Date(s) - 09/24/2019 - 10/08/2019
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.
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.”
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
As the Nazca plate shifts east, the volcanoes move with it – but the geological hotspot remains, forming new volcanoes and creating the archipelago.
Though the terrestrial wildlife of the Galápagos gets much of the spotlight, the marine wildlife of the Galápagos is just as incredible.
Did you know: 20% of the 3,000 species in the Galápagos Islands are found nowhere else on Earth?
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.
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.
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: