Leonardo DiCaprio announces $43 million donation for project to ‘rewild’ the Galapagos Islands
By Rhi Storer
Leonardo DiCaprio has announced a $43 million pledge to enact sweeping conservation operations across the Galápagos Islands, with his social media accounts taken over by a wildlife veterinarian and island restoration specialist.
The initiative, in partnership with Re:wild, an organisation founded this year by a group of renowned conservation scientists and DiCaprio, the Galápagos National Park Directorate, Island Conservation and local communities, aims to rewild the entire Galápagos Islands, as well as all of Latin America’s Pacific archipelagos.
It has a large number of supporting and implementing partners from a range of philanthropic and environmental organisations, including Galápagos National Park Directorate, Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment and Water, and Charles Darwin Foundation.
The $43m pledge will fund Galápagos projects including efforts to restore Floreana Island, home to 54 threatened species, and reintroduce 13 locally extinct species, including the Floreana mockingbird – the first mockingbird described by Charles Darwin.
The money will also pay for a captive breeding programme and other activities to prevent the extinction of the pink iguana, and strengthen measures to protect the Galápagos’s marine resources from the human impact of ecotourism.
DiCaprio said: “When I travelled to the Galápagos Islands, I met with Paula Castaño and other environmental heroes in Ecuador working day in and day out to save one of the most irreplaceable places on the planet.
“Around the world, the wild is declining. We have degraded three-quarters of the wild places and pushed more than 1 million species to the brink of extinction. More than half of Earth’s remaining wild areas could disappear in the next few decades if we don’t decisively act.
“The environmental heroes that the planet needs are already here. Now we all must rise to the challenge and join them.”
Paula A Castaño, who will take over DiCaprio’s Instagram and Twitter accounts to promote critical interventions needed to rewild the Galápagos, said: “Time is running out for so many species, especially on islands where their small populations are vulnerable and threatened.
“We need catalytic investments like the one announced today to replicate our successes in the Galápagos and elsewhere.”
Castaño, who has been working as an island restoration specialist for eight years, believes that if humans can coexist with nature, ecosystems can be rewilded successfully.
“Up to 97% of the land area of the Galápagos Islands comes under national park status. We are not trying to remove humans from the picture. We are trying to all work together to rewild these ecosystems, and support the community as well. They want to be able to continue to thrive together with nature.
“For example, in Floreana, you can see a Darwin finch right next to you. If you go to the beach, you can see sea lions somewhere in the corners basking in the sun right next to you. They don’t have that fear of humans because we work together. They don’t have the threats in other locations when they are completely afraid of humans.”
Castaño recalled successful rewilding restorations in the past. In 2012, invasive rodents were removed from the island of Pinzón by the Galápagos national park, assisted by Island Conservation to benefit the Pinzón giant tortoise. As a result, new hatchlings were discovered in 2014.
“We have seen rewilding in our lifetime, so we don’t really have to wait five years or 20 or 50 years. These are immediate results. We will see the payoff for all of these efforts, and not across only the Galápagos, but farther beyond archipelagos in Latin America.”
Marcelo Mata Guerrero, Ecuador’s minister of environment and water, said: “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.
“With Ecuador, as one of the 17 most biodiverse countries on the planet, we have an opportunity here to demonstrate what a truly effective model looks like for the protection and restoration of our shared wildlife and wild lands – the immune system of our planet, protecting all life on Earth, including people, from the effects of climate change and emerging disease.”
DiCaprio, a longtime champion of global environmental issues, has provided more than $100m in grants to a variety of programs and projects. He has also praised the teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg as a “leader of our time”, and addressed the United Nations about the dangers of climate change in 2014.
Credit: The Guardian