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The Galápagos archipelago is one of the most biologically outstanding areas on Earth with an extraordinary concentration of endemic wildlife, and it is recognized as an international conservation priority without equal.
In 1835, Charles Darwin arrived at the Galápagos Islands and over the course of five weeks discovered an astonishing diversity of unique species found nowhere else in the world. His observations, that began on the island of San Cristóbal, laid the groundwork for what is considered one of the most important scientific breakthroughs for mankind – the theory of evolution by natural selection.
The Galápagos archipelago is one of the most biologically outstanding areas on Earth with an extraordinary concentration of endemic wildlife, and it is recognized as an international conservation priority without equal. This relatively young island chain, comprised of 127 islands, islets and rocks, was formed millions of years ago by volcanoes – some of which are still active and shifting land masses today. However, only 19 of the islands are considered large and only four are inhabited by humans. While 97 percent of the archipelago’s emerged and uninhabited landmass is protected as a national park, the four islands on which humans reside – including San Cristóbal – are extremely vulnerable to development threats. With three extinct volcanoes dominating this island, its rich soils and lush montane vegetation have long attracted farming and settlements, such as the capital of the Galápagos province, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. San Cristóbal is dominated by private properties and land conservation has been unable to get a permanent footing to restrict development and remove invasive species.
After surveys across the island, Rainforest Trust’s local partner discovered Woodpecker Finches (a species of Darwin’s finches) and a breeding population stronghold of Critically Endangered Galápagos Petrels, both of which have experienced drastic declines in recent years. The petrels burrow in the volcanic soils to nest, but are highly susceptible to the threat of habitat loss and introduced weeds. This includes non-native blackberry bushes, as petrels can get caught in the thickets when trying to fly to their nests at night. Tragically, searches for the San Cristóbal Vermilion Flycatcher failed to locate the species; as this bird was last seen in the 1980s, scientists fear it may be extinct.
To address the extinction crisis and protect the vulnerable species on San Cristóbal, our partner approached us about the imminent sale of two properties slated for development. Rainforest Trust will support our partner’s purchase of the two properties that total 568 acres to establish the Galápagos Nature Reserve, which will be the first private nature reserve in the archipelago. With this purchase and subsequent conservation efforts across the Galápagos, we will permanently secure one of the most unique, scientifically important and biologically outstanding areas on Earth.
Location: San Cristóbal, Galápagos Islands
Size: 568 acres
Key Species: San Cristóbal Giant Tortoise (VU), Galápagos Petrel (CR), Woodpecker Finch (VU) and many endemic plants and invertebrates
Habitat: Humid tropical forest, native Miconia robinsoniana forest
Threats: Deforestation for agriculture, invasive species
Action: Purchase a strategic private property to create the first private reserve in the Galápagos Islands
The Galápagos Islands are home to some of the highest levels of endemism anywhere on the planet, as over 80 percent of the land birds and 95 percent of the reptiles and terrestrial mammals are only found in this archipelago.
Unfortunately, extinction is a very real concern across the islands. The San Cristóbal Vermilion Flycatcher is the first endemic bird species of the Galápagos thought to have gone extinct, as it was last seen in 1987. One of the most iconic creatures of the Galápagos Islands is the San Cristóbal Giant Tortoise, which is considered Vulnerable by the IUCN. Much like Lonesome George (the last Pinta Tortoise from the Galápagos Island of Santa Cruz who lost his life in 2012), these giant tortoises could become extinct if proper conservation efforts are not implemented now. The proposed land purchase will protect key habitat for the Critically Endangered Galápagos Petrel and the Vulnerable Woodpecker Finch, two species endemic to the Galápagos Islands. The Galápagos Petrel nests primarily in rocky habitat along ravines that border dense Miconia and native fern cover. While the lower part of the property for sale contains invasive plant species, the upper portion contains pristine Miconia forest, representing quality habitat for the Galápagos Petrel that has plummeted in availability elsewhere on the archipelago.
The main threats to endemic species in the Galápagos are habitat loss and a lack of protected areas with appropriate management to control invasive species.
Traffic into the seaport and airport on San Cristóbal has introduced numerous exotic, invasive species, presenting significant challenges for native wildlife due to predation and competition. The introduction and spread of blackberries and West Indian Sage (Lantana camera) has altered much of the original Miconia forest on San Cristóbal with dense, thorny thickets that prevent the Galápagos Petrel from nesting. Introduced trees such as guava and livestock also modify habitat and contribute to the declining populations of native flora and fauna. On nearby Santa Cruz Island, livestock grazing and agriculture have altered almost all the Miconia forests, demonstrating the need for urgent conservation attention to mitigate these threats on San Cristóbal before it is too late. In addition to the threats caused by invasive species, the human population is growing exponentially on the Galápagos Islands due to a substantial increase in job opportunities in the tourism sector. Despite new laws regulating human migration from mainland Ecuador, this population growth continues to put pressure on remaining space and natural resources, leading to encroachment of the remaining sensitive habitat. While ecotourism can provide numerous benefits, balancing the growing needs of this sector with conservation initiatives is vital for maintaining pristine habitats worthy of ecotourism.
As the second most populous island in the Galápagos, San Cristóbal is home to approximately 5,400 residents.
The community members of San Cristóbal primarily work as fishermen, tourist operators and governmental employees. Our partner proposes to work with the local community to assist and manage an eco-volunteer program.
Thanks to the generous support of our Board members and other supporters who cover all of our operating expenses, Rainforest Trust is able to allocate 100% of donations to conservation action. No board member receives financial benefit and our staff salaries are modest.
Rainforest Trust is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
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