Painting Galapagos: Frigatebirds and Boobies

Earlier in the year, wildlife photographer and artist Robert E Fuller visited the Galapagos Islands to get inspiration for a series of new paintings. We will be putting up a selection of Robert’s blogs over the next couple of weeks which will focus on his time spent in Galapagos and on the fantastic paintings that he has created upon his return.

Robert often uses video footage that he has taken when observing animals to help inform his paintings when he’s back in the studio. Here are a couple of examples of videos and the paintings they inspired from his Galapagos trip…

Magnificent Frigatebird

“These are magnificent frigatebirds. During the breeding season the males puff out their throats a bit like toads to create incredible displays. I wanted to capture the intimacy of this ritual in my painting.”



Blue-footed Booby

“The video of a pair courting is interesting because of the listless way in which the male offers the female a stick. It’s almost as though they can’t really be bothered! I wanted to capture this indifference alongside the comical element of these birds in the mood of my painting.”




To watch a video of Robert’s whole trip, click here.

UPDATE: Galapaface I Sunk

At 17:25 (local time) the Galapaface I cargo ship was sunk at a location outside the Galapagos Marine Reserve. This brings the third phase of the bail out plan to an end. The last remaining phase will involve evaluating the environmental damage caused by the ship’s grounding on May 9.

Galapaface 3

UPDATE: Galapaface Wreck Refloated

The Galapagos Islands can soon say goodbye to Galapaface I, the shipwrecked tanker that posed an environmental risk to the fragile Galapagos ecosystem for two long months. The cargo ship, which ran aground off Punta Carola, San Cristobal on May 9, is currently being towed to its final resting site, where it shall be scuttled in 2500 metres of water.

Galapaface 1

Over the past few days the ship, which originally threatened the Archipelago with 19,000 gallons of fuel oil and 1,100 tons of cargo, was stabilised and refloated by having giant steel buoys welded onto its hull.

At 2AM on Tuesday, it began its 24-30 hour journey to a site 20 miles east of the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR). There, it shall be sunk in an operation that has been calculated to have almost no impact on the environment. It is currently being accompanied by 16 crew members and other ships which will retrieve the sailors before the sinking.

Minister of the Environment Lorena Tapia said that no efforts were spared in order to protect the Galapagos ecosystem during this emergency. “Today, we see the fruits of our hard work”, she said. Indeed, the Ecuadorian government can be praised for its timely action; it declared a state of emergency a week after the grounding in order to cut through red tape and ensure a flow of resources to tackle the threat which the ship posed.

Galapaface 2

The Galapagos National Park will also monitor the site of the original grounding for two months to determine the environmental impacts on the area. Once all the tests are completed the site, which has been closed to the public ever since the grounding, shall reopen.

This incident had a much more positive outcome than that of the Jessica, the oil tanker that spilled almost all of its 240,000 gallons of petroleum products into the GMR in January 2001. Thanks to the quick response of the authorities, disaster was averted this time.

by Jose Hong

The peculiar tale of the first resident of Galapagos

Wednesday (25 June) was the International Day of the Seafarer. This is a day that is greatly relevant to the Galapagos Islands, as prior to the age of the airplane the only way to the Islands was by sea. To commemorate this, we shall recount the story of Patrick Watkins; the first and certainly one of the most eccentric characters to have called the Archipelago home.

Not much is known about the sailor’s background, save for the fact that he was marooned on the island of Floreana in 1807. For two years he lived feral, growing vegetables on a two-acre plot of land in a small valley. He became known for trading his vegetables for rum from passing ships and according to anecdotal history managed to remain drunk for much of his stay on the island.



Captain David Porter

There are very few first-hand accounts of Patrick Watkins, but there does exist a record from Captain David Porter in his Journal of a Cruise made to the Pacific Ocean. The captain played an important role in American attacks on British commerce during the 1812 War and travelled around the Pacific. Despite the fact that he arrived Galapagos in 1813, four years after Patrick Watkins had left, he evidently found him an interesting subject to write about in his journals.

Captain Porter noted: “The appearance of this man, from the accounts I have received of him, was the most dreadful that can be imagined; ragged clothes, scarce sufficient to cover his nakedness, and covered with vermin; his red hair and beard matted, his skin much burnt, from constant exposure to the sun, and so wild and savage in his manner and appearance, that he struck every one with horror.”

Horrendous though he may have appeared, he was cunning, and would apparently trick other sailors who had landed on the island into working for him. His method was simple: he would incapacitate them with rum and conceal them until their original ships would sail off without them, thereafter making them swear loyalty to him. In this way he managed to bring his number of followers to four.

C5 - 1711  Claude Lester

Eventually, he and his men managed to steal a boat from a ship (the captain of which curses Patrick Watkins in his logs as “the notorious Irishman” and a “villain”) and one day in 1809 left Galapagos for the Ecuadorian mainland.

The story becomes even more bizarre for he landed in Guayaquil, Ecuador, alone. It was assumed that his companions had perished from thirst or had been killed by him as the threat of thirst grew larger in the open seas. From there he moved on to Payta, Peru, where he managed to seduce a local woman and convinced her to return with him to Galapagos.

However, the local police judged him a suspicious character and upon finding him hiding under the keel of a small boat that was about to be launched, threw him into jail. From then on, nothing more was heard of him, save for rumours and hearsay.

by Jose Hong

June’s Galapagos Roundup

In this month’s roundup: remember Lonesome George on the anniversary of his death; testing Discovering Galapagos with Robert Fuller; your chance to win a limited edition dive watch; an update on the whale shark project and much more…


In memory of Lonesome George…

On June 24th 2012, Galapagos and the rest of the world lost a great conservation icon; Lonesome George. A tragic but all too familiar story, George’s species, the Pinta tortoise, was brought to extinction because of the actions of humans. But whilst George is no longer with us, his story and his legacy live on.

Today we remember Lonesome George as a symbol of the fragility of the Galapagos Islands and of the natural world. Join us in ensuring that George’s story is not repeated by contributing to our Lonesome George Tribute Fund. Text “JUNE24 £5″ to 70070 to donate £5 or visit our website for further details.


Progress Update: Discovering Galapagos

Today and tomorrow, staff from GCT will be running a series of workshops based on our new interactive educational resource, Discovering Galapagos, at several schools in Yorkshire, accompanied by British wildlife artist Robert Fuller. The workshops, which will include activities and games related to species adaptation and food chains, mark the start of the testing phase of the Discovering Galapagos programme.

Robert, who visited Galapagos earlier this year, is a former pupil at one of the schools and, since returning from his visit to the Islands, has produced a series of fantastically detailed paintings of some of Galapagos’ most iconic species. Featuring Galapagos penguins, blue-footed boobies, waved albatross, giant tortoises and more, the paintings are now on display in his summer exhibition “Drawing for Darwin” at his gallery in Thixendale, Yorkshire. Robert is also giving a talk about his ‘Galapagos Adventure’ this Saturday at 19:30 – visit his website for more details.

IWC Raffle

Dive with the mark of luxury…

We are giving you the opportunity to win a stunning limited edition dive watch made by IWC Schaffhausen whilst supporting Galapagos conservation. Limited to just 500 watches, this unique IWC Aquatimer Chronograph watch honours the 50th anniversary of the Charles Darwin Research Station in Galapagos. With blue hands and indices reminiscent of the blue-footed booby’s feet, this luxury watch features a rotating bezel, IWC quick-change strap and the innovative IWC SafeDive system.

For more information on how to win this stunning watch, click here.


Don’t miss out on the trip of a lifetime…

Time is running out to join GCT’s CEO Ian Dunn and special guest speaker and marine biologist Professor Nicholas Owens on an exclusive cruise around Galapagos in November. There are only two spaces remaining on this year’s supporter cruise on board the MY Majestic which will tour on a bespoke itinerary around the Archipelago’s western islands.

As well as having an incredible and inspiring trip, all cruise guests will receive a lifetime membership to GCT, making this well and truly the trip of a lifetime. For more information please visit our website or contact us on 020 7399 7440.


Progress Update: Whale Shark research trip brought forward due to El Niño

Thanks to the success of our Galapagos Whale Shark Appeal last year, we have provided funding to an upcoming research trip which aims to further our understanding of the world’s largest fish. Project Leader Jonathan Green and his team will travel up to the northern islands of Wolf and Darwin in July, where, among other things, they will attach satellite tags to whale sharks in order to gather more information on their migration behaviour.

The research trip was initially due to go out at the end of September, but has had to be rescheduled due to the impending threat of a strong El Niño event which looks to be developing in the Pacific Ocean. Nobody knows how whale sharks respond to El Niño but, during one such event in 1997-98, Jonathan remembers that whale sharks disappeared from the Galapagos Marine Reserve for over a year. Tagging individuals before the El Niño has fully developed may provide very useful information with regards to how whale sharks respond to the phenomenon. We will be sure to update you with any news from the project.

Logo Idea 2_2

Event: Re-Discovering Galapagos Day

Join us on 28 October at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) for an evening of Galapagos discovery. We will be showcasing our fantastic new educational resource, Discovering Galapagos, in a unique event format: you will have the opportunity to attend a series of talks on a range of Galapagos-related topics; explore the famous RGS building which will have exhibits offering a range of historical and interactive Galapagos material; and meet with past expedition members, GCT staff and fellow Galapagos lovers.

For more information and to book your tickets, click here.

Let us remember Lonesome George…



Two years ago today, Galapagos lost its much loved conservation icon, Lonesome George. Discovered on the island of Pinta, George was transported to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz in 1972. At the time, his species was thought to be extinct so hopes were placed on George to bring the Pinta tortoise back from the brink of extinction. For forty years attempts were made to get George to breed, but unfortunately to no avail. As the last known individual of his species, George became a conservation icon – a symbol of the fragility of Galapagos and the natural world.

Today, George’s memory lives on in everyone who supports and works on protecting the Galapagos Islands and he will continue to be a permanent icon of Galapagos conservation efforts. If you would like to make a donation in memory of Lonesome George, text “JUNE24 £5″ to 70070 or visit our website.

WOD2014: Penguins and Cormorants

Today is World Oceans Day; a day that commemorates the beauty and importance of our oceans which are so integral to our survival. As can be expected for a tropical archipelago, the Galapagos Islands have an especially intimate relationship with the seas. In the run-up to World Oceans Day we have been posting a series of daily blog articles on the marine wildlife and associated conservation projects in Galapagos. Today’s post focuses on the flightless birds of Galapagos.


The Galapagos penguin and flightless cormorant are both somewhat uncharacteristic when compared to their close relatives.

When a person thinks of a penguin, they probably imagine vast white ice sheets, snow blizzards and penguins huddling together to keep warm during the Antarctic winter. Very few people, I would have thought, would picture a small penguin standing on lava alongside bright red crabs on an equatorial island. That, however, is exactly the situation with the Galapagos penguin. It is able to cope in these tropical climes thanks to a number of adaptations (find out about their adaptations here) and because the cold waters of the Humboldt Current provide a sufficient supply of penguin food, mostly in the form of sardines.

The flightless cormorant, as its name suggests, is another flightless species and is the only member of the cormorant family that can’t fly. It is thought that, having arrived at the Islands, its flying ancestors no longer needed to fly because there were no ground predators on the Islands and the productive seas surrounding them had an ample food supply. Over hundreds of thousands of years, their wings began to shrink and their bodies grew larger. They are now the largest cormorant species and their wings are about a third of the size they would need to be to fly.

For all their differences and unique qualities, these birds have plenty in common. They are both well-adapted to the sea, being powerful swimmers that easily propel themselves through the water in search of prey. They are also both endemic to the Galapagos Islands.

One other thing that they share is that they are both threatened species. Penguin and cormorant populations now number just 2,000 individuals each and the species are currently classified as endangered and vulnerable respectively. With a range of threats, including predation by introduced species, avian disease, habitat loss and climate change, the management and conservation of the remaining individuals is now at a critical point.

One essential element of any successful conservation strategy is monitoring the existing population. Since 2011, GCT has been funding quarterly penguin and cormorant monitoring surveys in order to get this vital data. Although our original funding only covered the first three years of monitoring, we recently ran a Galapagos Penguin Appeal to enable us to extend funding for this project into the future.

For your part this World Oceans Day, remember that the Galapagos penguin and the flightless cormorant are only two of the unique animals that live in this amazing archipelago. Their lives are profoundly linked with the ocean, as are ours, and that is why we should all do what we can to protect our seas.

It’s not too late to donate to our Galapagos Penguin Appeal. Every penny that you donate will go directly towards funding this crucial project and securing a brighter future for the flightless birds of Galapagos.

We hope that you have enjoyed our series of blog posts this week and have learned a bit more about the fascinating spectrum of marine wildlife in Galapagos. The efforts that we and other organisations in Galapagos are making to conserve this incredible place are only possible thanks to our supporters. If you would like to support the work of GCT, learn how to get involved by visiting our website.

by Pete Haskell and Jose Hong