Baltra Island - ecosystem restoration success story!

The Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS) reported yesterday that during routine ecosystem monitoring field trip to Baltra Island (the small island on which the main airport is located), its rangers discovered a new colony of blue footed boobies in full nesting and brood rearing mode.   No such colony had ever been reported before.   The monitoring study revealed that the colony, comprised of 315 adults, 24 juveniles, 23 chicks and 8 nests occupied an area of about 9.4 hectares (apx. 24 acres).  

Baltra Island has a long history of ecosystem degradation thanks to human activities.  It was used as a US military base during World War II, with airstrip, harbour and thousands of soldiers based there, protecting the approaches to the Panama Canal.  It was eventually taken over by the Ecuadorian military and has been used as the main commercial airport to Galapagos for over 40 years.   During this time, humans brought over the usual suspects - particularly cats, goats and accidentally rats.  Goats also roamed the island.   The land iguana, reported there earlier in the 20th century, were completely eradicated.    Wild cats would eat up any young ones.  Goats ravaged the vegetation.  

In the 1990's, Baltra was chosen as one of the islands in which the GNPS, with the support of the Charles Darwin Research Station, would carry out ecosystem restoration efforts.  They eradicated the goats, and thanks to some excellent scientific work, they also eradicated the cats - a much harder thing to do.   This was done in large part thanks to the work of Brand Phillips, a good friend of CNH Tours when we lived in Galapagos (1998-2002).  

Today, it's great to see land iguanas roam the island once again, and also, thanks to the disappearance of goats and cats, it's also great to see a newly established blue footed booby colony.    The next alien species needing attention on Baltra is the rat.  The GNPS has been successful in eradicating this wily creature from other smaller islands in the past. Given that Baltra is the main port of entry for goods and supplies from the continent, the risk of new rats arriving is ever present.   It will be a challenge, but we wish them all the best.

 

Baltra Boobies

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