On the Expedition
On his first visit to the Galapagos Islands, Charles Darwin discovered several species of finches that varied from island to island, which helped him to develop his theory of natural selection. Today, Darwin’s finches are endangered, and your participation in critical research will help protect these iconic birds and their unique habitat.
The Galapagos Islands are truly like no other place on Earth. They are an archipelago of 13 major islands and more than a hundred smaller islands that straddle the Equator off the Ecuadorian coast. They are home to an amazing array of unique animal species: Galapagos giant tortoises, iguanas, fur seals and sea lions, sharks, rays, and 26 species of native birds - 14 of which make up the group known as Darwin’s finches. These finches are considered to be the world’s fastest-evolving vertebrates because their appearance and behavior quickly adapt to this closed and rapidly changing environment.
Today, Darwin’s finches are under attack from an introduced parasitic fly. As an Earthwatch volunteer, you will be helping to catch finches in mist nets (thin nets invisible to birds), measuring them, taking genetic samples and recording damage caused by the parasite before setting them free. You will have the opportunity to record and test the function of finch song, collect data on the behavior of free-living wild finches, and help determine the current numbers of finches on the islands. You’ll also be involved in research related to evolutionary changes in Darwin’s finches. All of these activities provide vital information for the action plan being implemented by the Galapagos National Parks to ensure the survival of these iconic finches.
Meals and Accommodations
During your time in the Galapagos, you’ll stay on the populous island of Santa Cruz and/or on the more sparsely settled island of Floreana. Accommodations are very different on the two islands; each has its own charm.
On Santa Cruz, you’ll stay at centrally located Hotel Ninfa, in shared double rooms with two twin beds. The hotel has a pool, dining room, and a courtyard that is ideal for team meetings, reading, and relaxing. From the hotel, you’ll have opportunities to hike around town and to sites a short distance away. You’ll travel to the field site in comfortable taxis, driving 30 to 40 minutes each way.
On Floreana, you’ll stay at Hotel Wittmer, a pleasant hotel located in a small village with three restaurants and a shop. Accommodations include shared, twin-bedded rooms with bathroom access. The hotel overlooks Black Beach, which has lovely views, a cooling sea breeze, and excellent swimming and snorkeling.
Both hotels provide a buffet style breakfast. You’ll eat breakfast in the hotel and have lunch and dinner at restaurants in town. Meals typically consist of Ecuadorian cuisine: soups, rice, meat or fish. The Galapagos Islands also produce their own yogurt, which is available in shops.
About the Research Area
The Galapagos Islands lie about 600 miles off the west coast of Ecuador; the climate is hot during the day and cooler at night. The sea around the islands is home to prolific marine life including rays, turtles, seabirds, sea lions, whales and dolphins. The islands offer some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the world. Visitors to the islands can swim among tropical fish, turtles, marine iguanas, and even penguins, while blue-footed boobies and brown pelicans dive into the water around you.
On the land, an amazing diversity of unique species are adapted to the local conditions. Around the islands you will see giant tortoises, Darwin’s finches, sea birds like the magnificent frigatebirds, the lava gull and swallow-tailed gull and spectacular songbirds like the vermillion flycatcher. The plants on the islands are just as interesting. In the highlands, there are unique trees that evolved from daisies and are covered in colorful mosses and lichens; while in the lowlands there are many cacti.
Only four islands are inhabited, mainly by Ecuadorian people whose language is Spanish. In the two main towns there are restaurants, shops, stalls and markets selling local produce, artifacts and jewelry.
During recreational time on Santa Cruz, you’ll have a wide variety of options available, either on your own or through ecotourism companies located on the island. Possibilities include visits to the Charles Darwin Research Station with its interpretive center and the tortoise rearing center, tours of lava tubes, or a walk to beautiful Tortuga Bay. Volunteers interested in renting a boat can visit other islands to view a sea lion colony or Seymour Island with its frigate and booby colonies.
On Floreana, you’ll experience nature relatively unmediated by human activity. Black Beach, with its black lava sands on which Darwin walked in 1835, is right out the door of your hotel. From this beach you’ll find the best snorkeling on the island, where you’ll share the water with penguins, blue-footed boobies, brown pelicans, sea lions, manta rays, turtles, and hundreds of beautiful fish. The island also offers amazing bird-watching experiences.