An innovative project in the remote Galapagos Islands has turned dozens of locals into urban scientists at a time when epidemics have dried up tourist incomes.
San Cristobal Island, Galapagos – Five months into the epidemic, things were getting frustrating for Robin Bettencourt, the tourist he relied on as a boat captain was unable to visit the Galapagos Islands, whose loneliness – 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from the mainland – makes it difficult to find alternative employment.
He was shocked when he didn’t get a few cents to buy pastries for his 5-year-old daughter Zulin.
Then science stepped in.
Bettencourt was one of the 74 inhabitants of the Galapagos who hired and trained for sampling genetic diversity in the small island of China, which impressed Charles Darwin with the details of his evolution.
He said the plan was a salvation but also a challenge. “All I knew was how to turn on the computer to play music. I didn’t know how to play the thing.
“Now I’m part of an urban science project. I’m an urban scientist, look at that!” He said with a smile.
The Barcode Galapagos Project uses locals to collect, prepare and process small samples in DNA sequencing machines set up in three laboratories on the islands.
They search for soil and sink into the sea to collect surviving specimens of the island’s flora and fauna, from large to microscopic.
Samples are run by machines to determine short DNA sequences, create barcode identifiers or fingerprints of thousands of species that can be compared to similar samples from other parts of the world.
“We are creating a genetic catalog of the biodiversity of the Galapagos. We want to get the genetic signatures of the Galapagos species and determine the extent to which they are found due to geographical isolation.
So far, the Charles Darwin Scientific Station has registered 10,659 species – some endemic and others introduced – from mammals to bone fish, snakes, cookies and plants, plankton and bacteria.
They have taken samples of 30 meters (100 feet) deep water as well as inland dirt that has passed through hair, skin or other animal remains that have passed.
The researchers said that 30 to 40 gene sequences of the species found so far are unmatched in the World Bank.
The project involves researchers from the University of San Francisco in Ecuador. University of Exeter in England, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Galپاpagos Science Center. Funding has come from the UK Research and Innovation through the Global Challenges Research Fund and the Newton Fund.
The UKRI said it was one of several projects aimed at reducing the short- and long-term social, economic and health consequences of COVID-19 epidemics.
Jhosellyn Aguas, a 35-year-old naturalist and guide, said: “This is the first science project in the Galapagos that has been done with the citizens of the Galapagos, in which we always wanted to participate, but were not given the opportunity.” “I’m happy doing science.”
The project is due to end in November. Until then, organizers hope a catalog of information will help identify new species, fight illegal trafficking and control the entry of invasive species.