Planet Forward goes to the Galápagos

Planet Forward goes to the Galápagos
Related Topics:
Biodiversity, Colleges & Education, Storyfest

About 600 miles west of the Ecuadorian coastline, an island chain largely devoid of human development emerges from the ocean waves. The Galápagos Islands are most famous as a central case study within Charles Darwin’s seismic On the Origin of Species, and today 97% of the island lands are protected as a national park. 

On Friday, June 14, 2024, three Planet Forward Storyfest Winners, along with Founding Director Frank Sesno and Multimedia Editor Aaron Dye set out for the Galápagos Islands aboard the National Geographic Endeavor II with Lindblad Expeditions.

Ayah Mahana of George Washington University won the GW award and focused on sea lion conservation during the trip. (Aaron Dye)
Mickki Garrity of the University of Minnesota won Best Written Story by a Non-Media Student and is writing her story on the role of local Ecuadorians in crafting conservation policy. (Aaron Dye)
Joy Reeves of Duke University won Best Multimedia Story by a Non-Media Student and is covering the use of drones and citizen science tools to track marine iguana populations. (Aaron Dye)

In the Galápagos, the winners worked on new stories, reporting straight from the islands of Baltra, Isabela, Fernandina, Rabida, North Seymour, and more. From investigating the role of local Ecuadorians in leading the conservation of the islands, to the use of drone technologies to count marine iguana populations, the students’ stories will capture both the timeless results of evolution, and the next chapter of conservation. 

George Washington University President Ellen M. Granberg and her spouse, Sonya Rankin, joined the expedition. They spent time with the students during the storytelling process and learned more, alongside the rest of us, about conservation, climate change, and the extraordinary efforts to protect the biodiversity of the Galapagos. GW Trustee Michelle Rubin and her sister, Caren, joined the expedition as well. Trustee Rubin and her sister traveled to Iceland with Planet Forward last year.

As they hiked the islands and dove into the clear waters to see sea lions, sea turtles, iguanas and fish, the Planet Forward students experienced this unique and abundant “natural laboratory of evolution.”  At the same time, the students had moments of somber reflection as they saw the iguana die-off caused by el Niño and visited the final resting place of the famous Lonesome George, the Pinta Island tortoise who was the living specimen of his subspecies. 

Lonesome George, the last known Pinta Island tortoise.
Juvenile tortoises enjoying feeding time. (Aaron Dye)

Still, hope abounds at the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center where Lonesome George is preserved.  The Center has had amazing success at breeding and reintroducing the remaining tortoise subspecies back into their respective islands. 

With masterful guidance from the Endeavor II’s team of naturalists and Lindblad Expeditions‘ attention to crafting a rich, educational experience, we could not be more grateful for the continued support for our students to have these amazing opportunities. 

Naturalist Maricarmen Ramirez points out nesting blue-footed boobies to Planet Forward storytellers Ayah Mahana and Mickki Garrity. (Aaron Dye)

Just as the islands seem to sprout from the ocean that surrounds them for hundreds of miles, the Galápagos National Park serves as inspiration for what can be accomplished when humans take conservation seriously and implement rigorous environmental policies. 

This was a trip that we will never forget.  The students are working on their stories now. You will see them soon. We think you will find them fascinating, informative, and inspiring – like the Galapagos themselves.  

From left to right: George Washington University President Ellen M. Granberg, Frank Sesno, Mickki Garrity, Joy Reeves, Ayah Mahana, Aaron Dye, Michelle Rubin.
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