Conservation & Environment, Galapagos Island Conservation in Ecuador by Jake Robson-Tull
It is only when you see San Cristobal from the air that you realise how large and remote the island is. Projects Abroad staff greeted me at the airport, and after a quick taxi ride we arrived at my home for the next two months. My host family were lovely and excited to meet me; from the moment I arrived they were exceptionally welcoming. They immediately introduced me to the members of their household and the other volunteers. Afterwards, Projects Abroad introduced me to my project and then gave me a brief tour around the town. It was such a surprise to see sea lions casually lounging on the beaches!
Tortoise breeding sanctuary
My project officially began on the Monday following my arrival and started with a trip to La Galapaguera, the tortoise breeding sanctuary on the other side of the island. Once there, we divided ourselves into two groups – one group collected otoy (the plant that the tortoises feed on) and another helped control the invasive lantana plant species that is present at La Galapaguera. I helped to machete the lantana which was tough work. Once the otoy had been collected by the other group, we proceeded to feed the juvenile tortoises; this was by far the most rewarding part of the morning.
Animal species monitoring and conservation
That afternoon, we had to carrying out monitoring on various animal species in the surrounding area of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. We monitored bird and iguana populations at different locations. We then finished the day with a milkshake from Tongo Reef which became a daily occurrence throughout my stay!
The next seven weeks were some of the most exciting and varied weeks that I have ever experienced. Apart from regular work at La Galapaguera, every week was a different experience. In the initial weeks of my placement, I helped control invasive plant species at El Junco (the lagoon in the highlands), and every two weeks we assisted with the control of the rat population. This involved a sometimes very muddy hike through the highlands and vegetation cover to replenish the rat traps. We carried this out to stop the rats from feeding on the petrel bird eggs. It was extremely rewarding to know that we were making a difference in the survival of this bird species.
If you join for an extended period, you will likely get involved in the sea lion monitoring programme. After training with the national park office, it was our job to determine the sea lion populations and differentiate between alpha males, females, juveniles and pups. This meant an initially challenging 5am wake up so we could start work at 5.30am. We started with an hour or so counting sea lions before heading off to the office for more work! Every morning, we would change the area we surveyed and if we were fast enough, there would be enough time for a trip to the bakery and perhaps a milkshake from Tongo Reef. I did this for a month and thoroughly enjoyed myself.
We also carried out monitoring on other parts of the island (or other islands if you are lucky). Occasionally, the national park will survey different animal species around the island at once. For us, this meant a boat trip to the north, east and south of the island to help. This was a fantastic experience and we got to see some parts of the island that tourists would never get the opportunity to see. Punta Pitt was by far one of the prettiest places that I visited in the Galapagos and it has nesting one of the most amazing birds out there, the blue-footed boobie.
Construction of the new conservation centre
On other days, we carried out construction work at the soon-to-be conservation centre. We were responsible for the construction of the greenhouse which we built from bamboo, cement and beer bottles! It was tough work but I was amazed at the progress we made in such a short period. We helped clear the land and plant otoy for our otoy plantation, carried out beach clean-ups and enjoyed talks from national park rangers and guides.
Living in San Cristobal
San Cristobal had the perfect mix of hustle and bustle in a small town and the tranquillity that you would expect from visiting somewhere so remote. You will always have something to do on this island in your free time. During the week we spent most of our free time strolling along the Malécon (the waterfront), relaxing on the beach, snorkelling, playing basketball and taking well-deserved siestas!
The weekends were equally busy. One weekend, we took a trip to Santa Cruz and Isabela to explore the sights on the other islands – I would definitely recommend doing this if you have the time. Each island is unique and you’ll be able to see flamingos and possibly penguins on Isabela! On the other weekends, we did a variety of things from snorkelling at Las Tijeretas, to walking to Playa Baquerizo and going on a 360 island tour which the Projects Abroad staff helped us arrange. We visited some amazing beaches, saw plenty of sea turtles and swam with the sharks.
If you are looking for places to eat out, there are a few places to choose from. The food at restaurants range from traditional plantain balls (a must try) to Italian pizza and even sushi! If you are looking to relax in the evening, there are a variety of bars that you can visit; there are even two nightclubs on the island. San Cristobal is an island packed with activities and places to go. There is something for everyone.
My conservation project was an unforgettable experience and I am so glad that I chose the Galapagos Islands. To be given the chance to work with the national park and helping them preserve the precious ecosystems was a very fulfilling opportunity. I cannot thank the Projects Abroad staff enough for making my time in the Galapagos so enjoyable, and I cannot wait for the day I return.
Advice to future volunteers
- Bring lots of sunscreen (it is very expensive on the island and you do not want to get sunburnt).
- Be prepared to get dirty. Your work clothes are guaranteed to get dirty and chances are, some of the stains will not wash out!
- Bring decent, hard-wearing footwear like walking boots. I initially used my trainers quite a bit and they became worn out very quickly from all the walking we did. If you do bring walking boots, ensure that they fit very well!
- If you plan on visiting between July and September, bring warm clothing as it can get quite chilly in the highlands on occasion.
Other than that, make sure that you enjoy yourself!