During our Galapagos cruise, we spend a day on the island of Santa Cruz where the Charles Darwin Research Station is located. It is overseen by the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) which was founded to carry out scientific research and advise the Ecuadorian government on conservation management in the Galapagos Islands.
In the mid-fifties, biologist Iraenus Eible-Eibesfeldt visited the Galapagos Islands and sounded the alarm about the ecological condition of the archipelago. This initiated an international movement by conservationists and scientists in favor of establishing some form of protection for the islands. In 1957, an official scientific expedition led to the islands by UNESCO prompted the Ecuadorian government to take vital and timely steps towards the conservation of the archipelago. In 1959, Ecuador declared the Galapagos islands a National Park and at the same time, in this centenary year of the publication of the “Origin of Species”, the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands was founded with international headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. The Foundation was the first step which was followed a few years later by the establishment of the Charles Darwin Research Station in Academy Bay, the technical arm of the CFD. Located on southern Santa Cruz Island, it was named after an earlier scientific expedition led in 1906 by the California Academy of Science, and it was finally up and running in 1964. Since its first president, Victor Van Straelen, it has helped conserve the unique and remarkable flora and fauna in their natural environments.
The General Assembly is CDF’s highest authority; among other activities, its members establish policy, issue regulations, elect the Board of Directors, and approve the operational plan and the budget. The General Assembly is made up of honorary, institutional, active, and corresponding members, among them scientists, conservationists, philanthropists and diplomats. The Board of Directors is comprised of nine members of the General Assembly who are elected for six-year terms. They work with the Executive Director and make decisions on behalf of the General Assembly. The Executive Team of the CDF leads the implementation of the CDF Strategic Plan 2006-2016. Its members direct the five programs upon which the plan is founded and support the foundation’s 100+ scientists, educators, volunteers, research students, and staff from all over the world.
Some of the first accomplishments of the CDF and CDRS in the Galapagos islands were the tortoise rearing center and repatriation programs for the Galapagos giant tortoises as well as the first conservation education programs. Since then, they have created a Scholarship program for Ecuadorian student (1972); initiated the land iguana repatriation program (1976); built Environmental Education Centers on all the population centers on various islands; in conjunction with the National Park, the Isabela Project for the conservation of Isabela and Santiago (1998); Inspection and quarantine program (1999); and established the Terrestrial Invertebrate Database and Collection (2000). Several species thought lost have been found through important monitoring programs such as the daisy tree Scalesia atractyloides, thought to be extinct, was rediscovered on Santiago island and there was the rediscovery of Floreana flax Linum cratericola, also previously thought to be extinct.
In recognition of these successes, CDF has received many awards over the years such as J. Paul Getty Wildlife prize (2001), Society for Conservation Biology Award for Distinguished Achievement (2002), International Cosmos Prize by Japan (2002), Spain’s BBVA Foundation Prize (2004), Commander of the National Order of Honorato Vásquez by the Government of Ecuador (2004) and the Punto Azul Award from the Colegio Nacional de Galápagos.
Over fifty years later, the excellent work undertaken by this institution is evident in the overall excellent condition of the islands we explore, and that in many ways feel as pristine as they must have been when Darwin himself visited in 1835.
“CDF’smission is to provide knowledge and assistance through scientific research and complementary action to ensure the conservation of the environment and biodiversity in the Galapagos Archipelago. Within this context, thevision of the CDF for 2016 is to be the world's leading research institution dedicated to the conservation of the biological diversity and natural resources of Galapagos, and committed to building a sustainable and collaborative society to achieve this objective.” -Charles Darwin Foundation