Expanding science and knowledge on the largest island of the Galapagos

I have been very lucky to visit Galapagos numerous times, first as a volunteer at the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) and then at the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF). At the start of 2016 I returned to support the Foundation’s work as a “Local Liaison Coordinator” on Isabela, the largest island in the Galapagos. I liked the idea of coming back and helping the Foundation, which has a long history of scientific advice for the management of the conservation of the Galapagos Islands.

Even though CDF has its main office on Santa Cruz Island, its projects are executed throughout the archipelago. It has always been important to have bases on other islands to expand its mission and this has been part of CDF’s strategic vision. Near the end of 2016 it was decided that we needed to renew CDF’s presence on Isabela, because the very last time we had a base in Puerto Villamil was from 1980s until it closed down at the end of the 2000s. I was sent to Isabela in order to restore contact with the local community, establish bases and carry out activities in the future.

“I remember when the Foundation worked [on Isabela], groups of children of all ages would come together and they would be taught about conservation issues. It’s a pity they left. We hope that now they are back they can bring back these kinds of activities that we badly need on Isabela.” — Jackeline Murillo (Resident of Isabela)

Jacinto Gordillo, former manager of the Isabela Office in Puerto Villamil.

Isabela is the largest island in Galapagos, but has a population of only approximately 3,000 inhabitants. Of the inhabited islands, it’s the only one that has a beach that almost extends the entire length of its town, named Puerto Villamil, and its point of entry is surrounded by islets with mangroves full of marine species and other wildlife. There is direct contact with the beach and nature in Puerto Villamil, making it one of the favorite destinations for tourists. The town has grown over the years, but is small. After living there for two weeks you realize that you know almost everybody whom you pass. Life is simple, but population growth has led to increasing development, expressed by a large amount of concrete infrastructure and reduced green spaces.

“Isabela is beautiful! The beach and its proximity to the town is incredible! We have seen marine iguanas resting on the rocks all day long, flamingos flying in front of us and sea lions bathing to one side.” — Patricia Bazo (Turista Peruana)

View of the beach in front of Puerto Villamil. Photo: Ernesto Bustamante Velarde.

The activities I have carried out on Isabela have been varied. I have had institutional meetings to discuss new opportunities for scientific research, in addition to giving advice to the Municipality about environmental management and implementing a donations point on the island. Other activities related to the field were beach cleanups, coordinating group visits of researchers and accompanying them on their excursions. For instance, I have gone searching for frogs in the banana groves and freshwater sources to check their existence in the highlands of the island. I have gone “hunting” for geckos as food for the animals that were being investigated.

I have also been involved in environmental education, supporting during the summer children’s activities organized by the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD). These included different events such as the global day for the environment, where the GNPD organized a parade with children dressed as tortoises and iguanas with signs asking to be protected and respected by the community and tourists.

The Charles Darwin Foundation’s activities on Isabela. Photos: Ernesto Bustamante Velarde.

In this context one can realize the important role that the Charles Darwin Foundation and similar organizations could have on Isabela. It is undisputable that science by itself is important, because it provides objective and verifiable knowledge. But the Foundation’s investigations are also fundamental because they are applied towards the conservation of the islands.

The greatest threats to conservation have a human origin, and this is the theme that needs to be dealt with to generate real and sustainable change. Hence, science should not only be done in a serious and formal way, but should also involve the local community. Outreach campaigns should be carried out to reach the entire community. In this way we will spread consciousness about the importance of biodiversity conservation and how our actions have impacts on the environment. This can be done through scientific projects that, as much as possible, involve the community, and also through activities with the community that have the objective of disseminating the work and results of the project.

A child dressed up as an iguana asking for the protection of the Galapagos Islands. Photo: Ernesto Bustamante Velarde
Visit to the Galapagos National Park greenhouse as part of the summer children’s activities organized by the Galapagos National Park. Photo: Ernesto Bustamante Velarde

This work isn’t short-term, but it is one of the main ways to ensure that the Enchanted Islands are sustainable. Real protection and conservation of the islands must be everyone’s responsibility. I hope that I am able to keep supporting and collaborating for the sustainability of Galapagos.

Sunset on Isabela. Photo: Ernesto Bustamante Velarde.
Ernesto Bustamante Velarde

Ernesto Bustamante Velarde is a Peruvian and in Peru he studied Environmental Engineering and worked for several years on themes related to extraction industries. Later, he studied for his Masters in Environmental Management in Australia, and when he returned to Peru in 2016 he decided to change his career towards topics about which he was passionate, such as conservation and climate change. After looking for work he had the opportunity to return to Galapagos and represent the Charles Darwin Foundation on Isabela.





  1. Margarita Bazo
    August 25, 12:44 am

    Excelente trabajo y artículo Chino! Felicitaciones!

  2. Eduardo Barrios Prada
    Lima, Perú
    August 23, 3:03 pm

    Felicitaciones Ernesto, gran trabajo!

  3. Miryam J.
    August 23, 2:35 pm

    Buen trabajo chino!

  4. Ernesto Bustamante Velarde
    August 22, 4:02 pm

    Thanks Arturo. I am glad to be able to give my share and contribute to the science, conservation and sustainability of the islands

  5. Arturo Izurieta
    Galapagos Islands
    August 22, 9:58 am

    Great stuff Ernesto. Keep up the excellent work! We are very happy to have you as our rep on Isabela.