Scientific research cruise: “Assessment of the health and population status of Galápagos´emblematic fauna in the face of climate change conditions in the archipelago”

Vessel Sierra Negra. Photograph by David Liberio of the Galápagos Conservancy.

During March and April 2024, monitoring and scientific research activities were conducted aboard the oceanic vessel Sierra Negra, where an exploration of the ecological conditions of various species inhabiting the Galápagos Marine Reserve took place. Throughout this expedition, 30 reproductive sites of iguanas, turtles, and sea lions settled on 14 islands of the archipelago were visited, obtaining valuable information on how these species respond to events related to climate change such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

Marjorie Riofrio-Lazo, USFQ professor and GSC researcher. Photograph by David Liberio of the Galápagos Conservancy.

The Galápagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), Universidad of San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), and the Galapagos Science Center (GSC) maintain collaborative agreements for the conservation of Galápagos. This has enabled research cruises to be carried out annually since 2014, except for the year 2020 when there was a halt due to the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. “It is important to emphasize that this effort stemmed from the need to update population data for emblematic species such as sea lions, turtles, and marine iguanas – information that was scarce before 2014.” commented Diego Páez-Rosas, professor at USFQ and researcher at GSC. 

These monitoring activities involve park rangers from the DPNG, scientists from USFQ and GSC, and special guests such as personnel from the Galápagos Biosecurity and Quarantine Regulation Agency (ABG), the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), and the Ecuadorian Navy, as well as the financial support of allied institutions such as Galápagos Conservancy (GC). These partnerships have allowed these research cruises to be successful in conducting work that accurately comprehends the effects of climate change on the population dynamics of these species.

Mauricio Mieles, technician at ABG. Photograph by David Liberio of the Galápagos Conservancy.
One of the main results obtained has been establishing the population size of Galápagos sea lions and fur seals, identifying how anomalous oceanographic events such as ENSO are affecting their populations, and establishing the resilience these species have developed to survive in this changing environment. “In this way, we have managed to generate several scientific publications and databases that allow us to assess and model how climate change can affect the emblematic species of the archipelago in the long term,” commented Diego Páez-Rosas, professor at USFQ and researcher at GSC.
Diego Páez-Rosas, professor at USFQ Galápagos and researcher at GSC. Photograph by Karina Vivanco.
Another main objective of these cruises is to monitor the health status of the emblematic species of the Galápagos, which are exposed to potential diseases due to anthropogenic interactions, habitat degradation, and even environmental factors. This effort provides crucial data on the population dynamics of these species and helps generate health models that facilitate their conservation. “This information is essential because it is delivered to the GNPD, who use it to identify which populations are priorities for conservation,” added Marjorie Riofrío-Lazo, professor at USFQ and researcher at GSC.
Research team of iguanas. Photograph by David Liberio of the Galápagos Conservancy.
During these expeditions, technicians and scientists utilize various methodologies to collect data and identify the ecological characteristics of these species. Population censuses are conducted at each work site, employing innovative monitoring techniques such as drones, followed by the capture of several individuals to monitor their health, feeding habits, genetics, and ecological conditions. “We perform an external evaluation on each individual, consisting of taking morphometric measurements, and then monitor their health status to identify the presence or absence of diseases,” added Andrea Loyola, veterinarian at the GNPD.
Sea Turtle Research Team. Photograph by David Liberio of the Galápagos Conservancy.
“Many of the samples are analyzed on board the ship, as they require immediate analysis, such as biochemical analysis of blood samples. In contrast, other samples are transported to GSC laboratories for subsequent diagnostic and preventive analysis, such as disease detection,” commented Eduardo Díaz, professor at USFQ and One Health coordinator for GAIAS Europe.
Sea Lion Research Team. Photograph by Karina Vivanco.

The emblematic species monitoring expedition of 2024 lasted for 15 days which allowed the team to visit 30 reproductive sites of iguanas and sea lions across 14 islands: Fernandina, Isabela, Pinta, Marchena, Genovesa, Santiago, Rábida, Pinzon, Seymur, Santa Cruz, Santa Fe, Floreana, Española, and San Cristóbal. “My role on this trip was to ensure that we use the best methodologies for handling and sampling emblematic fauna, minimizing contact with the species, to generate the least possible impact,” commented Jorge Torres, park ranger of the GNPD.

Preliminary results obtained during the 2024 scientific research cruise reveal significant findings.
The use of remote sensors (drones) allowed census several species in 30 different sites on 14 islands, counting a total of 23,037 marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus), 3,601 sea lions (Zalophus wollebaeki) and 2,162 fur seals (Arctocephalus galapagoensis). In addition to this, biological samples were taken from various tissues of the species mentioned.
27 sites on 13 islands were also monitored to detect the presence of introduced ants, identifying 12 species present in most of the sites, with the exception of Punta Espinoza on Fernandina Island, where no ants were found.
Based on the general counts, the final population estimates for all the monitored species will be published during the course of this year.

Jorge Torres, park ranger at DPNG. Photograph by Karina Vivanco.

In conclusion, the execution of scientific research cruises not only provides a fascinating glimpse into the wildlife of Galápagos but also generates baseline information that will be used in management decision-making by the GNPD, facilitating conservation efforts for the emblematic biodiversity of the Galápagos archipelago.

Scientific Research Cruise Team 2024. Photograph by David Liberio of the Galápagos Conservancy.

General Details: The scientific research cruise of 2024 was led and executed by the Galápagos National Park Directorate, the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, and the Galapagos Science Center, with the support of the Galápagos Conservancy.

Project Leaders for Sea Lion and Fur Seal Monitoring: Dr. Diego Páez-Rosas and Dr. Marjorie Riofrío-Lazo, professors at USFQ and researchers at GSC.

Project Leaders for Sea Turtle and Marine Iguana Monitoring: Biol. Jennifer Suárez and Dr. Andrea Loyola, park rangers at GNPD.

Project Leader for Monitoring Introduced Ants: Mauricio Mieles, technician of the Agency for the Regulation and Control of Biosecurity and Quarantine for Galapagos.

Recent Posts


Follow Us

Scroll to Top

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!