Though the English naturalist Charles Darwin was not the first scientist to visit the Galapagos, his name will always be synonymous with these enchanted islands. It is here in just five short weeks that he found the evidence he sought to bond his ideas into a theory, On the Origin of the Species, published in 1859. In so doing, he forever changed the course of the Galapagos Islands history and dramatically re-framed our own.
Following the centenary of Darwin's earth-shaking event, governments and conservationists took steps to preserve his "laboratory of evolution" under the auspices of UNESCO and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. The Charles Darwin Foundation for the Conservation of the Galapagos Islands was thus established as an international scientific non-profit organization headquartered in Quito. The same year, Ecuador designated 97% of the Galapagos' land mass as a national park.
Terrestial & Marine Conservation
To carry out the Foundation's work, the Charles Darwin Research Station was established on Santa Cruz Island in Puerto Ayora, opening its doors in January of 1964. Four years later, the Galapagos National Park Service was established to manage the region. Today the research conducted at the Station is concerned with two overreaching topics--how to restore and protect the Galapagos Islands' natural biodiversity and eco-systems and how to ensure the sustainability of its marine life as both species and commercial resource.
Imported mostly by humans either intentionally or unwittingly, over 500 alien species now inhabit the Galapagos Islands. Those that are aggressive and can quickly re-produce are considered invasive because of their ability to displace native species. These artificially-introduced species are a worldwide problem, but in isolated island habitats such as the Galapagos, the threat is compounded. Without sufficient time to develop defense mechanisms against these new predators, native species can quickly become extinct.
The Station's research on native and alien species is conducted jointly by the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park Service with additional funding from UNESCO. Its findings enable effective methods to be developed for eliminating or at least mitigating the deleterious effects of artificially introduced species and for preventing the introduction of new ones.
The Station studies the extraction of marine resources by humans to determine how to control the marine populations and how best to monitor their numbers. These studies assist the Galapagos National Park Service and the Board of Shared Management in developing marine policies that balance the protection of Galapagos Islands marine species with the needs of its citizens to earn a livelihood through fishing.
The Station coordinates the work of some 200 scientists, staff and volunteers at its Galapagos facilities on the islands of Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristóbal. Its research facilities include laboratories for marine biology, entomology, vertebrate ecology, botany, environmental monitoring and insect control.
The Station maintains the world's largest museum collection of the Islands' native species, representing about 95% of its vascular plants. It oversees a native plant garden of species endemic to the Santa Cruz arid and coastal zones and maintains a plant nursery for research purposes. It conducts environmental education programs and engages resident and visiting populations in ongoing conservation efforts. It has a research vessel named "The Beagle" for use by resident and visiting scientists and a small fleet of transport boats.
Open to the Public
As an Official Visitor Site of the Galapagos National Park Service, the following of its facilities are open to the public:
The Gerard Corley Smith Library, housing the world's most extensive collection of materials about the Galapagos. The Van Stralen Interpretation and Visitors Center that provides an overview of the Galapagos Islands and the work of the Research Station. Giant tortoise corrals used for breeding, incubation and to house Lonesome George, believed to be the oldest of his species in the Galapagos before his death in 2013. A similar set of corrals for land iguanas, only some of which are open to the public. A store and food kiosk
Protecting the Galapagos Islands by furthering the research of the Darwin Foundation is a worldwide effort. The British government provides funding through its Darwin Initiative grants program, going to support such projects as the Galapagos Genetics, Epidemiology and Pathology Laboratory research on wildlife disease. Founded in 1986, the Galapagos Conservancy is a membership-based non-profit organization headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia that raises approximately $4.5 million annually. It is the only U.S. entity solely dedicated to supporting the work of the Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park Service. Nine more charitable organizations financially support and raise awareness about conserving the Galapagos. Seven are based in Europe, one in Canada and one in Japan.