Day 2: Discovering how teens are helping save the Galápagos Islands

The Houston Zoo supports a teen program on the Islands focused on micro-plastic reduction and saving sea turtles

We did an interview for 20 minutes and didn't see this guy who was right next to us the entire time (Anthony Yanez, Anthony Yanez)

The Houston Zoo has been a part of conservation on the Galápagos Islands for nearly 30 years. In fact, it is the work the zoo started all those years ago that has led to the creation of the Galápagos Islands habitat that will open in Houston in April 2023.

We got to see a part of a collaboration they’ve been involved in for nearly a decade on the second day of our journey. Fundación Ecos is a small group that has a large impact with teens and the islands. Sixteen-year-olds Valeria Lanchimba and Isabel Espinosa are “Eco Kids” who not only learn about conservation but play a large role in caring for the Galápagos. They showed us how they help remove plastic and micro-plastics from the beaches. The zoo helps support this work by providing grants and resources.

Photos taken during the KPRC 2 - Houston Zoo trip to the Galápagos Islands in 2022 (KPRC)

The teens also showed us the work they do saving sea turtles. When turtles lay their eggs on the beach of Tortuga Bay, this group marks the nest, telling beachgoers to stay away.

Example of a marked sea turtle nest on the beach of Tortuga Bay, these eggs hatched a few months earlier. The site was excavated, shells counted and logged during our trip. (KPRC)

Lanchimba and Espinosa also use the scientific method to discover the health of the turtle nests.

Tortuga Bay researching the health of sea turtle eggs (Anthony Yanez)

Teens in the group will dig two feet into the ground and pull-out hatched turtle eggs. They can tell if invasive species like ants, beetles or cats are harming the sea turtles.

A few notes about today:

The only way to get to Tortuga Bay is to walk two and a half miles along a brick road. It’s a beautiful desert walk with large cactus trees lining the path.

The long path to Tortuga Bay (KPRC)

Scurrying at your feet you’ll find Lava Lizards. These reptiles are only found on the Galápagos. The females have a bright red throat, hence the name lava. The males are larger than the females but do not have any red on their bodies.

Female lava lizard spotted along path to Tortuga Bay (KPRC)

Tortuga Bay is a gorgeous beach with white sand and turquoise-colored water.

Tortuga Bay beach (KPRC)

If you walk away from the sand and head toward the lava rocks or mangrove trees, you’ll find hundreds of marine iguanas. These are the only iguanas on Earth that swim in the ocean and feed on algae. They are social and live in groups. The land iguanas in the Galápagos are solitary. If you are walking and not paying attention you may think you’re looking at a rock or bush. But in fact, you are seeing 100s of these cold-blooded creatures staying warm!

Hundreds of Marine Iguanas huddle as the sun sets at Tortuga Bay (Anthony Yanez)

My favorite story of the day: 10 years ago, Christopher Joel Arica Jimenez was in the Eco-Kids program.

Anthony Yanez and Christopher Joel Arica Jimenez (KPRC)

He loved the conservation work so much that he told the Fundación Ecos leaders he wanted to be a park ranger when he grew up. Today he is living that dream and helping with the sea turtle work. Way to go Christopher!

Be sure to keep following our journey at Tomorrow, we’ll discover the giant tortoise.

Previous and upcoming stories:

About the Author: