March 13, 2012 § 1 Comment
“Living Galapagos: The impact of man in the Galapagos Islands” is a student-authored multimedia website intended to become the primary source for Galapagos multimedia, containing a mix of science and human interest content and presented to multiple audiences worldwide for education, awareness and entertainment.
Based off the 2009 JOMC project www.livinggalapagos.org, the new site will have annual editions, presenting a mix of science and human interest content in an engaging way for viewers in the U.S., Ecuador and worldwide. It will also provide bilingual educational resources.
The annual class will learn about the islands and then travel there to produce stories with documentary video, animated information graphics, data visualization, 3-D modeling immersive media text and more. The project will have a searchable database of content, showing change on the islands over time.
“Living Galapagos” will be produced by JOMC with support from centers and institutes at UNC and University San Francisco de Quito (USFQ,) including the Center for Galapagos Studies, RENCI, the Water Institute, the Center for Global Initiatives, The Research Institute, the Institute for the Environment, and the Galapagos Institute of Arts and Sciences.
Twelve percent of marine species in tropical eastern Pacific threatened Twelve percent of marine species in tropical eastern Pacific threatened
February 24, 2012 § 1 Comment
Twelve percent of marine species surveyed in the Gulf of California, the coasts of Panama and Costa Rica and the five offshore oceanic islands and archipelagos in the tropical eastern Pacific are threatened with extinction, according to a study by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and its partners. Main threats to the region’s marine flora and fauna include over-fishing, habitat loss and increasing impacts from the El Nino Southern Oscillation.
Released this week, the study is the first IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ assessment available for all known species of marine shore-fish, marine mammals, sea turtles, sea birds, corals, mangroves and seagrasses in a major marine biogeographic region. The analysis identifies specific geographic zones where conservation efforts are needed most, including around the mouth of the Gulf of California and the coastlines of Panama and Costa Rica, while also identifying the nature and location of the greatest dangers to marine life.
“Understanding species vulnerability to major threats is paramount for determining how species and marine environments are likely to respond to one or more simultaneous threats,” says Beth Polidoro, Research Associate, IUCN Marine Biodiversity Unit, and lead author of the study. “Identification of threatened species and patterns of threat in the tropical eastern Pacific region can help guide local and regional marine conservation priorities for biodiversity conservation, as well as serve to inform policy.”
In recent years, at least 20 marine species have gone extinct around the world, and more than 133 local populations of marine species have suffered a similar fate. These include the disappearance of the endemic Galapagos Damselfish (Azurina eupalama) during the events of El Niño from 1982-1983. Drastic declines have also been documented across several marine groups, including many populations of commercial fish, coral reef fish, reef-building corals, mangroves, and seagrasses. Two commercial marine fish, the Totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi) and the Giant Sea Bass (Stereolepis gigas) are listed as Critically Endangered, and were once common in the waters of southern California and the Gulf of California, Mexico. Both species are extremely desirable for human consumption but have limited ability to cope with severe over-fishing because they have long life spans and the large groups they form when spawning are often targeted by fishers—reducing the chances of rebuilding sustainable populations.
“Saving threatened species is the single most important thing we can do to safeguard ocean health, which benefits millions of people that depend on thriving and productive oceans,” says Scott Henderson, Regional Director of Marine Conservation at Conservation International and co-author of the study. “This new study is a monumental scientific effort which gives governments and support organizations the information needed to focus conservation dollars on the species, places and problems that need help the most.”
The findings reinforce that conservation action is needed for both marine species and the geographic areas where they are most threatened. For example, the creation of a marine protected area around Clipperton Island in the eastern Pacific Ocean should be a high priority, as it has one of the highest proportions of threatened species in the tropical eastern Pacific, and is the only one of the five oceanic islands and archipelagos in the region that lacks complete governmental protection. Legislation to limit mangrove removal from important fishery nursing grounds along the coasts of Costa Rica and Panama is also vital, according to the study. Additionally, better data collection, reporting and monitoring for both targeted and by-catch fisheries species should be an urgent priority for the improvement of marine conservation efforts throughout the region.
“There are tangible steps that we can take to curtail the risk of extinction of species in the tropical eastern Pacific,” says Tom Brooks, NatureServe’s Chief Scientist. “For example, for the few fishery species that are threatened, we must work towards better management on both local and regional scales. We can make a difference, but first we must collect and use the valuable data available.”
February 16, 2012 § Leave a comment
Great last minute dive special on the Deep Blue March 19 – 26, 2012 on $2999 per person – $1000 off the low season rate
PM: Arrival to San Cristobal – lunch and check out dive at Isla Lobos
AM: 2 Dives Punta Carrion
PM: Santa Cruz Highlands
AM: 2 Dives Cousins
PM: Charles Darwin Research Station
AM: Interpretation Center & departure from San Cristobal
Space is limited
February 15, 2012 § 1 Comment
A great new iphone app that to download before heading to the Galapagos…
A new application for the iPhone allows users to identify shore fishes of the tropical Eastern Pacific. The app is a powerful tool for scientists, divers and tour guides. It includes unique fish-finding and list-making tools, in addition to range maps. The tropical Eastern Pacific, spanning the area from Mexico’s Baja California to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, is one of three great global centers of marine biodiversity. Until the 1990s there was no guide to the fish in this region. The iPhone app evolved from “Fishes of the Tropical Eastern Pacific,” a guide published in 1994 by Gerald R. Allen, a consultant for Conservation International, and D. Ross Robertson, a Smithsonian staff scientist. The book featured detailed descriptions of nearly 700 species and led to the first Spanish-language guide in 1998.
“Now, not only can you carry the means to identify almost 1,300 species in your pocket, this application surpasses many of the currently available field guides in its ability to create and share lists that correspond to specific regions or field trips,” said Robertson. “We also made it portable: The information is all in your phone so you don’t need to be connected to a server to use it…important when you are out at sea.”
iPhone users can browse alphabetic lists by species and family, use identification keys and perform a combination search on name, location, shape, pattern and color characteristics to identify unknown fishes. The notebook module serves two functions: users can keep track of the species that they have recently seen and keep annotated lists of fish from different sites that are then organized in folders; they can also export lists by email.
Each species page includes common and scientific names, images of the species, a detailed description, key features used to distinguish it from other species and a map of its range in the tropical Eastern Pacific. The information is also stored in the app’s database and can be used for specific searches. A glossary of scientific terms makes the guide accessible to students and lay-people, and information about the extinction risk status, based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, is available to resource managers and conservationists.
The iPhone application, created by Robertson with funds from the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, is available as a free download in Apple’s App Store.
February 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
Hundreds of species never before seen in a Peruvian national park have been found during an inventory of the Amazonian forests there, according to a conservation group.
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced today the discovery of 365 species previously undocumented in Bahuaja Sonene National Park in southeastern Peru. More than a dozen researchers inventoried the park’s plant life, insects, birds, mammals and reptiles. The species found are known to exist elsewhere, but have never been seen inside Bahuaja Sonene.
The discovery included 30 undocumented bird species, including the black-and-white hawk eagle, Wilson’s phalarope and ash-colored cuckoo. The survey also found two undocumented mammals — Niceforo’s big-eared bat and the Tricolored Bat — as well as 233 undocumented species of butterflies and moths. This expedition was the first time that research of this scale has been carried out in Bahuaja Sonene National Park since it was created in 1996, according to the WCS.
”The discovery of even more species in this park underscores the importance of ongoing conservation work in this region,” said Julie Kunen, WCS director of Latin America and Caribbean Programs. “This park is truly one of the crown jewels of Latin America’s impressive network of protected areas.”
Bahuaja Sonene National Park contains more than 600 bird species including seven different types of macaw, more than 180 mammal species, more than 50 reptiles and amphibian species, 180 fish varieties and 1,300 types of butterfly.
Since the 1990s, the WCS has been working in Tambopata and Bahuaja Sonene Parks in Peru, and Madidi, Pilon Lajas and Apolobamba Parks in neighboring Bolivia. The Greater Madidi Landscape of Bolivia and Peru spans more than 15,000 square miles of the tropical Andes and is considered to be the most biodiverse region on earth.
The past decade saw a boom in new species discovered in the Amazon. On average, a new species was discovered every three days from 1999 to 2009, according to the conservation group WWF.
February 6, 2012 § 1 Comment
After finding the descendants of a species of giant tortoises believed extinct from the Galapagos Islands for 150 years, Yale researchers are hoping to save the species.
In an expedition to Isabela Island led by Adalgisa Caccone GRD ’86, senior research scientist in ecology and evolutionary biology, the researchers found 84 tortoises whose genes show that one of their parents is a member of the supposedly extinct species, C. elephantopus. Published Jan. 9 in the journal “Current Biology,” the subsequent report stated that at least 38 purebred individuals of that species are still alive, and Caccone said she hopes to return to the Galapagos to find them.
“We can bring back a species from near extinction,” said Caccone. “If we can find these individuals in a larger expedition, we can return the species to its [original state] and reestablish the ecological equilibrium.”
Thirty of the turtle descendants were younger than 15 years old, and since giant tortoises often live over 100 years, this data suggests some parents are still alive. Carefully breeding the hybrids may also allow scientists to revive the C. elephantopus species even if the purebreds cannot be found, Caccone added.
The study claimed to be the first to rediscover a supposedly extinct species by analyzing the DNA of its offspring, though Caccone said in an interview with the News that her team simply applied standard analytical techniques.
“We had access to a large database that included the genetic fingerprints of [diverse giant tortoise] species, including extinct data,” Caccone said. “It was a huge effort, and a lot of undergraduates helped us with the project [to analyze all the samples].”
The team accumulated blood samples from over 1,600 tortoises, around 20 percent of the total tortoise population on Isabela Island, and compared the DNA to a genetic database of tortoise species. They found close correlations to the extinct species, identifying 84 direct descendants.
When Charles Darwin explored the islands in 1835, he found fifteen species of giant tortoises. Since only eleven species remain in the Galapagos today, Caccone said it is important to halt this rapid extinction. The differentiation Darwin saw between similar species on different islands, such as finches, was crucial in the development of his theory of evolution.
The giant tortoise is the only grazing herbivore native to the Galapagos, and plays an important ecological role, Caccone said, by helping to keep vegetative growth in check. On some islands where tortoise populations have dwindled, invasive plants and overgrowth have become a problem, she said.
On Floreana, the “extinct” species’ native island, the ecosystem is out of equilibrium. Caccone speculated that the tortoise was likely transported to Isabela aboard a ship as food, and then left on the island. Meanwhile the population on Floreana was wiped out due to hunting by whalers, pirates and local workers during the 19th Century.
University of British Columbia biology Professor Michael Russello, who contributed to the study, said he looks forward to a future expedition to the Galapagos that will allow conservationists to establish a breeding program and restore the species to Floreana.
“The return of tortoises to Floreana would [help] to restore the native flora and fauna of the island,” Russello said.
George Amato GRD ’94, director of the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics at the American Museum of Natural History, called the study “exciting” and “very significant.” He added that he is optimistic about the likelihood of finding the parents and hopeful about seeing the research translate into measurable conservation initiatives.
Even if purebred members of C. elephantopus cannot be found, Russello and Amato said the 84 offspring found may cumulatively have enough genetic variation to design a breeding program that would revive the species.
Ths project could provide a case study of how to restore extinct species from their close descendants.
“Success with this one species will give hope and a practical example for future conservation efforts, maintaining public interest in conservation that is essential for [receiving] funding and [influencing] political or community organizations,” said Brittney Kajdacsi ’11, a lab assistant to Caccone.
The giant tortoise is among the largest reptiles and longest-living animals on Earth, thought to have arrived on the Galapagos Islands from Ecuador about 1 million years ago.
For more on this topic read our Blog The Evolution of Extinction
February 6, 2012 § 1 Comment
A Commission of Ecuador’s National Assembly today began debate on a draft amendment to the special law that applies in the Galapagos Islands, which includes regulations for tourism in the archipelago declared Natural Patrimony of Humanity.
The draft law suggests the formation of a Governing Council in the Galapagos (which is also one of the 24 provinces of Ecuador), headed by a delegate or governor appointed by the Executive.
The Autonomous Government Committee of the Assembly in a statement that will analyze in detail the legislative proposal and did not rule out “socializing” or share the discussion with the inhabitants of the archipelago.
The reform promoted by the government, prohibits the award of a package of tourism operation to a single person and establish a five-year ban on the construction or adaptation of tourist accommodation, while a record is made of operators.
It also suggests conducting a census tourism in the archipelago, that during 2011, according to official figures, received 170,000 visitors.
In the Galapagos is home to about 25,000 people, most of them linked to tourism.
However, that figure is too high for many environmental groups, who believe that people should not be greater than 20,000, to protect the delicate biodiversity of the archipelago.
The project, which contains 58 articles and nine transitional provisions, also includes changes in immigration categories that currently are temporary residents, permanent, tourists and visitors.
It also proposes to fishing regulations and issues related to biosecurity and sustainable tourism in the reserve.
Located a few hundred miles west of the continental coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos archipelago encompasses a marine reserve and land of 132,000 square kilometers, of which less than 3 percent is used by man.
In July 2010 the Galapagos were removed from a list of “heritage in danger” of Unesco, which had entered in 2007 due to increased tourism, immigration and the introduction of foreign species.
Ecuadorian Environment Minister Marcela Aguinaga said then that the output of the danger list did not imply the absence of threat and therefore required a greater response of institutions and the island population to improve standards of conservation.
The Galapagos were declared in 1978 as a World Heritage Site, are named after large tortoises that inhabit them.