Latin American Stars Team Up to Protect the Galapagos

Invasive species pose one of the greatest threats to the conservation of the Galapagos Islands. That’s why WildAid has teamed up with the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment and the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency on a four-month campaign to protect these unique islands. (Top photo, from left: WildAid ambassadors Alejandra Argudo, Érika Vélez, Efraín Ruales and Henry Bayas attend the “Your Declaration is Protection” campaign launch in Ecuador on January 14.)

The campaign kicked off earlier this month with a Spanish-language PSA starring Ecuadorian actress and TV personality Érika Vélez, one of several new WildAid ambassadors from Latin America. Joining Miss Vélez on the campaign are: Ecuadorian TV personality and actor Efraín Ruales; former Miss Ecuador and model Alejandra Argudo; and Henry Bayas, guitarist for the Galapagos band Sin Residencia.

Filmed on several different islands, these new PSAs feature stunning footage of the archipelago’s array of species: sea lions frolicking in the waves, seabirds swooping across the sky and marine iguanas sunning on the rocks.

Through the accompanying social media campaign, the celebrities encourage their followers to take small actions to protect the Galapagos, such as properly declaring what items they bring with them to the islands.

Why? Many visitors to the Galapagos are unaware that the items they bring with them may be carriers for pests or diseases that could decimate vulnerable native species. Because of the islands’ sheer isolation (the Galapagos are located nearly 600 miles from mainland Ecuador), native species are particularly affected by pests such as fire ants, which harm native reptiles, or diseases like avian influenza, from which native birds have little or no immunity.

Visitors are prohibited from bringing food items such as passion fruit, fresh cheese or seeds, but many tourists aren’t aware of these regulations and why they matter. This campaign seeks to fill in the knowledge gaps and to reduce the risk of contamination on the islands.

Launched on January 14, Miss Vélez’s PSA has already reached more than 1 million people in Ecuador — out of a 15 million total country population. It has garnered more than 7,000 comments, likes and shares, and the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency’s Facebook fan page has nearly doubled in page likes.

The campaign is part of WildAid’s work in Ecuador to protect native and endangered marine species by reducing illegal fishing in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, and together with the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency, reducing the risk of invasive species to the islands. WildAid’s work on the islands includes the following accomplishments:

Assisting with inspector training to ensure proper monitoring of passenger and cargo ships to the islands

Providing state-of-the-art lab equipment for the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency to better identify potential pests and quickly enact an eradication strategy

Supporting the construction of a new port on mainland Ecuador to improve cargo inspection prior to being loaded on vessels leaving for the Galapagos

Launching public awareness campaign in 2014 featuring Latin Grammy-winning artists, Jorge Villamizar and Juan Fernando Velasco to motivate locals and tourists to prevent the introduction of invasive species

Together with the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency, we will continue to educate the public about the dangers of bringing organic products into the islands and improve detection of prohibited goods and invasive species at various checkpoints.

WildAid and the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency are helping reduce the threat of invasive species on the Galapagos with the support of the Helmsley Charitable Trust, National Geographic, IGTOA, Veritas DDB and Lindblad Expeditions.

From left: Efraín Ruales, Manuel Bravo (Director WildAid Ecuador), Daniel Ortega (Minister of Environment of Ecuador), Marilyn Cruz (Director of the Biosecurity Agency for Galapagos), Marcel Bigue (Director of the Marine Program of WildAid), Érika Vélez, and Gustavo Iturralde (Under Secretary of Marine and Coastal Management), pose for a photo at the launch of the campaign “Your declaration is protection” in Ecuador on January 14.