Thursday, February 23, 2012

Endemic Species Restoration at the Hacienda

For those who have lived and worked at the Hacienda, climbing up the steep Sendero al Mirador brings you to an indescribable view of the ocean and Leon Dormido. If you’ve been there recently, you most likely have seen the new 6000 square meter area that has been cleared of invasive species by our hardworking volunteers. In it, you will find several endemic species to the Galapagos, as well as other species that are critical to the unique structure of the islands. Volunteers continue to help maintain the area and plant new species when needed. With this effort, the Hacienda and those that work for our cause help to restore the delicate ecosystem to its original condition.

This week's post includes a few of the species that can be found in various places around the Hacienda. Many of these species are considered endangered because of the threat of invasive species on the island. What we focus on, however, is restoring these plants and then carefully cultivating their growth. Our efforts have significantly increased their survival by limiting the threat of invasive species.

Here's a brief explanation of some of the species:

I am a flowering plant endemic to the Galapagos that can reach up to 15 meters high with a grayish bark, shiny green leaves, and small green or greenish-yellow fruit, similar in appearance to an apple. Many refer to me as the “poison apple tree” because my parts contain strong toxins and the fruit can be fatal if eaten. Yet, I am unique because I capture a vast amount of carbon dioxide, with one plant capturing 470 kilograms per year.


I am a flowering plant endemic to San Cristobal and Santa Cruz islands. I am a shrub or small tree that can grow to 15 meters and have white to pink or purple flowers. My extremely hard inner wood is used for constructing houses and boats in the archipelago. I capture a large amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, specifically 148 kilograms per year.

Lecocarpus Darwinii
I am one of seven angiosperm genera restricted solely to the Galapagos Islands. Yet, I am the least likely to be seen by tourists because I am not present at the popular visitor sites. I am considered to be an endangered species, and my restoration to the island is vital. I can grow to 1.5 meters tall and have numerous branches with a single stem at the base. My leaves are opposite at 3-10 cm in length, contain yellow flowers near my branch tips, and have fruit with one or more curved spines of variable length.

I grow as a shrub or tree that contains soft wood and gummy sap, and my young branches are usually hairy. My leaves are usually crowded near the branch tips, and dried remnants of the previous year’s growth persist beneath. I am not as well represented on San Cristobal or Santiago as I have in the past. It appears to be the result of damage caused by goats and pigs that were allowed to freely roam, and demonstrates the danger of introducing alien species to the archipelago.

For those interested in exotic plant species from around the world, Hacienda Tranquila is the perfect environment to experience species found in the Galapagos Islands. So come and learn in a special and unique place. We hope to see you soon!

Hacienda Tranquila

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Expanding our Volunteer Outreach

Each term the Universidad de San Francisco Quito sends a group of international students to live and learn in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno for one semester. Within this group, several students participate in various service projects during their stay in the Galapagos. The Hacienda is one of the chosen organizations to receive an intern each semester who serves as a program assistant and volunteer coordinator, and functions in both administrative and operative work. I myself am the current out-going intern at the Hacienda, and we should receive a new individual sometime in February.

Me playing with the INFA children at the Hacienda.

This post will include some of the activities GAIAS students have participated in around the Hacienda, and feature information of how we plan to connect with the university in the future. First, we had students help in early October with cleaning the local school in La Soledad in preparation for a festival. Of course, no cleaning can be done without first having pizza, and the students brought some amazing skills to cook their lunch. Afterwards, the students picked up trash around the school and road to the Mirador, painted some of the school building and basketball court, and made a few other needed repairs. The school looked great and was definitely ready for the festival.

One of the USFQ students helping to paint at the La Soledad school.

We also frequently had volunteers come in the afternoon to help around the garden and with the hippo-therapy program as needed. These students had a great time and were really helpful when only a few volunteers were living in the Hacienda.

A group of students that helped at the Hacienda.

Several professors at USFQ have also connected with the Hacienda to arrange visits for students to learn about the environment and development initiatives conducted by our program. One morning, twenty students came to the Hacienda to work in the Miconia area to control the invasive species. These students were taking a course on the plants of the Galapagos, so working and learning through physical work provided a unique experience for the students. This also took place when we had a large group from Denmark, which meant we had forty volunteers in total -- wow, what an impact!

The perfect opportunity for the outdoor classroom experience.

The international students always bring an interesting perspective to the service work they perform, and their insight and expertise have been helpful in a variety of functions. A community garden that links the international students, local residents, and the Hacienda in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is currently in development. More information regarding this project will hopefully be available soon!

We are grateful for the volunteers USFQ provides us, and we look forward to new and exciting activities in the future!

Hacienda Tranquila