The Galápagos Islands first captured my curiosity when I was a little kid staring in awe at the blue-footed boobies and giant tortoises on the nature channel. Since then, my fascination with the archipelago has grown as I learned its significance in the theory of evolution and advancements in biology. However, like many others, I had no idea that there was a human population on the islands. 97% of the Galápagos landmass is protected national park, but very few people turn their attention to the 3% that supports the local residents. It wasn’t until I looked into Dr. Michael Weisberg’s research a few months ago that I learned people lived there, and this is indicative of a larger scale issue. While the islands host some of the most important research in biology, ecology, and geology in the world, the local residents reap little to no reward as a result. The research I worked on this summer addresses the intersection of the science on the archipelago with the poverty and educational inequality in the human population there.
My research mainly related to three different projects under the Galápagos Education and Research Alliance in the Penn Laboratory for Understanding Science (PLUS). One project, Laboratorio Para Apreciar La Vida Ambiental, works with students and other residents of the islands to do community science. Community science is a practice in which citizens not only participate in data collection for research, but also collaborate with the scientists and attempt to influence policy or decision-making in the area. The idea behind PLUS’s research on community science is that it will increase scientific literacy and positive attitudes towards conservation. For this, I helped to record and analyze data from the pre-testing portion of a project in which high school students study sea lion behavior and social structure
I also constructed a suggested outline for the Charles Darwin Foundation for their report on human impact on the Galápagos Islands. Based on researching similar reports and the issues surrounding this, I determined what information needed to be included and what the structure should look like. The final project I worked on was helping put together a documentary telling the story of Galápagos residents from the original immigration there to the present day, and the challenges and opportunities they face on the islands.
From these three very different types of research, I learned many specific skills but also a new level of flexibility and creativity. Balancing so many projects at once taught me when to prioritize certain research over the others and manage my time effectively. The freedom Dr. Weisberg gave me with all of my work taught me to be more creative, challenge myself to take initiative, and develop a sense of autonomy over the work I was doing. I gained so much from my mentorship, my research, and what I learned about both the environment and the people on the Galápagos Islands, and am excited to continue my work with Dr. Weisberg and the project in the future.