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Blugold rescues threatened wildlife in the Galapagos Islands

| Lucy Grogan-Ripp

As final exams ended this spring semester, most students could be seen packing up their dorms, soaking up the sun, and heading home to reunite with family. One Blugold you won’t find taking part in end of the year festivities, however, is Joel Wilson.

Joel, a biology major and computer science minor, finished his finals, packed his bags, and jumped on a plane headed 3,000 miles south to the Galapagos Islands to complete his service-learning project.

Working through the UW-Eau Claire Biology department, Joel and a few other lucky Blugolds will be in the Galapagos for a majority of the summer, where they will be conducting research on threatened bird species.

The biology students will be working directly with the Charles Darwin Foundation, whose overall mission is to, “provide knowledge and assistance through scientific research and complementary action to ensure the conservation of the environment and biodiversity in the Galapagos Archipelago.”

The group’s main environmental concern for the project is the decline of land bird species on the island. Due to a parasitic fly laying its eggs in birds nests, around 16 to 20 songbirds native to the Galapagos are dying off.

“The Philornis downsi fly lays its eggs in birds nest,” Joel explained; “the parasitic larva then feeds on the blood of the hatchlings.” As a result, there exists a 100% mortality rate among the nest.

It is no secret that Joel’s project is doing wonders for the island community, but it has also brought tremendous personal growth. According to Joel, one of the most important things his project has taught him is, “the importance of conservation, not only for the sake of the animals, but also for the community to continue to live on the island.”

The scientific work being carried out by Joel and his fellow volunteers is just as important for the natives as it is for the animals, as the island would have little chance of surviving economically if not for the draw of the birds. “The locals' main source of income is tourism,” Joel explained; “and the animals are what draw people to the islands.”

Although part of a larger group of volunteers, Joel’s personalized position on the research team is technical, but very much needed. “I will be working in association with [Charles Darwin Foundation] to standardize, normalize, and clean up the research station’s scientific library database,” Joel commented. Joel’s service is important to his fellow researchers, because it clears the database of any inconsistencies and makes for an overall smoother running system.

Throughout his summer on the island, Joel will be volunteering his time for approximately forty hours each week, totaling more than 400 hours of service by summer’s end. With such a steep time commitment and a dedication to the issue at hand, Joel’s service efforts are part of a much larger and important wildlife conservationist campaign.