most important responsibilities of our volunteers is to work together with local people. One way of doing this is by becoming involved in education programs designed to deliver the message of conservation to local school children.
Your Role as a Conservation Volunteer in Ecuador
A typical week’s work as a volunteer may include:
- Galapagos Petrel Protection – The Galapagos Petrel nests in protected areas, such as Laguna del Junco and Cerro San Joaquin. In these places, you will help with rat control (helping to diminish the effects of rat attacks on Petrel eggs and nests), removing invasive plant species, and monitoring nests to assess the success of our work and bird behavior within the colonies.
- Giant Tortoise Breeding Center – We are involved with helping out at this project through maintaining the land, locating nests and eggs, and cleaning ponds.
- Bird surveys We currently operate two independent studies. One is at Cerro Colorado and the other focuses on marine birdlife. 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.
- Marine Iguana surveys 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.
- Working with plants at the nursery – Projects Abroad has its own nursery which focuses on producing indigenous plants to be distributed throughout the island. 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.
- Controlling induced plants – Volunteers work on the manual control of introduced plants, such as Blackberry, Guava, and Supirrosa, in the protected areas in the upper part of the island, such as Laguna del Junco, Cerro San Joaquin, La Commune, the tortoise breeding center, and Cerro Colorado. These plants are altering the ecosystems of the Galapagos and displacing native species of endemic plants like the Miconia, and are competing for food, light, nutrients, and geographical space. The Zirconia plant is only found on this island and is in danger of extinction due to the introduced species such as the blackberry as well as the impact of agriculture and livestock.
- Education Program – It is paramount that we continue to bring awareness and educate the local children and community on the conservation issues surrounding their home. Volunteers are involved in preparing and giving workshops and holding conservation awareness days in the local schools and community centers in and around the town of Puerto Baquerizo.
- Beach clean ups - Volunteers will be involved in beach clean ups in areas that people frequent. The goals are to keep these areas free of oceanic garbage and ensure that these species are less likely to die because of contact with dangerous garbage.
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 will generally work from Monday to Friday and occasionally on Saturday mornings if there is work to be done.
You can read more detailed information about the aims of the project in our Ecuador Conservation Management Plan.
Working with Sea Lions in the Galapagos Islands
We also offer the opportunity to work with the National Park on a Sea Lion Monitoring Project. This program is separated into two parallel studies: one is a project that Projects Abroad has been running since 2013 and involves monitoring the populations of sea lions in and around 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 takes place under the supervision of the National Park staff. It involves collecting similar data to our own project but in more remote areas of the island and may include a rescue program to prevent and save the animals from getting stuck in the fishing nets.
This is a full-time option at the Conservation Project, and volunteers will work five days a week. No previous experience is needed, as you will receive the specialized training you need during your first week. If you are volunteering for less than a month in the Galapagos, you will not be able to join this project full-time, but you will be able to go at least once to learn what the project involves.
You will need to commit to a minimum of four weeks on the project if you would like to work with sea lions and you will also need to speak basic Spanish.
There is an option available for volunteers who want to experience working with sea lions, but who are at the project for fewer than four weeks. You can choose to add working with sea lions to your weekly activities. For example, you can work with sea lions two to three times a week for a few hours, and join the other activities on other days. As a part-time volunteer with sea lions you will receive the same training that volunteers working full-time with sea lions receive. Let us know if this is an option you would like to take.
Living on the Galapagos Islands with Projects Abroad
During your placement, you will live in shared volunteer housing. This will allow you to get to know the other volunteers on your project, and is an opportunity to make life long friends from around the world.
In your free time during the weekends and evenings there are numerous beautiful beaches where you can swim, surf, snorkel, or relax with a book. There are also wonderful opportunities to visit the other islands or take part in deep sea diving and snorkeling where it is possible to see (but not touch) sharks and sea turtles.
The Galapagos Island Conservation Project in Ecuador is available for less than a month if you don't have time to join us for a month or more. This project has been selected by our local colleagues as being suitable for shorter durations for both the host community and the volunteer. Although you will gain valuable cultural insight and work intensely within the local community please be aware that you may not be able to make the same impact as someone participating for a longer period.
If you are a high school student and first-time traveler you may want to consider our High School Special programs in Ecuador.
The sea lions are certainly one of the most memorable things for me and probably the thing I miss most. They are quite literally everywhere and at night they all come and sleep on the main street and on the benches. In my first week I witnessed one giving birth on the pavement at 5:30 in the morning, something I will never forget! Read more...