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Research to tackle threats to Galapagos archipelago

By Angus Smith

RIEL PhD candidate Veronica Toral-Granda has moved to Darwin from the Galapagos Islands RIEL PhD candidate Veronica Toral-Granda has moved to Darwin from the Galapagos Islands

A Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods PhD candidate has arrived in Darwin from the Galapagos Islands to continue her studies on the relationship between humans and alien species in the archipelago.

Veronica Toral-Granda was born in Cuenca, Ecuador and moved to the Galapagos Islands in 1995. Before embarking on her PhD she worked as a marine biologist in Galapagos with a focus on small scale fisheries management with a special emphasis on sea cucumbers.

Ms Toral-Granda’s thesis, entitled "The impact of human mobility in the arrival and dispersal of alien species in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador", aims to use information from public and private Ecuadorian institutions to assess the probability of the arrival of new introduced species in the Galapagos National Park. 

“Living on the Galapagos Islands for all these years made me realise that the two biggest threats to the Island (human growth and invasive species) need to be tackled together, so I decided to evaluate how humans, and our goods and services were vectors to introduced species.” 

Ms Toral-Granda said the conservation and management practices by the Ecuadorian Government had ensured Galapagos was still one of the most pristine oceanic archipelagos in the world, having registered very few extinctions so far. 

“However, there are still almost 2000 alien species, including 16 of the 100 worst alien invasive species in the world,” she said. “These species pose a threat to the overall natural state of the islands and to many of our most iconic species, such as Darwin’s Finches.

“The biggest challenge of my research will be to compile the existing knowledge on alien species in Galapagos and to convert them into quantitative information to build a model to understand the current and future threat of alien species in Galapagos.”

Ms Toral-Granda said the results of the research would inform local and national decision-makers in the management of human movement flows to and within the islands.

“To help keep Galapagos as one of nature's wonders, my research will need to build on the strong partnerships with the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park, the Biosecurity and Quarantine Agency for the Galapagos Islands, the Ecuadorian Ministry of Tourism, and others,” she said.

“I also hope that the final recommendations arising from my research will be incorporated into public policies to manage human mobility in Galapagos, minimising the risk of spreading alien species in the Islands.”

Ms Toral-Granda said she chose CDU because she had already met some researchers from the university who had a very good balance between theoretical and practical approaches to research.

“I also liked the idea of living in Darwin because of the relaxed and laid back atmosphere coupled with the beautiful natural surroundings,” she said.

Find out more about Veronica Toral-Granda’s voyage from Galapagos to Darwin on her blog on the RIEL website at W: riel.cdu.edu.au/blog/572