Monday, May 31, 2010

Project Espanola (in partial support of Project Pinta)

After months of preparation and a full day of training today here on Isla Santa Cruz, tomorrow morning at 5 AM yet another Galapagos Conservancy-sponsored expedition departs for Espanola. This one involves 24 Galapagos National Park guards covering the island searching for tortoises, albatross, and cactus for 10 days. It's pretty rough country. Espanola lost virtually all of its tortoises at one point, with the 15 remaining kept in captivity for the last 40 or so years where they have produced over 2,000 offspring that have been released back to the island. In the meantime goats, which were destroying the island's terrestrial ecosystems, have been eradicated. Lacking goats and tortoises, however, the woody vegetation has taken off, such that much of the island is a nearly impenetrable thicket. This may be a serious issue for the waved albatross, the world's only tropical albatross, that essentially only nests on Espanola. We are trying to discover how many albatross still nest in the interior areas and how are coping with the increase in woody vegetation. We are also surveying the giant arboreal cacti, which have not recovered well since the goats were removed for reasons not obvious. But a major focus is simply to get a precise estimate of how many tortoises are alive among the 2000+ that have been released. What does any of this have to do with Project Pinta? The Espanola tortoises are very closely related genetically to the Pinta tortoise. By determining how many tortoises are currently on Espanola the Galapagos National Park can consider that information in deliberations about what reproductive tortoises to eventually put on Pinta. Espanola tortoises might be a good option but only if relocating some of them to Pinta does not harm the re-establishing Espanola population. Basically we just need a good population estimate for Espanola - that will clarify the situation a great deal and whether translocating Espanola tortoises is even an option. So tomorrow we depart with maps and GPS to work in 7 teams of three to scour the island. We will surely learn a great deal and will share some of what was learned when we return in 11 days...

- James Gibbs, Isla Santa Cruz

1 comment:

  1. I am looking forward to reports along the "road" This should yield great information. Don't forget to note down blue footed boobys, as our Swiss Friends are anxious to know their status as well. Best of luck!