Conservation and Environment in Ecuador: Monthly Updates
Conservation in Ecuador: Monthly Update April-May 2014
We continue our efforts in the Galapagos National Park conserving the animals and plants native to the islands and we have been able to diversify and work on the island’s highlands, coastal areas and other regions most impacted by alien and introduced species. This month we have been busy clearing areas of alien species in preparation for future reforestation, preparing organic compost, monitoring endemic species in danger of extinction, environmental education and much more.
We have started a reforestation project around the Junco lagoon found on an extinct volcano frequently visited by tourists. The area has suffered for the presence of the introduced “mora” berry (Rubeus niveus) and guayaba (Psidium guajava). Both species compete with the endemic plants for nutrients and space. At the lagoon we have reforested with Miconia robinsoniana which is an endemic species found only on the populated islands of the archipelago such as Santa Cruz and San Cristobal at an altitude of between 400-500m above sea level. This plant species is not only important as food for native wildlife but also provides ground cover for large colonies of nesting Galapagos petrels (Pterodroma phaeopygia). We worked clearing the area of invasive plants before planting over 200 saplings.
We have continued working on various different farmsteads in the preparation of organic compost. Our aim is to reduce the farmer’s use of artificial chemicals. We are teaching farmers how to prepare the compost using organic materials present on their farms such as dry leaves, fruits and guano from cows and chickens. All the components are left to ferment and after 2 months are used to fertilise the coffee plants we are growing on different farms. At the same time as using compost we clear large areas of mora and guayaba which we use to make more compost!
Our activities involving the investigation and conservation of the island’s endangered species continues as we continue to build our database on sea lions (Zalophus wollebaeki) and marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus). We have started a bird diversity study from a local tourist view point. This data is very important in comparing and analysing population dynamics and over time we can monitor the health of the bird populations and assess whether alien plant removal and endemic plant reforestation are helping endemic bird species recover the islands they once controlled.
To help the fore mentioned colonies of Galapagos petrels we are controlling the populations of rats on the island’s highlands. The rodents are ferocious hunters and will take both eggs and babies from ground nests. In addition, the presence of high numbers of rats attracts wild cats and these are direct threats to the adult birds when they return from fishing at sea. We control the rat populations with a specific poison placed inside tubes that only rats can enter. Our aim is that the reduction in the number of rats will cause an increase in the number of petrels.
Tortoise Breeding Centre
Back at the breeding centre for the giant tortoise (Chelonoidis chathamensis) we continue to help in many different ways all designed to help in the centre’s maintenance and correct management of the resident tortoises. These last few weeks we have been concentrating on the feeding and diet of the giants and also cleaning and maintaining the numerous bathing pools around the centre. The centre is being re-landscaped and we have been helping in redesigning and marking the trail system with rocks and gravel.
I am proud to report that since we took over certain maintenance duties the tortoises have had a clean bill of health, their diet is well controlled and the young hatchlings are closely monitored in their special enclosure. Elsewhere at the centre we are continuing to clear a hectare of land to plant the “otoy”. This foodstuff is a favourite of the giant tortoise and we hope to be able to grow our own food near the centre to reduce transport costs and possible scarcity when the “otoy” is not available to buy.
We continue to work in the national park plant nurseries in several activities including clearing, maintenance, compost preparation, seed preparation in plant bags, transferring plants to reforestation sites and the care of those saplings planted earlier in the year. We continue our work on Cerro Colorado where we strive to regenerate a natural forest of purely endemic species, as would have existed ancestrally.
Our own plant nursery is thriving and we have successfully germinated saplings from several plant species including cotton and coffee. The plants from our nursery are being used in local communities and schools and are important parts of our environmental education programs with the islands young children and the future of the Galapagos and its conservation.
We performed our regular beach clean-ups where we collect litter washed ashore in the areas where sea lions and marine iguanas breed thus reducing the risk to young animals. The sea will always wash up litter and this is a never ending task but an important one nonetheless.
As you can see we have been very busy over recent weeks and I look forward to bringing you more news from our patch of paradise and our efforts to conserve it… until next time!
Conservation Manager, Ecuador