Restoring the Past in the Galapagos

Restoring the Past in the Galapagos

Giant tortoises are one of the best known animals in the Galapagos Islands. And, for nature lovers who choose wildlife holidays in the Galapagos, this is one of the most sought-after encounters. Like many other animals, however, despite its iconic status as the world’s largest tortoise, it faces the challenge of survival, and is now extinct or nearly extinct on several islands in the archipelago.
Of the 14 native populations, only eleven are left – with many of them considered to be highly threatened. The GTRI (The Giant Tortoise Recovery Initiative) is a conservation project  aimed at changing the flow and restoring its population across the island. Restoring the Past in the Galapagos

GTRI work

Established in 2014, GTRI has worked closely with the Directorate of National Parks to achieve a number of objectives. The long-term goals of the initiative include:

• Restoring population to historical summits throughout the archipelago. This includes breeding programs to recover the islands where endemic subspecies have become extinct. Restoring the Past in the Galapagos

• Rejuvenate and restore the required habitat.

• Survey of current population to inform future conservation research and efforts.

• Use genetic advances to improve future conservation programs.

Why Do They Need Help?

In an environment where it has no natural predators for millions of years, the Giant Turtles become the animals most affected by human arrivals on the islands. For years, they were used as a food source by settlers and maritime tourists, who managed to find out that they were able to survive for long at sea. They transport them aboard in holding the ship, and then kill them as needed.

In addition to being a source of food, the population is devastated by the introduction of animals such as dogs, goats, cows and pigs. Dogs and pigs loot eggs and hatchlings, while cattle and goats compete with the turtle’s own food source.

Although it is illegal to catch them today, and introduce animals gradually controlled or removed, in some cases too late. But generating an extinct subspecies, such as endemic disease on the island of Floreana, becomes a reality in itself by GTRI’s deductive work.

Progress Created

Species from Floreana Island have been deemed extinct since 1850. But thanks to advances in DNA testing, scientists were able to determine their genetic traces in 2008. They then tested the hybrid population on Wolf Isabela volcano island that has different DNA, and found that it fits well the extinct Floreana species. How this cross-crossing takes place is a mystery, although the most likely explanation is through human intervention, perhaps by dismantling them among the different islands.

A group of 30 have been transferred to a research center in Santa Cruz, where scientists can analyze their DNA even further. It was found that two were classified F1, meaning that they were descended from two elderly races. Through a breeding program, GTRI now intends to refill Floreana Island with the offspring of these animals – effectively bringing the species back from the dead.

Visit the Past and Future on Holidays in the Galapagos

Thanks to GTRI, past species are now closely related to their future, and it is highly likely that populations can be restored to their natural habitat. Visitors to wildlife vacations in the Galapagos can visit the Tortoise Center in Santa Cruz to see the resurrection of Tortoise Giant Floreana in (albeit very slowly). Restoring the Past in the Galapagos

The Evolution of Cormoran Without Flight

The Evolution of Cormoran Without Flight

The animals of the Galapagos Islands are famous for some of the most unique in the world. With a high number of endemic species, wildlife vacations in the Galapagos offer nature lovers a glimpse of true evolutionary microcosms. Many species have adapted to this unique and remote environment by developing characteristics that enable them to survive in harsh and diverse conditions. Of all the species, though, few adapt to unusual ways like non-flying birds. The Evolution of Cormoran Without Flight
Flight cormoran

On his exploration of the archipelago, the naturalist Charles Darwin was fascinated by the discovery of a cormorant with wings so that it was not proportional to its size so it could not fly. At that time, Darwin was formulating his amazing theory of evolution and natural selection, and he believed that environmental change could result in the loss of birds’ ability to fly. In modern studies of bird DNA, scientists have discovered that, more than two million years ago, it also underwent genetic changes, resulting in a small wing that made it impossible to fly. The Evolution of Cormoran Without Flight

Story Two Halves

While Darwin observes that many evolutionary changes occur in the archipelago that can contribute to the process of natural selection of the species, scientists have gone a long way to deciphering changes in birds at the molecular level. The Evolution of Cormoran Without Flight

Characterized by its short, thin wings, this is the largest of all world cormorants, and the only one of 40 species that can not fly. However, this is a very strong swimmer, and capable of diving for fish. From his observation of this characteristic, Darwin hypothesized that, with the loss of flight, the bird had developed another skill that enabled it to survive – a process now known as positive selection.

Another possibility is that birds lose their ability to fly just because they have no predators to escape, and they do not need to migrate to breed. It is also possible that the change occurred as a result of a combination of these two reasons.

Through a project in which relationships are found between genetic changes in bird DNA and changes in the structure of certain proteins in the body, scientists identify the existence of a gene called CUX1. The gene structure in the cormoran from the archipelago is different from other species capable of flying, so scientists can conclude that its existence alters the function of certain proteins, which affect the size of the wings. They also found that bird DNA showed high mutations affecting the cilia, which play an important role in the development of skeletal and bone growth. The Evolution of Cormoran Without Flight

Research into whether genetic mutations of the non-operable cormorants shared by other non-flying birds is under way, but the same type of genetic change has been found to cause problems in the development of the human skeleton. Findings from the work of researchers with birds have the potential to lead to new treatments for serious bone disorders in humans.

Discover the unique Cormorent Flightless Cormorant on Holidays in the Galapagos

For those visiting the wildlife resort of Galapagos, more than 1,000 pairs of birds can be seen on the islands of Isabela and Fernandina. They can be observed diving for food around the ocean, using their muscular feet to push them down into the water. A growing (and increasing) population is a reminder that, as always, the Universe is full of surprises.

Live in the Dry Season in the Galapagos

Live in the Dry Season in the Galapagos

Usually, the word “dry season” conjures up arid vision, inadequate. But for the outlying islands of the Galapagos Islands, the dry season is nothing boring.
Unlike some other destinations around the world, the dry moon is actually an ideal time for nature lovers to start a wildlife voyage in the Galapagos. It does not experience a typical tropical climate, and between July and December is actually a time of great activity, migration and breeding. Live in the Dry Season in the Galapagos

What Happens During The Dry Moon?

The archipelago has two distinct seasons: dry and wet. The season here is directly influenced by the cold Humboldt Current, which mixes with warm water from the equatorial currents and causes the rich nutrients (from Humboldt) to rise to the surface. During the dry period of six months, currents are driven toward the island by prevailing trade winds, which have a profound effect on local ecology.

Animal Sea Abundance

With an abundant supply of food, marine life is growing rapidly at this time. Along with the number of fish that can be seen in shallow waters, the population of sharks, octopi, rays and crustaceans swells to a greater proportion. For sea turtles, this is the time of breeding in the prime and December marking the start of their nesting season. Live in the Dry Season in the Galapagos

High Height

The height of various volcanic islands means, even in the dry months, there is significant rainfall in some areas. On the plateau, the drizzle and mist of moist known as Garúa is a constant presence and, while under the conditions at the bottom is quite arid, fertile and tropical highlands. Therefore, large numbers of animals – like the Giant Turtles – migrate to higher ground for food. While this seasonal movement occurs on a smaller scale than Africa’s “big migration”, it is the same principle. To find very active wildlife, most trips to wildlife voyages in the Galapagos at this time of the year will include trips to several island plateaues.

Breeding time

Surprisingly, temperatures are lower during the dry months, and during this cold weather many species choose to breed. It is very common among bird species and, when their young are hatched, large numbers of small fish in the surrounding waters serve as a reliable source of food. Boobies, Frigate and Flightless Cormorants begin their marriage early in the dry season, and their numbers increase as the gliders begin to appear in the following months.

Other species that have a higher profile during this breeding period are the unique Lava lizards, migrant sharks, flamingoes, sea lions, penguins, whales and dolphins.

Dry Moon End

At the end of December, as the Humboldt Current slows and rises in temperature, there is a shift in wildlife activity that is clear as the second season of the archipelago – a wet approach. For those planning a wildlife voyage in the Galapagos, no time in a year is a bad time, but the dry season can be a fun and enjoyable time to visit.

Live in the Dry Season in the Galapagos