International Literacy Day and the Launch of Discovering Galapagos

Today, 8 September 2014, people are celebrating International Literacy Day all around the world. Launched by UNESCO, it aims to promote the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies around the world. The theme of International Literacy Day in 2014 is “Literacy and Sustainable Development”. Literacy is one of the key elements in promoting sustainable development. It empowers people to make the right decisions around economic development, social development and environmental protection and forms the basis of lifelong learning.

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It is apt then, that on this day, in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in Galapagos, in a village called El Cascajo, the Galapagos Conservation Trust team and our partners at The Book Bus are launching our joint outreach and educational project. Discovering Galapagos is our new curriculum-linked educational resource which focuses on the unique Galapagos Islands as a lesson for the world. It has been developed for a UK and Ecuadorian audience with two separate websites, one in English and one in Spanish, which are connected by a bilingual blog.

Although it is reported that there is near 100% literacy in the children in Galapagos, being able to read and remember words is only one piece of the puzzle. With this project, we are aiming to encourage independent learning and comprehension among students focusing on themes around conservation. We hope to inspire and engage students in the sustainable development of the Galapagos Islands and the wider world. Children of today are tomorrow’s conservation ambassadors.

With The Book Bus volunteers, resources from Discovering Galapagos will be used with teachers on the Galapagos Islands to raise awareness of conservation as well as improve literacy levels. On Santa Cruz today, the team are running the first three Discovering Galapagos sessions for children aged 5 to 11 using material from the Galapagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Programme. This project will continue to grow and we hope to eventually reach every school on the Islands.

Remember to follow the Galapagos Conservation Trust on Twitter and like us on Facebook and to check out the good work our partners are doing over at The Book Bus.

by Jen Jones and Lisa Wheeler

Photographing Galapagos: Flamingos

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 his fantastic photographs and paintings.

“Flamingos are rare in the Galapagos Islands, so when I came across some greater flamingos feeding in a brackish lagoon I felt very privileged. I spent some time trying to get a shot of an individual feeding when all of a sudden these two males challenged one another.”

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“It was fascinating to watch as each tried to get its head higher than the other. Then after a flurry of pink it was all over. But not before I managed to capture the magical moment when their necks joined to make a perfect heart shape.”

Painting Galapagos: Galapagos Penguins

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 his fantastic photographs and paintings.

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“Galapagos penguins are endemic to the archipelago and are very different to those found in South Georgia. I have tried to capture their endearing nature in my painting. But what struck me most about these flightless birds was how they moved underwater. On land they can look so awkward but I will never forget the first time I saw one swim.”

“I was snorkelling with my group when a penguin appeared quite suddenly. It was chasing a shoal of fish and gliding through the water, its wings propelling it along with such speed. As it twisted and turned its wings were spinning through the water like a wind up toy. It was so agile it looked as though it was flying when it was underwater.”

Painting Galapagos: Waved Albatross

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 his fantastic photographs and paintings.

“Waved albatross stand at nearly one metre high and sport waved markings across their breast. During the breeding season, pairs greet each other by rubbing their bills together. This is followed by one or both of the birds standing bolt upright. Then they often either stand with their beaks pointed towards the sky, emitting the strange wailing sound that I’d heard earlier or pose alert with their beaks wide open, before continuing to rub bills again.”

“Sometimes, they clack their beaks rapidly like a pair of castanets then stop abruptly to preen over their shoulders or to move their head fluidly from side to side in a comical manner. Then they might take a break or attend to their nests before resuming this unusual behaviour once more.”

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“Albatross are quite cumbersome on land but up in the air they were majestic. I watched as a male with a 7.4ft wingspan circled overhead looking for somewhere to land. Finding a space big enough for that vast shape took some planning!”

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

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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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