March 16th was a very strange and hectic day for the Galapagos Conservation team. 16 students, one professor, and two volunteers flew out of Isabela Island, frantically trying to find flights out of Ecuador. Two days prior, the Ecuadorian government had said they would be closing international borders, but had made it seem that we would have at least a week to get our team safely back home before we settled into quarantine because of the COVID-19 crisis. We had no cases at that point, so our volunteers had stayed right until the end, sensibly saying they felt safer here than elsewhere. However, in the end they had to “fight” for flights back to their home countries, because we knew the Galapagos would be a hard place to stay while weathering this pandemic. Project staff did an amazing job evacuating every last visitor.
Since then, life for the project team in Isabela has changed dramatically and our work has become more complicated without volunteers. Park rangers are feeding and caring for the giant tortoises alone, and project staff are doing the work of volunteers in their stead; these efforts speak to our dedication to our work and the passion of our hardworking partners, but this is not sustainable in the long term.
We cannot, currently, monitor sea turtle nesting, because people are not allowed on the beaches and no volunteers can work on the farms with our local sustainable farmers. Other projects are on pause because our conservation and community development projects are funded by our volunteers as well. The projects we support live off of our funding from volunteers and students. The people and wildlife of Galapagos depend on us.
Host families are struggling without the support of volunteers and miss the interaction with other people. In such a small town, they really value new people and new ideas. I recently visited one of our host moms just after Mother’s Day. It was heartwarming to hear that she had heard from all of her former host-children wishing her Happy Mother’s Day! The families have really benefited during this time from those international connections, sharing messages of care and hope. Mayi told me these stories about her former host-kids, as she handed me fresh fish that her husband had caught earlier that day, and I traded her tomatoes, celery, peppers, and other vegetables from my garden. This is the direction Isabela is going – we will need to depend on trade while borders are still closed.
While we wait for volunteers to return, we have dedicated ourselves to projects specific to COVID-19 recovery. Our plastic-free galapagos campaign is now sewing masks to donate around town. We are also focusing now on food production. Galapagos is completely dependent on tourism, so families will be feeling the strain. To help, we are increasing our work on urban gardens and helping increase agriculture on the islands. Building beds, donating seedlings, and giving technical advice for pests and planting will help local families have enough to eat and trade with neighbours while we wait for the islands to open up again. We are doing our best to help the Galapagos through this difficult time and fill in the gaps until we can open up again.
Written by Kathryn, from the Galapagos Conservation Volunteer project
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If you are able to join the project as a volunteer later this year or in 2021, then even better! The volunteer project runs throughout the year, and we have made volunteer dates available all the way till August 2021. There is now one free week offered on all bookings received between June and end August for any time in the future! You can find more info via the project page and if you are ready to join already, you can fill in the online application form by clicking on APPLY NOW.