Rebuilding the Galapagos Islands could be a model for a new way to coexist with nature | Dani Rueda Cordova and Leonardo DiCaprio

THere are few places in the world as majestic and full of wonder as the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. From the colorful pink iguanas on the northern edge of Volcano Wolf to the iconic Pinzon Island giant tortoise to the black-headed sharks feeding on Floriana Island, we’ve both found limitless inspiration in exploring the islands that led Charles Darwin to develop his groundbreaking theory of evolution since Almost two centuries ago.

We have also witnessed a process of rapid development in the Galapagos based on a shared vision of restoring the abundance of life for which the archipelago is famous. This process is a rebuilding, a positive reformulation of nature conservation. There is an idea that rebuilding involves restoring nature at the expense of people, but we believe it is all about integrating ourselves effectively within the ecosystems that support us – to work with nature, not against it, to create thriving, resilient ecosystems for the benefit. For everyone.

The reconstruction is helping to restore the abundance of life that the archipelago is famous for, including lizards such as the marine iguana (pictured) and the pink-billed iguana. Photography: Lucas Bustamante

In short, modern refill is the revolutionary act of bringing people and planet together for people and planet. It requires no futuristic technology and is instead based on our scientific understanding of wildlife and ecosystems, combined with the traditional knowledge and wisdom of local communities and indigenous peoples, who are always the most effective stewards of the Earth’s biodiversity. In the truest sense of the word, it restores our balance to the wild.

In the Galapagos Islands, where non-native rats and other invasive species have exterminated populations of birds, reptiles and other wildlife, it is inspiring to see some stunning examples of local communities that have decided to restore and coexist with nature, rather than exploit it.

giant turtle
The Fernandina giant tortoise (pictured) was recently discovered on the islands, while reconstruction efforts will see the return of the locally extinct Floriana giant tortoise. Photography: Lucas Bustamante

In Floriana, for example, residents are collaborating to remove invasive species by 2024 and return 13 native species to the island where they are locally extinct by 2027. One such species is the Floriana giant tortoise, whose return could completely reshape the island’s ecosystem. As the turtles selectively browse certain plants, they sow seeds of native species and create a mosaic of habitats, allowing the island to return to a savannah-like ecosystem.

This will help return other species that will collectively restore the ecosystem to health, offering a series of benefits to the Floriana local community: climate resilience, protection of their food and water supplies, preservation of their culture, and nature-based tourism.

Link to Wild World series

As Floreana transforms, the surrounding ocean will also benefit, among other things, from cycling feeders from seabirds and reducing sedimentation due to the return of native vegetation.

The commitment to rebuild Floriana Island is a shared vision of the Galapagos National Park Directorate and the local community, who have played leading roles in co-designing these projects from the outset.

RE: Wilde and the directorate have now teamed up with local environmental organizations such as Fundación Jocotoco to replicate this powerful model for rebuilding the rest of the islands. Re:wild is also taking this approach outside of the Galapagos with local partners elsewhere, including throughout the Pacific archipelagos of Latin America, from Mexico to Chile.

Mexican Pork.
The ocean surrounding the Galapagos Islands will also benefit from rebuilding efforts. Photography: Lucas Bustamante / Re: Wild

We see other promising examples of revival elsewhere. In Australia, reintroducing Tasmanian devils to the mainland will help re-engineer the entire ecosystem back to a healthy state and reduce the intensity of bushfires by helping local small mammals recover and regenerate forests. In the wetlands of Iberia in northeastern Argentina, local communities are proud to reintroduce jaguars, which are revitalizing ecotourism in the region. In Indonesia, communities on the island of Lombok are leading the reef restoration a few years after a major earthquake in 2018. And in the Caribbean, barren islands are being turned back into lush green wildlife oases that can mitigate the effects of harsh weather.

This is in microcosm what rebuilding on a global scale can achieve when done in the right places: thriving wildlife communities living in harmony with thriving human societies. We both agree that the answer to the climate and biodiversity crises sweeping the world are both basic, older, and more radical ideas for creating a livable planet by working with, not against, wilderness.

Dani Rueda Cordova boss Galapagos National Park Directorate. Leonardo DiCaprio, an Oscar-winning environmental scientist– The winning representative and founding board member of Re: wild.

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