Most Influential Projects 2021

37 Galápagos Islands Rewilding

Galápagos Islands Rewilding

For restoring delicate ecosystems while developing sustainable economies

The Galápagos Islands are going wild (again). A coalition of nonprofits and a certain eco-conscious celebrity are joining forces to restore the spectacular array of biodiversity of one of the first UNESCO World Heritage sites—which will also serve to bolster the economy through ecotourism.

Fueled by a US$43 million pledge from movie star Leonardo DiCaprio, the project includes restoring Floreana Island, home to 54 threatened species. A project led by Re:wild, Gálapagos National Park Directorate and Island Conservation, along with local communities, plans to reintroduce 13 locally extinct species (including the Floreana mockingbird, the first mockingbird described by Charles Darwin).

"To reverse the climate crisis and ecosystem collapse, we need to focus on a ‘technology’ that took billions of years to refine, that is free and that sustains us every single day: nature, in its most wild form," said Wes Sechrest, Re:wild chief scientist and CEO.

The project also includes plans to establish a captive breeding program to prevent the extinction of the pink iguana. It aims to strengthen measures that protect marine resources and improve ecotourism, a critical component of the Galápagos and Ecuadorian economy.

"These kinds of partnerships that leverage technical, social and financial innovations are exactly what we need around the world to restore the health of our planet," said Marcelo Mata Guerrero, Ecuador’s Minister of Environment and Water.

But before the team can revive native species—including penguins, iguanas, snails and the Floreana giant tortoise—it first has to deal with the invasive rodents and feral cats wreaking havoc with the local ecosystem.

The team will rely on lessons learned from past restoration projects. "We know how to prevent these extinctions and restore functional and thriving ecosystems—we have done it—but we need to replicate these successes, innovate and go to scale," said wildlife veterinarian Paula Castaño.

And the scale is ambitious. Over the next 10 years, the team will launch an unprecedented push across Latin America’s Pacific archipelagos—from México down to Chile. The coalition aims to double the areas under protection and protect at least 30 percent of each country’s waters while reversing the decline of more than 250 globally threatened species.

Along with providing financial support, DiCaprio has traveled to the Galápagos site to meet with some of the project leaders. And thanks to his social media star power, an Instagram video featuring Castaño discussing the rewilding efforts had racked up 770,000 views within just the first few months.

"The environmental heroes that the planet needs are already here," DiCaprio said. "Now we all must rise to the challenge and join them."