Roslyn Cameron is public support and outreach coordinator at the Charles Darwin Research Station on the Galapagos Islands.

Monday, 30 Apr 2001

ISLA SANTA CRUZ, Galapagos

A five-minute ride along the mangrove-lined oceanfront road on my rusty old bike finds me at the Charles Darwin Research Station. After four years, my morning commute still never ceases to fill me with awe. Bypassing the station’s main buildings, I spend a few minutes alone with the rugged ocean seascape on the way to the dining room, an open-air area overlooking the turquoise ocean, before I drop off containers for my “take away,” which I’ll pick up at lunchtime.

Staff in front of the marine biology building.

Photo: CDRS.

Since its humble beginnings in the 1960s, the CDRS has been the home base for many successful and innovative conservation programs. In the past decade, we’ve expanded several programs and developed new departments as the threats to the island ecology change and grow. Next to the dining room are the recently refurbished marine biology buildings, home to one of the fastest growing departments, with a staff now near 40, stationed on three islands. Industrial fishing activities increased substantially around the islands in the early 1990s. Scientists working for conservation reacted by stepping up their efforts to monitor marine life. Now, the future plans and decisions of the recently created Galapagos Marine Reserve may depend on the technical reports produced by our hardworking team, and the pressure is on to find the resources to continue this and other vital programs.

My office is in the Van Straelen interpretation center, settled amongst native vegetation on the edge of the station. The building is old and in need of a facelift, but I have an enviable ocean view. From the balcony, I check to see which boats are in the bay to get an idea of how busy we will be with video presentations and handling questions from guides and tourists alike. Through many newly initiated outreach programs, we are informing and motivating visitors, guides, tourist operators, and agencies to join us and support the work of the CDRS.

I switch on my laptop and watch the world pour into my niche, 1,000 kilometers out in the middle of the Pacific. It is a fairly recent phenomenon for us to be online and available to people around the world — only a couple of years ago we could barely make a telephone call. This morning, I sift through hundreds of emails, responding to everything from info requests from 7th-graders to press and scientific inquiries. It has been nigh impossible to create standard responses, so each requires an individual answer. The emails give me a lot of leads for fund-raising, affiliations, and help organizing the logistics for the many film groups and journalists that come to record the happenings on these magical islands.

Among the packages and letters in the regular mail are copies of videos from the BBC and Partridge films, just two of the dozens of film groups that have worked in the islands in the last year. I coordinate any involvement of the CDRS staff or facilities in films, arranging logistics, proposing themes, and quite often appearing in the films themselves. Film groups have been very receptive to our new policy encouraging a focus on the work of the station in their productions. Without the partnership of CDRS and the Galapagos National Park Service, Galapagos would not be the natural Mecca for media it is today. Our latest emphasis has been on promoting the work of the invertebrates and plant departments. Invasive plants and insects represent some of the greatest threats to the islands and some of the hardest projects to fund. Another package contains a visiting scientist’s project to retrace Darwin’s steps. There’s also an autographed copy of a new field guide I reviewed, invitations for dinner, cocktails, and even a wedding invitation from one of my staff.

I spend a couple of hours with Robert Bensted Smith, director of the CDRS. During his five years at the station, he has promoted and engineered quite impressive changes, including the formation of a public relations department. Until we find the elusive development director we have been seeking, management of the PR department rests squarely on his shoulders, which puts me in the privileged position of having ready access to this very busy man. We catch up on the news from the Charles Darwin Foundation’s assembly meetings, from which he has just returned, and discuss the upcoming Foundation Council meetings in Washington, D.C. I leave him feeling inspired that the Foundation continues to move forward, adapting to the needs, pressures, and demands of being a major force in Galapagos and world conservation.

The phone rings constantly, messages fly back and forth — a typical day at the office. I fill my day supervising our multilingual staff, which gives presentations, does translations, and creates materials for the design team. Tourists stop by to learn about the work of the station and guides drop in to catch up on the latest news and chat. A lost tourist turns out to have the surname Beagle, and he becomes a Friend of Galapagos in honor of Darwin’s ship!

In all, a busy and successful day. I silently promise myself and my son that the computer will not go home with me tonight.