5th Galapagos Research and Conservation Symposium: Igniting solutions for the future of ecosystems and communities

Group photo at the 5th Galapagos Research and Conservation Symposium.
The 5th Research and Conservation Symposium, held on June 26 and 27, 2023 in San Cristobal, Galapagos, brought together a multitude of experts and community members dedicated to protecting and restoring the valuable marine and terrestrial ecosystems and ensuring the health and well-being of the local community on the archipelago. This multidisciplinary event was attended by 253 participants and showcased the most significant scientific research findings conducted in the region, with a particular focus on conservation and the resolution of socio-environmental conflicts faced by the Galapagos Islands.
Amanda Thompson, Co-Director of the Galapagos Science Center and Co-Director of UNC Center for Galapagos Studies.

“There is no health of humans and the ecosystem without understanding both and how they interact,” said Amanda Thompson, Co-Director of the Galapagos Science Center and Co-Director of UNC Center for Galapagos Studies. “The Galapagos is a place where people live their daily lives and are interacting with the animals and the environment. We have to understand their needs and challenges to be able to preserve both their health, the health of the community, as well as the larger ecosystem.”

The inaugural symposium took place in June 2016 and, since then, it has been an eagerly anticipated annual event. “It is a wonderful way to bring scientists together with the Galapagos National Park and local citizens,” said Steve Walsh, Founding Co-Director of the Galapagos Science Center. The Galapagos Research and Conservation Symposium is organized by the Galapagos Science Center, a joint collaboration between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Universidad San Francisco de Quito. These institutions work hand in hand to ensure the symposium’s success and create a space where experts and community members can come together to contribute to the protection and restoration of Galapagos’ precious ecosystems. 

Charles Darwin Convention Center.

The primary objective of the symposium was to emphasize the importance of research as a driving force for seeking solutions. It served as a platform to share national and international conservation efforts and highlight the ongoing work towards the preservation of Galapagos’ marine and terrestrial ecosystems, as well as address topics concerning the local community and the health of the vulnerable island population.

“I believe that it has been very important to share the results of my research with the community because what we want is to provide a management and conservation tool for the corals in Galapagos. Without the support of the community, this would not be possible,” said Margarita Brandt, researcher at GSC and professor at USFQ. 

Margarita Brandt, researcher at GSC and professor at USFQ.
Over the course of two days, passionate individuals dedicated to research and conservation gathered at the Charles Darwin Convention Center. One participant was Francisco Laso, who was born and raised in Ecuador and recently completed his PhD in Geography at UNC Chapel Hill. “As part of my PhD I made the first high resolution map of the agricultural systems here in Galapagos,” said Laso. “The reason why this was well received by local people was that I included categories that came directly from farmers and reflect how farmers see the space in which they live – categories that were previously absent from ecological literature. The product was better quality, it was meaningful for both agriculture and conservation fields, and it gets translated into policy. It was really important for me to represent these perspectives.”
Researchers at the 5th Galapagos Research and Conservation Symposium.

The symposium featured 50 presentations covering a wide range of topics, including oceans, biodiversity, conservation, environmental change, community dynamics, and health-related issues. These presentations offered a comprehensive overview of the current state of knowledge and ongoing efforts to safeguard the unique biodiversity and delicate balance of the Galapagos Islands.

“For me, it has been super exciting to be at this symposium because while I was a student, I was part of the audience, and this is the first time I was able to present my research on geckos in the Galapagos. Throughout these years, I have been able to see how this space has grown. This time, I saw people from the community involved, members of the police, and researchers from other institutions. It has been a pleasure for me to share the stage with all of them,” said Mateo Dávila, researcher at GSC, coordinator of the Instituto de Biodiversidad Tropical at USFQ. 

Mateo Dávila, researcher at GSC, coordinator of the Instituto de Biodiversidad Tropical at USFQ.
In conclusion, the 5th Research and Conservation Symposium in the Galapagos served as a valuable platform for sharing scientific research findings, promoting conservation efforts, and addressing socio-environmental conflicts. This annual event not only underscores the importance of research in finding solutions but also facilitates collaboration between experts and the local community. By bringing together diverse perspectives and knowledge, the symposium ensures the preservation of this iconic archipelago for future generations.

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In 2022, the Galapagos Science Center (GSC) and the broader UNC & USFQ Galapagos Initiative will celebrate its 10th Anniversary. We are proud to announce the World Summit on Island Sustainability scheduled to be held on June 26–30, 2022 at the Galapagos Science Center and the Community Convention Center on San Cristobal Island.

The content of the World Summit will be distributed globally through social media and results documented through papers published in a book written as part of the Galapagos Book Series by Springer Nature and edited by Steve Walsh (UNC) & Carlos Mena (USFQ) as well as Jill Stewart (UNC) and Juan Pablo Muñoz (GSC/USC). The book will be inclusive and accessible by the broader island community including scientists, managers, residents, tourists, and government and non-government organizations.

While the most obvious goal of organizing the World Summit on Island Sustainability is to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the GSC and the UNC-USFQ Galapagos Initiative, other goals will be addressed through special opportunities created as part of our operational planning of the World Summit.

For instance, we seek to elevate and highlight the Galapagos in the island conservation discourse, seeking to interact with other island networks in more obvious and conspicuous ways to benefit the Galapagos Islands, the UNC-USFQ Galapagos Initiative, and the world. We will seize the opportunity to further develop the I2N2 – International Islands Network-of-Networks. Further, we wish to highlight and emphasize multiple visions of a sustainable future for the Galapagos Islands and we cannot do this alone. Therefore, engaging the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Tourism, the Government Council of Galapagos, the Galapagos National Park, and local Galapagos authorities, including government and non-government organizations and local citizen groups, is imperative.

The Galapagos Science Center on San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

Borrowing from Hawaii’s and Guam’s Green Growth Program and the Global Island Partnership, we wish to examine existing global programs that emphasize island sustainability and their incorporation into life, policies, and circumstances in the Galapagos Islands. We will also seek to enhance our connections with the institutional members of our International Galapagos Science Consortium and expand the Consortium through the recruitment of other member institutions. We will also work to benefit islands and their local communities by working with citizen groups as well as important NGOs who seek to improve the natural conditions in the Galapagos and diminish the impact of the human dimension on the future of Galapagos’ ecosystems.

Lastly, we will use the World Summit to benefit UNC & USFQ and our constituencies through a strong and vibrant communication plan about the World Summit, creating corporate relationships as sponsors, identifying funding goals through donors, and benefiting our study abroad program for student engagement in the Galapagos Islands. We plan to develop and issue a Galapagos Sustainability Communique after the World Summit that includes the vision and insights of all its participants for a sustainable Galapagos with applicability to global island settings.

We are eager to hear your perspective and have you join us at the World Summit on Island Sustainability!