Study Abroad: Ecuador/Galapagos Islands

This Maymester, thirteen students led by Drs. Don Champagne and Kelly Carruthers, spent almost three weeks in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands learning about insect diversity, ecology, Ecuador’s history and culture, evolutionary biology in the Galapagos, and much more! Our trip began with a cable car (Teleférico) ride up a volcano to see the high-elevation ecosystem at over 12,900 feet above sea level, above the tree line. In the afternoon, we toured the historic district of Quito including the Pre-Colonial Museum. The next day we began with a visit to Intinan, a museum located directly on the equator, followed by a stop at the Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve, a late lunch and tour at Yunguilla where we learned about sustainable ecotourism economies and traditional foods, and finally, we arrived at Maquipucuna, a biological reserve and lodge that was home base for the next eight days.

Kelly Carruthers
Kelly Carruthers Academic Professional Associate

At Maqui, we made daily and nightly hikes to build our insect photo collections and explore the differences between the primary and secondary cloud forest, the effect of elevation change, and more. Every night we used black-lighting to sample insects in different microhabitats. We also made day trips to learn about coffee and chocolate production, visit a butterfly garden, explore the forest canopy from zip lines, and more! After that, we spent another day in Quito where we toured the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INABIO) and learned about efforts to document Ecuador’s amazing biodiversity.

Then, on to the Galapagos! First, we flew to San Cristobal, the easternmost island in the archipelago, where we toured the Galapagos National Park interpretation center, and saw abundant sea lions, marine iguanas, and much more. The next day we snorkeled at Kicker Rock, where we saw hammerhead sharks, many sea turtles, and other abundant and diverse marine and avian fauna. Next, we flew to Isabella Island, where we kayaked across a lagoon to see a penguin rookery, we visited an amazing volcanic landscape where we were also able to snorkel and observe turtles, rays, and a baby shark nursery. So many sharks! We also hiked up a volcano, Sierra Negra, where we learned about ecological succession and the effects of elevation, and observed the 3rd (or maybe 4th) largest volcanic caldera in the world.

Finally, we headed to Santa Cruz Island, where we had an excellent guided tour of the Charles Darwin Research Center and enjoyed a lecture on invasive species, especially a blood-feeding fly that is threatening ground-nesting birds throughout the islands. We then visited a ranch in the highlands that has a high natural concentration of giant Galapagos tortoises. With at we were done, flying back to Quito the next morning and then on to Atlanta, arriving very early (5:30 AM), tired but filled with our amazing experiences.

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Study Abroad: Stream in Ecuador
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