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Date(s) - 09/24/2019 - 10/08/2019
12:00 am

Galápagos Islands


In September 2019, the Mission Blue Expeditions team traveled to the Galápagos Islands, led by Kip Evans, Mission Blue Director of Photography and Expeditions.


The Expedition team included Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue team members Kip Evans and Amanda Townsel, Ocean First team members Graham Casden and Klara Fejer, research scientists, and citizen scientists, all of who were able to embark on this expedition thanks to support from expedition donors, Seth Casden, Carol Hempf and Dr. Fisk Johnson.



The purpose of this Hope Spot Expedition was multi-faceted, bringing together a diverse team of experts to further the scientific knowledge of the Galápagos’ biodiversity and to put a spotlight on the human-induced impacts that are a threat to their survival.  Expedition was split into two legs, each focusing on a different part of the archipelago and highlighting important conservation research. The first leg focused on migratory sharks and exploration at Wolf and Darwin Islands, the most remote islands in the archipelago.

The second leg contributed to research being done on a newly-discovered kelp forest; a potential new species that occur at depths deeper than many other species of kelp.



Learn more about this newly-discovered species and the research done on the expedition in Salome Buglass’s blog, Dive into the Mysterious Deep-Sea Ecosystems of the Galápagos.

Between the two legs of the Expedition, Mission Blue and partner Pew hosted a community event with the Galápagos National Park and the Galápagos government to share the purpose and findings of the expedition and to hear from members of the community about their concerns about the threats facing the Galápagos Islands. You can dive deeper into the expedition on the blog, A Hope Spot Expedition Heads to the Tropical Eastern Pacific’s Enchanted Galápagos Islands. 


© Amanda Townsel, Mission Blue


Diving Deep


DeepSee Submersible


This Expedition took place aboard the UnderSea Hunter’s Argo, which also supported the 2017 Hope Spot Expedition to Cocos Island. Shmulik Blum, chief submersible pilot & operations manager with UnderSea Hunter, said that the Argo was specially designed to support research cruises and that it was created to aid scientists wherever their work takes them, “the destination is not as important as the capabilities.”


The ARGO ship and submarine Deep See

Being able to explore these deep habitats with a manned submersible, in some cases for the first time, is a privilege, even for seasoned ocean explorers like Dr. Earle.


The Land and Life of the Galapagos Islands


Early Spanish sailors called these islands the “Enchanted Isles” because of the strong currents that pulled ships off course and heavy mist that caused the islands to “disappear”.
The 19 islands and dozens of islets that make up the Galápagos archipelago were all formed by volcanic activity, a hot spot where intense heat from the Earth’s mantle forced the crust of the Nazca Plate, an oceanic tectonic plate, upward.
A penguin explores the rocky volcanic coast (c) Amanda Townsel, Mission Blue


As the Nazca plate shifts east, the volcanoes move with it – but the geological hotspot remains, forming new volcanoes and creating the archipelago.


Sunset, Galapagos National Park


Though the terrestrial wildlife of the Galápagos gets much of the spotlight, the marine wildlife of the Galápagos is just as incredible.


Mola Mola- Sunfish, Galapagos National Park

Did you know: 20% of the 3,000 species in the Galápagos Islands are found nowhere else on Earth?

There are nearly 3,000 marine species, including dolphins, whales, sea turtles, sea lions, reef fish, and over 30 species of sharks.
Fur Seal 
The Galápagos are the only place in the world where you can experience marine iguanas, penguins, sea lions, and sea turtles on the same dive!


Marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) mans its rock with a sense of pride.

Swimming with Speckled Giants

Migratory shark species, specifically hammerhead and whale sharks, visit the Galápagos Islands as part of their migrations in the Eastern Tropical Pacific and their populations are being impacted by legal and illegal targeted fishing and bycatch. 


Despite being the largest fish in the ocean, there is still a lot that science doesn’t know about the life of whale sharks, which makes it difficult to protect these animals that can and do travel great distances across the ocean.



(c) Amanda Townsel, Mission Blue

Data collected from satellite tags are incredibly important because they can help answer these questions, which can be used to support new and expanded protected areas and management plans that protect the animals as they are migrating.

You can read more about whale sharks in the Galápagos Islands in the expedition blog, Working with the Largest Fish in the Ocean to Protect Migratory Species in the Eastern Pacific Seascape Hope Spot.


Advanced Protection

In response to some of the threats facing the archipelago, the Galápagos Marine Reserve was established in 1998, creating a perimeter out to 40 nautical miles from the islands.

Reserve designates 138,000 km2 (~85,749 mi2) as a managed, multi-use protected area; there are zones for conservation (preserved, no-take), for non-extractive use (tourism), and extractive-use (artisanal/small scale fishing- industrial fishing is banned).

The management and protections are ever-evolving, and as recently as 2016 the Marine Reserve was expanded to include just over 24,140 km2 (15,000 mi2) around Wolf and Darwin Islands.

While marine protected areas are not the end-all solution to human-induced threats, when they are combined with scientifically sound management, enforcement, and community support, protected areas can serve as a refuge for marine species, reducing the stressors they are experiencing.


Dr. Sylvia Earle explains,

“The role migratory species play in supporting marine ecological functions and how we can safeguard continued migrations are key questions for those of us committed to sharing our planet with other life forms. The recognition that national borders are irrelevant for transboundary species raises important questions of linking marine reserves, creating corridors or ‘swimways’ and otherwise improving ocean management.”


You can learn more about the Galápagos Islands in the four expedition blogs:


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