Friends of Galapagos New Zealand - 
White-vented Storm Petrel Project Underway
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February 2014
White-vented Storm Petrel Project Underway
Chris and Karen attempting to catch a NZ Storm petrel. Photo: Stefanie Ismar

We did it, and it is happening
The project team is organised, the money is mostly in, and departure dates are being finalised as I write this.  So congratulations to everyone involved, and of course to our members who made this possible by creating and maintaining FOGNZ.
The project has ended up being very much a collaboration between a number of parties. 
Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) came in as partners at the beginning, bringing both their skills in managing overseas projects, and funds from the government and other sources.  They are covering the direct costs of travel, insurance, and support for our volunteers, Chris Gaskin and Karen Baird, who have already been to Wellington for their final briefings from VSA and signing of the contracts.
Equipment for the work will be paid for by members’ donations augmented by significant grants from The Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund, and the Mohamed bin Zayed Conservation Fund. We are still waiting to hear from IGTOA, the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association, but we are very hopeful. We are extremely grateful for these funders, and especially to our members who have contributed so generously.

The Galapagos National Park Authority (Park) will be the official managers of the project, covering logistics in-country, accomodation and and arranging things like permits for catching the birds and collecting and exporting blood samples.

Of course none of this would be happening if Chris and Karen hadn’t agreed to make their skills available. Chris and Karen will be in the Galapagos for three months – a major time commitment for both of them.
We have raised most of the funds needed (bird tracking is quite expensive), but a member has agreed to cover any shortfall.  We also have some funds in our project budget which will help. This means that we have been able to get everything in place to do the work in the 2014 breeding season.  We do however need to keep those donations rolling in so we can report this as a fully achieved project. Any contribution you can make will help us get over the line. Contact us on if you would like to make a donation. 
Pincoya Storm Petrel (Chile) - Launching the net using a gun. Photo: Shirley Metz
This project will not only deliver some valuable information about the birds, but also prove that FOGNZ can be a major contributor to Galapagos conservation, and is a worthy partner for joint projects in the future. VSA is interested in working with us on more projects, helped by the Government being interested in developing closer relations with Ecuador. At the end of the project we will have an expensive telemetry receiver and a solar power unit that we can make available for other Galapagos and Pacific projects.
What we hope to achieve
While the holy grail is to locate the breeding site of the birds, there is no guarantee that we will achieve that.  Anyone who has worked with seabirds and bird tracking will know that you can do everything right and still not get the answer or results if the birds aren’t cooperating or if you aren’t lucky in which bird goes into the nets.
But there are also a number of other objectives that are far more tractable, so we can be confident that the expedition will have been worthwhile even if we can’t mark the breeding site(s) on a map. 
We certainly hope that genetic analysis will help to answer the question of whether this is a separate species or a subspecies. That’s where the blood samples come in. Even if the birds that are caught don’t lead us to nests, they will each contribute a small amount of blood that will be sent to a specialist lab for genetic analysis.   Comparing the samples with others from Chile and Peru will allow the phylogeny of this species to be established.
Another goal is to gather as much information as possible about the birds including finding their breeding sites which will help the Park in their conservation work. To date the birds have only ever been observed at sea or in anchorages.  We have been collecting reports from our contacts in Galapagos and this information will help us to narrow down our search areas to enable us to:
  1. Catch the birds using specialist equipment
  2. Attach radio transmitters to the birds
  3. Track them at sea and on land  
All going well this will lead to their nesting sites and through future work by the Park to make it easier to justify good quarantine, surveillance and pest management actions on those islands. We may also gather useful information of feeding habits and food sources. Our experts will also be working with the Park staff, and sharing their skills.
Small transmitter attached to tail of NZ Storm petrel Photo: Arno Gasteiger
Remote telemetry receiver set up (NZ Storm petrel project Te Hauturu-o-Toi/Little Barrier Island) Photo: Chris Gaskin
Telling the story
Another benefit of the project will be sharing information about what Galapagos conservation involves, and the values of the islands.
We are working with VSA to develop a communications plan for the project.  Karen is planning to run a blog while she is there, which will give a picture of the fieldwork, the day to day reality of bird tracking, as well as an intimate picture of Galapagos.   We hope that we can build up a strong international following for the blog.
At the other end of the spectrum the scientists will be publishing the material as journal articles, so that all their findings will be in the peer reviewed literature. And with a slightly different focus we will also be putting out articles designed for ornithologists to use.

While tourism is a mixed blessing, the reality is that Ecuador’s conservation management efforts are significantly dependent on the income from tourists visiting Galapagos. If those tourists are well informed, and are there because they care about the wildlife, that will have a positive effect on the behaviour of the tourism businesses in Galapagos, and help build up a passionate international community that can help defend the islands if that becomes necessary.  
And for our next project...
Having proven our ability to support an on-the-ground conservation project, we will need to consider what we should have as our next focus; we have already looked at other opportunities. 
Galapagos Land Snail. Photo: Tui De Roy
The first is to provide a management mentor arrangement for a Park middle manager.  The new Park Director has expressed interest in this idea, and we have a retired Department of Conservation senior manager willing to take on the role.  We will continue exploring a practical approach to achieving this arrangement.  Current thoughts are that we would have the Park manager visit New Zealand and look at some key technical and project management issues with the NZ mentor manager; have a visit of the NZ mentor to Galapagos so they have a clear understanding of how the Park operates, and from then much of the ongoing mentoring would be through email.  A key need would be to give the NZ mentor the necessary Spanish language skills for him to do the job.
The second idea is to support snail conservation in Galapagos. Snails would be much easier to work with – no need for all that complicated netting and radio tracking, no working in small boats in unpredictable seas. Snails have quite stable territories – if we find where they are this year, they should still be using the same area next year.  On the negative side, there are a lot of snail species, scattered all over the islands, and all of them appear to be undergoing more or less catastrophic declines. Some may already be extinct.   A third possible project we have looked at is the vermilion flycatcher whose numbers appear to be decreasing with no clearly identified cause.
Vermilion Flycatcher. Photo Tui De Roy
If you have views on these projects, or ideas of other work that could be a priority, let us know. The White-vented Storm petrel project is exciting and one which we expect to be a catalyst in helping FOGNZ to develop into a significant contributor to the conservation of Galapagos, and all thanks to the support of our members.
Thank you
Paula Warren
FOGNZ Secretary
* Note - Photos (apart from the snails and vermilion flycatcher) show equipment and techniques similar to those that will be used in the White-vented Storm petrel Project.

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