The isolated geographic setting where different sea currents, both tropical and Antarctic, merge, render the Galapagos an ideal study site for oceanography and the dynamics of ecological change. Through ecological monitoring we can better understand the relationship between the biodiversity of the archipelago and ecosystem functioning in the past, present and future. Such monitoring activities are carried out jointly by the CDF and the Galapagos National Park. They allow us to develop models that will help to predict how the marine ecosystem is affected by environmental change according to both frequency and amplitude of these changes. Of particular interest are to improve our understanding of climate phenomena such as the El Niño, La Niña effects within the context of global climatic change and sea level rise. Monitoring helps us to document climate change in the context of human activities predict future developments. It will thus allow us to develop conservation management strategies that can mitigate impact and prevent introduction of alien species.
The biogeographic patterns and differences in primary productivity that can be observed in the archipelago are the result of an enormous habitat diversity. This diversity is the basis for the high productivity of the Galapagos fishery resources. We have a mandate to provide the National Park with the best management options to preserve this diversity.
To achieve these goals marine research at the CDF focuses on the following areas:
Intertidal Ecological Monitoring
This program focuses on documenting how ecological communities respond to ecological dynamics by monitoring representative sites throughout the intertidal zones of the Galapagos Marine Reserve. In collaboration with the Junta de Manejo Participativo permanents monitoring sites were established to represent all five biogeographic areas and every one of the three different fisheries management zones.
Monitoring of Penguins and Flightless Cormorants
The Galapagos Penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) and the Flightless Cormorant (Phalacrocorax harrisi) are two focal species that are endemic for the archipelago and Ecuador and both are listed as threatened according to the IUCN red list. Our monitoring activities focus on documenting population dynamics throughout the archipelago. This bi-institutional project is carried out in close collaboration with the Galapagos National Park Service.
Monitoring Marine Turtles
The East Pacific Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) is a widely distributed species that migrates throughout the pacific. It is still the most common and most abundant turtle species in Galapagos. It is also the only species that nests in the archipelago. In many other parts of the world this species is heavily exploited, often illegally. Documenting population dynamics is thus a priority for this bi-institutional project is carried out in close collaboration with the Galapagos National Park Service.
Studies of the Galapagos Trophic Network
Modeling the trophic network of the Galapagos marine ecosystem focuses on documenting which species depend on which particular nutrient resources and the Galapagos artisan fishery activities impact these dynamics by harvesting some marine fish resources. The objective of our research is to establish scientific guidelines for better management of the Galapagos fishery resources. Current studies examine stomach contents of fish species like Wahoo (Acanthocybium solandri), tuna (Thunnus spp.) and Galapagos grouper (Mycteroperca olfax). Studies are carried out in close collaboration with the Galapagos fisheries sector.
Ecological Studies of Shark Species
Research on the ecology of sharks in the Galapagos is a high priority both to better understand the biology of these marine predators as well as to better document their socioeconomic impact on the Galapagos economy. Combining ultrasound and satellite telemetry with classical visual surveys help us to document migration patterns of shark species and other large predatory fish and contributes to modeling the trophic impact on the Galapagos ecosystem. Principal monitoring sites are located in the Far Northern Bioregion of the archipelago, near the islands Darwin and Wolf.