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Volunteering on Galapagos Island – San Christobal, Galapagos Island

Guava, passionfruit, raspberry… the invasive plants on the hit-list at San Cristobal Biological Research Station sounded more like a luscious tropical drink than any sort of environmental problem. Eating the gorgeous fruit of the weeds we were attacking was a just and fitting reward though for coping with the incessant humidity, blood-sucking mosquitoes and hard work of our project.

Alice Egan with Land Tortoise
Alice Egan with Land Tortoise
In April 2005, our team of volunteers travelled to the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador for 3 weeks as part of the World Conservation Program organised by Conservation Volunteers Australia. Volunteers came from all over Australia to join this project, which linked up with the like-minded Jatun Sacha organisation of Ecuador. The project was based at the San Cristobal Biological Research Station and focused mainly on revegetation of native areas, but also development of organic farming.

Famous for its amazing wildlife, not many realise this double World Heritage group of islands suffers a vast amount of invasive plants and animals, many shipped in with supplies from mainland South America. Cats, rats and goats have caused the most problems to date, destroying precious native wildlife and decimating vegetation resources so important to species such as the giant Galapagos tortoise. Invasive plant species such as the Hawaiian guava, lantana, raspberry and air plant have spread out of control. Restoring the integrity of the vegetation on the island of San Cristobal was our main aim.

So each armed with a couple of native Matazarno trees, a machete and a bucket of water, we would start our 20 minute walk through the forest to reach the ‘corridor’ where we would work on restoring the natural habitat in the transition zone of the island, linking the arid, cactus-filled coastal zone to the humid highland Miconia forests. Learning to love prickly pear in its natural habitat was particularly difficult and completely against our nature but we just had to remember it belonged there and restrain the urge to cut it down.

We lived very basically on the station with no electricity, limited water supplies and walking access only to most of the property. Our daily work was very labor intensive with limited tools and very basic processes for completing our activities. After some initial whingeing about a lack of quality equipment and many suggestions of the ways in which we could make everything much more efficient, our team soon settled into the relaxed South American way and got back to basics. Collecting and mixing our own sort of potting mix for the nursery was a continuous job. Raising a target of 5000 plants was the challenge for the staff on the station. We participated in all facets of the project – collecting and cleaning seed, mixing soil for the nursery and sowing the seed, raising the seedlings, clearing weeds in the corridor by machete, planting our seedlings and watering them in.

Volunteer Team
Volunteer Team
In the organic farming component of the project, we maintained and harvested fruit and vegetables to make the station self-sustainable, feeding the many volunteers that stayed there. Collecting fruit and hand-squeezing juice for 20 people every day was a satisfying and somewhat relaxing task that took a few hours each day for whomever was on kitchen-hand duty.

It was fantastic to be involved in conservation work on the Galapagos Islands. Living and working on the San Cristobal Biological Station was a challenging yet thoroughly enjoyable experience. Prior to the trip, our team had all heard about how conservation of the double World Heritage area was being undermined by political and economic forces in Ecuador. This simply highlighted the importance of our project activities. The most rewarding fact was knowing that we played an important role in protecting and restoring such a unique, amazingly beautiful part of the world.

Conservation Volunteers Australia has planned a second project to revisit the San Cristobal Biological Station July 18-August 3, 2006. Volunteers interested in joining the project should visit