Galapagos is one of the most important conservation areas in the world. However, many endemic species and unique ecosystems on the islands are facing serious threats caused by human impact. At the same time, the local community lacks many basic services such as quality health care.
Improvements to this complex situation are sought by many actors and policymakers wish to see Galapagos achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030. To achieve this, changes are needed in the way research and conservation action is undertaken in Galapagos. With much work being done by different groups of typically international scientists, the local community is often left out of the picture. This creates inefficiency and inequality in both nature conservation work and in responding to the most pressing needs of the islands’ residents.
In 2021, with funding from the Evolution Education Trust for a Post-Doctoral Research Associate position, Dr. Sophia Cooke teamed up with local NGO FUNCAVID to identify the 40 most urgent SDG targets for the islands through a participatory process involving policymakers, NGOs and the community, and assess synergies between them. From the results, Sophia and her team created an online tool to enable decision-makers to identify targets to focus resources towards, so that all 40 targets can be achieved most efficiently.
Building on this work, Sophia (in representation of King’s College, University of Cambridge), FUNCAVID and the Galapagos Conservation Trust launched the Co-Galapagos initiative in 2021. The aim is to amplify community involvement and leadership in efforts towards the 40 SDG targets, catalysing trackable actions from grassroots to Government.
EET provided seed funding towards Co-Galapagos, enabling the training of pioneering community members to lead projects that strengthen local capacity, and the piloting of a new funding mechanism of tourist donations using crowdfunding. This will help reduce the need for raising funds via grant applications which is not always a responsive or consistent enough pathway to suit local project needs.
Galapagos residents are supported to lead projects that fall under the topics featured in the 40 SDG targets. Through Co-Galapagos the residents can access:
- Training, resources and support from a Project Coach on topics that include project management, communication and policy processes
- A new fundraising platform that channels donations from tourists and international NGOs into community projects
- Networking opportunities to meet researchers and other local individuals and groups linked to their topics of interest
The Galapagos Conservation Trust provides communications support for the initiative which includes training and support for local interns to publish newsletters and raise awareness through the local radio.
From grassroots to government
The projects linked to policy are additionally guided by a Policy Lead to produce data and resources designed to support policy processes. Results are then synthesised to generate policy advice.
“EET did what many funders would not and put their trust in an early-career researcher with a new idea. Thanks to them, this idea has become an impactful reality.”
Dr. Jen Jones, Head of Programmes, Galapagos Conservation Trust
Increased local capacity
As part of the Co-Galapagos platform, the team have also launched the first paid internship scheme for local young people to gain experience in projects relating to the 40 SDG targets.
The team have used the EET grant to leverage further funding, including through a Darwin Initiative Award, which has secured their work until September 2023.
A long-term goal is to integrate Co-Galapagos within the new Galapagos Hub for Sustainability, Innovation and Resilience and connect the community projects to a wider network of scientific and technical organisations within and beyond Ecuador, to inform policy and pilot solutions.
Photo: Celebrating a Co-Galapagos supported project, a football training programme for teenagers in Galapagos suffering issues with violence and/or drug abuse. Through the programme the young people are trained in the sport and also in community and environmental stewardship. Credit: Sophia Cooke