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The World’s Most Famous Dutch Tall Ship Oosterschelde and DARWIN200 en route to Galápagos, the jewel in the crown of Charles Darwin’s historic expedition that inspired his Theory of Evolution.

Darwin’s Great-Great-Granddaughter Dr Sarah Darwin will accompany the ship’s crew and a team of international young environmentalists who will be collaborating with local experts and NGOs in Galápagos to study a smorgasbord of 11 projects ranging from the conservation of the iconic giant tortoise to understanding the incredible life of the Galapagos tomato, the impact of invasive frogs, evolution of scavenging beetles and little known life of rays to the global importance of mangroves for climate research. For each of the 11 species of animal, plant or ecosystem being studied, is to assess the population status, changes over the past two centuries, learn about conservation initiatives currently in place to protect it and developing ideas to ensure the species has a bright future.

The Oosterschelde will be in Galápagos 25th April – 19th May 2024

DARWIN200, the two-year planetary conservation mission aboard the magnificent Dutch tall ship Oosterschelde, has set sail from mainland Ecuador and is sailing for the Galápagos Islands (Spanish: Islas Galápagos) an archipelago of volcanic islands in the Eastern Pacific, located around the Equator 900 km (560 mi) west of South America. 

Tall ship Oosterschelde will be in Galápagos 25th April – 19th May 2024 having sailed over 13,000nm since departing the UK last August on a 40,000+ nautical mile voyage and conservation mission. The DARWIN200 Global Voyage is retracing young Charles Darwin’s famous journey on HMS Beagle and aims to change the world for the better by empowering 200 next-gen conservation leaders.

The Galápagos are famous for their large number of endemic species, which were studied by Charles Darwin in the 1830s and inspired his theory of evolution by means of natural selection. All of the islands are protected as part of Ecuador’s Galápagos National Park and Marine Reserve.

During the DARWIN200 visit, eleven Darwin Leaders from Spain, United States, United Kingdom, Peru, Brazil, Bahamas, Netherlands, and India will join the expedition in Galápagos.

They will be embedded with local conservation organisations and experts to study a smorgasbord of projects from the microbiome of wild tomatoes on barren lava fields to little known insect evolution and the global importance of mangroves with respect to climate research.

The Galápagos projects are:

  1. Conservation of the giant tortoises of San Cristóbal
  2. Ecological role of marine iguana
  3. The evolution of scavenging beetles
  4. Sea turtles of the Galápagos
  5. The unknown life of rays of the Galápagos
  6. The incredible life of the Galápagos tomato (with Dr Sarah Darwin)
  7. Invasive frogs on Santa Cruz
  8. Pristine mangroves of the Galápagos
  9. Sea lion monitoring
  10. Reforestation of endemic flora of San Cristobal Island
  11. Towards a nature positive development of the Galápagos economy

Each project is further outlined below.

Other educational initiatives during the visit include hosting 200 local school children and teenagers on immersive sailing and conservation science learning day trips in collaboration with Galapagos Infinito, Galapagos Science Center and Charles Darwin Foundation.

Darwin Leaders: Young conservation leadership programme in Galápagos

In each port of the DARWIN200 global voyage, small groups of ‘Darwin Leaders’, selected from around the world for their outstanding achievements in conservation, join the program for a week-long immersive conservation leadership training programme. Two hundred in total will take part over the two-year expedition. Working alongside local conservation experts, each Darwin Leader uses the ship as their base camp and goes into the field to study a species of animal, plant or an ecosystem, assesses its population status and how it has changed over the past two centuries, learns about conservation initiatives currently in place to protect it and develops their own ideas on how to better conserve the chosen species in the future.

The intention is that each Darwin Leader will be empowered with new ideas, skills, and experience that will have a positive impact on the work they are already doing in their home countries and inspire their future careers in conservation.


Darwin Leaders and their projects in


PROJECT:Conservation of the Giant Tortoises of San Cristóbal
Darwin Leader:
Alicia Mediavilla, Spain
Partner: Projects Galápagos
San Cristóbal hosts two land turtle populations, with the northeastern group currently numbering around 1,400 individuals. The southern population, adjacent to the Galapaguera of Cerro Colorado, became extinct due to historical extraction by whalers. The remaining northern population faces severe threats from introduced animals and invasive vegetation like blackberry bushes, hindering their movements and food supply.

The Galápagos National Park, the David Rodr­íguez Breeding Center and Galápagos Projects aim to bolster the population of land turtles on San Cristóbal by creating conditions resembling their natural habitat. The rewilding with endemic vegetation and provision of plants to the turtles, breeding and the nursery are elements of this strategy. The focus of this project is on understanding past challenges, current conservation efforts, and future ideas to sustain the species, as explored by the Darwin leader and filmmaker.

PROJECT: Reforestation of Endemic Flora of San Cristobal Island
Darwin Leader:
Veronica Avalos, United States
Partner: Projects Galápagos

The reforestation efforts on San Cristóbal Island, particularly around the El Junco freshwater lake, aim to restore the endemic flora of the area, which has suffered damage due to intensive land use, invasive species, and feral goats. The Galápagos National Park has undertaken significant goat eradication efforts, recognizing the threat they pose to endangered plant species. Restoration initiatives include reintroducing native shrubs and reintroducing tortoises for habitat rewilding. These efforts not only protect endangered species like the Galápagos Rock Purslane and Lecocarpus Darwinii but also emphasise the importance of maintaining the island’s natural balance for both ecological preservation and tourism sustainability.

PROJECT: Sea Lion Monitoring
Darwin Leader:
Ben Jackson, United Kingdom
Partner: Projects Galápagos

The Galápagos Marine Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998 and one of the largest marine protected areas globally, spans 198,000 km², incorporating the recently added Hermandad Marine Reserve in 2022. This sanctuary is home to extraordinary marine life, boasting vast schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks, Galápagos sea lions, and Galápagos penguins. With approximately 50,000 individuals, the Galápagos Sea Lion greets visitors to the islands, often seen lounging on docks, benches, and beaches. Their playful demeanour captivates tourists, though caution is urged, as their wild nature, particularly in males, may lead to occasional unpredictability. While sharks and orca pose natural threats, the El Niño event remains a significant concern, causing disruptions in the sea lions’ marine habitats. Human activities, including diseases transmitted by domestic dogs and marine plastic pollution, contribute to their endangered status. Despite their iconic significance, a lack of basic ecological data complicates conservation efforts, necessitating vigilant population monitoring and stress mitigation to ensure the well-being of these remarkable creatures amidst potential climate change impacts.

PROJECT: Marine Iguanas
Darwin Leader:
Maanit Goel, United States
Partner: Project Galápagos

The marine iguana, a unique reptile found exclusively in the Galápagos Islands, has adapted to marine life with distinct features such as colour variations, flattened tails for swimming, and specialised salt glands. These lizards play a vital ecological role by diving to feed on underwater algae, regulating algae growth on rocky shores. During the breeding season in December and January, males display vibrant colours and engage in territorial displays. Despite their remarkable adaptations, marine iguanas face threats like volcanic eruptions and El Niño events. Conservation efforts focus on protecting nesting sites from human activities, coastal development, tourism, and domestic dogs, as safeguarding these areas is crucial for preserving the species in the Galápagos archipelago.

PROJECT: Researching the Sea Turtles of the Galápagos
Darwin leader:
Itamar Santana, Brazil
Partner: Galápagos Science Centre, Daniela Alarcón

This project investigates distribution, demographics, and habitat use of the green turtle and hawksbill turtle in the feeding, reproduction, and resting areas of the Galápagos. This ongoing scientific research aims to deepen understanding of the ecology and behaviour of these sea turtle species in various aspects of their lives. Utilising methods such as photographic identification, in-water monitoring for captures and recaptures, and sample collection for dietary and health analysis, the project seeks to expand knowledge on their population status, habitat utilisation, trophic relationships, behaviour patterns, and responses to climate change and marine debris. By involving local youth in research activities, the project also aims to promote education, citizen science participation, and compliance with conservation regulations, ultimately contributing to the conservation of these species in the Galápagos Islands.

PROJECT: The unknown life of Rays of the Galápagos
Darwin leader:
Alfredo Salazar, Peru
Partner: Galápagos Science Centre, Diana Pazmiño

This project focusing on rays as model organisms aims to deepen understanding of their movement, habitat usage, and ecological patterns, ultimately informing conservation efforts in the Galápagos. Through specific objectives such as building a photo ID database for ray species, employing telemetry tagging methods to study habitat partitioning, conducting abundance surveys, assessing stress levels through blood analyses, and identifying stress factors, the project seeks to generate comprehensive knowledge about these marine creatures. This project emphasises collaboration and capacity building to enhance conservation and management strategies for rays and mobulas in the Galápagos Marine Reserve.

PROJECT: The incredible life of the Galápagos Tomato
Darwin leader:
Hanna Hogenboom, the Netherlands
Partner: Galápagos Science Centre, Pieter van ‘t Hof

The Galápagos tomato has found a high profile champion in botanist and DARWIN200 Ambassador Dr Sarah Darwin. Sarah wrote her PhD thesis on the Galápagos tomato and has been a vocal advocate for its preservation as a distinct species. Dr Sarah Darwin will be in the Galápagos during the DARWIN200 visit and is also available for interview.

In this project we participate in research that aims to unravel the taxonomic and functional diversity of the root microbiome in endemic tomato populations of the Galápagos Islands that survive under extreme conditions. By studying how these tomatoes recruit microbes to survive in harsh environments and understanding the functions of these microbial communities, the project seeks to compare the microbiomes of endemic and invasive tomatoes and examine their interactions with the environment. The project plans to utilise advanced techniques to analyse root microbiomes and deepen understanding of plant-microbe interactions. Through this research, the scientists aim to contribute to the preservation and conservation of vulnerable species while also exploring potential applications for stress-resistant crops on a global scale.

PROJECT: Invasive frogs on Santa Cruz
Darwin leader:
Taysa Rocha, Brazil
Partner: Charles Darwin Foundation, Miriam San José

This project focuses on the ecology of the invasive treefrog, the sole amphibian species in the Galápagos Islands. Introduced accidentally in the late 20th century, this frog has become invasive, yet knowledge about its impact on island ecosystems remains scarce. Despite its presence for over 25 years, basic information on its biology and ecology is lacking. The project aims to understand its impact, particularly on endemic species and ecosystems. Surveys using automatic acoustic recorders revealed the frog’s abundance in remote areas, with one pond estimated to harbour over 10,000 individuals, likely exerting a significant ecological influence. A mesocosm experiment simulating natural tadpole ponds provides insights into the frog’s interactions with the environment. Activities in the Darwin week include nighttime capture, morphological measurements, and biochemical analyses. The project’s link to Darwin lies in his observations of amphibians during his voyages, which influenced his evolutionary theories. Ironically, despite moist forests in the Galápagos, Darwin noted the absence of amphibians, a situation changed by human introduction, highlighting the ecological impact of human activities in the islands.

PROJECTS:The pristine mangroves of the Galápagos
Darwin Leader:
Meghyn Fountain, Bahama’s
Partner: Charles Darwin Foundation, Nicolas Moity

In this project we visit Nicolas Moity who leads a project focused on the ecology of Galápagos mangroves. Mangrove forests play a crucial role in the archipelago’s ecosystems, providing habitat for endemic and threatened species, supporting artisanal fisheries, and sequestering carbon. Unlike mainland mangroves in Ecuador and many mangrove systems over the world, those in Galápagos remain largely pristine due to strict conservation measures. This offers a unique opportunity to study natural processes with minimal disturbance. Situated amidst major oceanic currents and influenced by climate variability cycles, the islands provide an ideal environment to assess the impacts of climate change on mangroves. Moity’s project aims to evaluate conservation risks and study the effects of tourism on mangrove-associated species. Additionally, research includes examining the infection severity of red mangrove propagules by an introduced beetle and its effects on germination and seedling development. Activities for the Darwin leader encompass establishing plots to study mangrove forest structure, monitoring mangrove growth, deploying cameras for fauna censuses, and conducting lab work with field samples.

PROJECT: The evolution of scavenging beetles
Darwin Leader:
Duda Menegassi, Brazil
Partner: Charles Darwin Foundation, Lenyn Betancourt, Andrea Carvajal, and Miguel Pinto

In this project we participate in explorative research into the morphological and genetic differentiation of beetles belonging to the order Coleoptera in the Galápagos Islands. Specifically a scavenging beetle found on Isabela and Fernandina islands, which feeds on the excrement of giant tortoises and land iguanas. This species exhibits two distinct morphotypes: lowland populations with functional wings and highland populations with reduced, apparently non-functional wings, suggesting an evolutionary process of wing reduction and loss of flight ability.

The project aims to investigate the molecular differentiation between populations with normal and reduced wings, potentially identifying them as different species. Genetic sequencing using third-generation technologies will be conducted on beetles collected along an altitudinal transect on the Sierra Negra volcano. The sequencing data is expected to reveal key mutations associated with the loss of flight ability and shed light on the process of island evolution. Darwin had a great interest in beetles and observed low insect diversity but high endemism on the Galápagos islands. Will we see evolution at work in this research?

PROJECT: Towards a nature positive development of the Galápagos economy
Darwin Leader:
Laya Pothunuri, India
Partner: Conservation International Galápagos: Mariana Vera

In this project we dive into a transformative concept gaining traction called “nature-positive economies,” which aims to reshape how we interact with our environment for the better. The Galápagos Islands offer a prime example of this approach in action. By implementing sustainable practices like local food production and recycling ocean plastic, they’re not just protecting nature but also creating economic opportunities that benefit both people and the planet. As the Darwin Leader investigates these initiatives, they’ll play a crucial role in advancing nature-positive economies, where the well-being of ecosystems and communities go hand in hand.

DARWIN200 Patron Dr Sarah Darwin says: 

“I am Delighted that I will soon be returning to the enchanted islands of Galapagos. I have been visiting these extraordinary islands for nearly 30 years now and have been involved with many different projects. I’ve illustrated many of the plants for a field guide and I also undertook my doctorate field research on some Galapagos plants.  I’m especially excited to be going to Galapagos this time with the visionary Darwin200 project.  I can’t wait to meet the new Darwin leaders and to get involved with some of the science projects in Galapagos.   One such project will be a two day field trip with some researchers from the University San Francisco de Quito.  We will be going to search for some of the rare and endemic Galapagos tomatoes on Isla Santa Cruz. These unique tomatoes formed part of my PhD many years ago and now I will be joining this group of young scientists and Darwin leaders in the field.

These Islands were famously important to Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution by natural selection. The science in the Galapagos continues to be exciting groundbreaking and the islands are often known as a living laboratory.  The Galapagos Islands can also lead the way in finding ways for humans to live more sustainably with nature. It’s clear that all conservation projects need to be undertaken in collaboration with local people. In Galapagos there is a lot of community involvement,  Many of the Galapageños have a special relationship with the unique Flora and Fauna of these incredible islands. This will be an especially exciting experience for the Darwin Leaders”.

Adventure seekers can sail the ship

The general public can sign up to sail the magnificent tall ship Oosterschelde between ports alongside adventure travellers and environmental researchers, who are tasked with steering, navigating and manning the ropes of the three-masted topsail schooner under the guidance of a professional crew. People ranging from 11 to 86 years old and of more than 25 nationalities have signed up to take part as guest crew on the voyage. The voyage legs range in duration, from a single day, to the longest being an epic 5,300 nautical miles and taking 48 days to Cape Horn. Previous sailing experience is not always required for those wanting to join.

See more information on dates, costs and availability at

The World’s Most Exciting Classroom

In continuation of Charles Darwin’s work aboard HMS Beagle, the DARWIN200 ship offers a unique platform to support research into many of the world’s most critical environmental problems. This includes eight engaging research projects, featuring real-time data feeds, informative results presentations, interactive online lectures, and insightful interviews with the talented teams of researchers driving each initiative. Four research projects will be undertaken aboard the tall ship Oosterschelde while it is sailing, the other four will be undertaken in the ports that we visit. Through these research projects, DARWIN200 aims to captivate global audiences, particularly students, enabling the public to delve into and gain deeper insights into some of the world’s most critical environmental challenges.

DARWIN200 Founder and Mission Director Stewart McPherson says: 

Charles Darwin was only 22 when he set sail on his life-changing voyage in 1831, famously saying that it was by far the most important event in his life, determining his whole career. We wanted to create a similarly transformative experience for members of the public and 200 of the world’s brightest young environmentalists, who have the potential to be the STEM and conservation leaders of tomorrow and the catalysts to change the future of planet Earth for the better

With a focus on practical solutions, each project will delve into actionable measures and ways in which we can all play a role in addressing these issues, working together to build a more promising and sustainable future.

About the ship Oosterschelde

Oosterschelde is a three mast tall ship, and one of the world’s finest, fully restored historic tall ships and the largest sailing vessel ever to be restored in the Netherlands.

She is registered by the Dutch Government as a monument of great cultural and historical value. The ship is one of the oldest and most authentic ships in the international fleet of Tall Ships. Oosterschelde relaunched after a major refurbishment in 1996 and was recommissioned by Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet of The Netherlands. She is a bastion of Dutch ship building and is described by the ship’s Director and Captain Gerben Nab as having had at least five lives, starting in 1917 as a cargo vessel. Over the past 30 years Oosterschelde has welcomed thousands of sailors and adventure seekers on board including royalty, politicians, presidents and pop stars, even once hosting a birthday party for Sir Tom Jones!

Oosterschelde was the first Dutch commercial tall ship to sail to both the north and south poles and successfully tackle the infamous Cape Horn, a rocky headland on Hornos Island, in southern Chile known for its hazardous waters. During the pandemic when the world was locked down, a team of Dutch ship builders worked tirelessly to elevate Oosterschelde to the next level in preparation for DARWIN200. As part of the DARWIN200 voyage Oosterschelde will once again navigate Cape Horn, considered the Mount Everest of sailing.

Oosterschelde’s Director and Captain Gerben Nab says,:

The history of the ship and the passion of our crew tell a story that gets under the skin of all who sail aboard her. Not only in Europe, but also in South America, in Africa, in Asia and Australasia. Oosterschelde’s restoration for many was deemed an impossible dream. But not for Dick van Andel who was a young man of just 27 years in age whose vision and enthusiasm saw the dream realised with the efforts and support of many others. We have proven that it is possible to do something outside the box and make it into a success. Connecting to the Darwin200 project, we hope to empower that project in the same way, and show ‘the world’ that with a clear vision and spirit of adventure it is possible to achieve the impossible


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The DARWIN200 mission is an official contributor to the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030. The Global Voyage carriers The Explorers Club flag #101.

DARWIN200 patrons and supporters include Dame Jane Goodall, Dr Sylvia Earle and Charles Darwin’s great-great-grand-daughter, Dr Sarah Darwin

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