Connecting with Nature Program (CWNP): Five years bridging science and community

Reading Sessions. Photograph taken by: Fabiana Hinojosa.

Author: Victoria Castro, Leidy Apolo, Lesly Cadena
Edited by: Karina Vivanco
Article reviewed by: Andy Little 

Did you know that more than 8,000 local people have participated in community engagement activities created by the Galapagos Science Center? Recognizing that research and environmental action have a significant impact when the community is involved, the Connecting with Nature Program (CWNP) emerged in 2019 as a joint initiative of the Galapagos Science Center (GSC) and the Galapagos Conservation Trust (GCT). The main objective of the program is to promote recreational and educational activities that involve the community in the revaluation and conservation of the natural resources of the Galápagos Islands. Additionally, the CWNP seeks to inspire tangible actions towards the protection of the unique Galápagos ecosystem. With a focus on crucial topics such as climate change, sustainable development, and gender equity, this program has demonstrated a growing interest and commitment from the local community towards the conservation of the archipelago.

The GSC and GCT, two organizations supporting conservation, have enabled the CWNP to begin its functions as part of one of the fundamental axes of the GSC related to community engagement. One of the main purposes of this program is to bring scientific research closer to the local community to promote attitudes and behaviors toward the conservation and protection of biodiversity in the Galápagos Islands. “In its first phase, the program involved the participation of 1,414 people who took part in 8 activities. Over the years, more people and activities have been added to the program. Nowadays, science is no longer an unfamiliar term for the local community, but it has become a tool that has sparked interest and early vocations, bringing scientific culture closer to society,” commented Lesly Cadena, CWNP analyst.
Citizen Science Events. Photograph taken by: Karina Vivanco.

The CWNP has served the Galápagos community through five phases (2019-2023), reaching over 8,000 people. “Research is our driving force and the community our inspiration. The diverse studies addressing environmental and social issues, driven by the GSC, provide us with the guidelines to design projects ranging from reading sessions in local schools to themed events for the whole family, achieving awareness, engagement, motivation to action, and empowerment of children, youth, and adults towards island conservation,” said Leidy Apolo, CWNP coordinator.
The CWNP has offered a wide range of activities aimed at fostering environmental awareness in community members. Among them is the “Virtual Classroom,” an online educational resource that offers the opportunity to access science-based reading sessions, allowing more people to join efforts to promote the love of reading and strengthen values of coexistence and conservation. Also, “Experiential Outings” allows participants to explore ecologically significant sites and get a close look at scientific research processes in the field. Additionally, the CWNP organizes the annual “Shark Day” event, which this year commemorated a decade of celebration in San Cristóbal. This event involved the entire USFQ university community, GSC staff, and international collaborators and featured artistic presentations inspired by the ocean. These and other activities have been designed based on the “Theory of Change,” which states that conservation attitudes and behaviors can be gradually promoted from childhood to adulthood through various interventions. 

Family Science Events. Photograph taken by: Leidy Apolo.

Public and private institutions, educational institutions, and the community have participated in the projects and supported the efforts of scientific outreach carried out through the CWNP and other engagement projects. “Over these five years, we have faced several challenges, such as the multiculturalism of our population, limitations in connectivity, and the Covid-19 pandemic, which led us to transform activities into necessary formats, with the purpose of meeting the needs and expectations, and reaching groups with different characteristics, including people with special needs,” commented Leidy.
During the next phase, the program will implement new educational resources based on sea lions and birds to strengthen the protection of the archipelago’s species. The positive actions of the Galapagueños towards the conservation of biodiversity and the balance of ecosystems drive the CWNP to continue working and motivating the community for the conservation of this magical and privileged place we call home. “Living in the Galápagos is a privilege and at the same time a great commitment to the natural and social environment that surrounds us. Children, youth, and adults have the capacity to be agents of change,” added Lesly. 

Annual Shark Day Event. Photograph taken by Karina Vivanco.

In summary, the CWNP is a comprehensive initiative that strengthens the bond between the Galápagos community and its natural environment. Through five phases, it has generated increased interest and commitment to the conservation of the archipelago. Through educational activities, it has inspired concrete actions to protect the Galápagos ecosystem. With the support of the GSC and the GCT, the CWNP has been a driving force for promoting conservation, demonstrating the power of environmental education and community collaboration for environmental protection. 

Experiential Outings. Photograph taken by Karina Vivanco.

Learn more about the CWNP and its activities on our website:

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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!