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Conservation Impact

Galápagos and Ocean Wildlife

The Houston Zoo partners with several Galápagos and marine conservation programs to protect the wild counterparts of the species in the Galápagos exhibit since 2013. The Zoo has provided training and support for Galápagos conservation action and conservation leadership programs with ECOS Foundation, the Charles Darwin Foundation’s Giant Tortoise Movement Ecology Program, marine conservation programs in Argentina protecting sea turtles, sea lions, penguins, and other marine wildlife and sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation on the upper Texas coast. These conservation partners conduct valuable wildlife research and rehabilitation, implement effective education and awareness programs and work with relevant stakeholders to reduce threats.

Wildlife like sea lions, sea turtles and penguins in the Galápagos are vulnerable to the many threats. They are susceptible to ingesting plastic pollution, getting entangled in ocean trash, including active and abandoned (ghost) fishing gear, and plastic waste. The Zoo provides support for groups working to remove and reduce marine trash in Galveston, Argentina, and the Galápagos.

Meet Our Partners

The Zoo has been saving penguins, sea lions, sea turtles and other marine wildlife for many years, providing training and support for conservation partners from UC Davis and the Global Penguin Society who are monitoring marine wildlife health and conducting research and threat reduction campaigns to protect marine wildlife from plastic ingestion and entanglement.

This work includes:

  • Long-term research and conservation of penguins and other marine species
  • Training for response to marine mammal strandings.
  • Studies on the prevalence of plastic ingestion and exposure to plasticizers in penguins and other seabirds.
  • Implementing behavior change campaigns that target fisheries and beach resort plastic waste reduction in Argentina.
  • Guidance in community-based social marketing projects with local partners.

Houston Zoo conservation partner, Dr. Marcy Uhart from UC Davis marine wildlife conservation and health says, “The Houston Zoo has gone beyond traditional conservation approaches by supporting efforts to change human behaviors that threaten penguins in their natural habitats. For example, we have jointly spearheaded efforts to eliminate single-use plastics, such as straws and cups, from beach resorts in areas where penguins feed and breed. The Houston Zoo is unique in that it fully engages in on the ground conservation while anchoring outreach and awareness efforts at the Zoos’ model facilities. Penguins are amazing ambassadors for ocean conservation and one of the most charismatic yet highly endangered seabird species. Working with the Zoo helps us reach broad audiences and increase awareness of what everyone can do to protect penguins. Marine trash from plastics and declines in food availability due to climate change and fisheries are increasing threats for penguins. The Houston Zoo has helped us monitor penguins at their breeding colonies and identify threats that can be tackled and reduced with local communities.” – Dr. Marcy Uhart

ECOS Foundation – Galápagos has developed and implemented educational programs to actively engage the Galápagos community in local wildlife conservation and environmental issues. Every year, hundreds of students and members of the community participate in immersive experiences with nature and science. ECOS alumni develop as conservation leaders in Galápagos. These youth facilitate and lead community-based conservation action and awareness programs such as, beach clean-ups, wildlife threat reduction campaigns, festivals and field trips, while collaborating with local and international scientists.

ECOS programs provide local Galapagueño students an opportunity to engage in critical conservation efforts in their own backyard. By assisting scientists and protecting Galápagos wildlife, ECOS inspires students to preserve these islands long into the future.

The Houston’s Zoo’s teenager program, Zoo Crew and ECOS’s Galapagueño teenagers have spent time together virtually and in person. The Zoo Crew teens conduct virtual sharing opportunities with ECOS and have visited Galápagos to spend time with ECOS teens. Galápagos and Houston teens empower one another and exchange wildlife-saving ideas and activities.

The Zoo provides support and training for ECOS’s Galapagueño staff and youth conservation leadership and action programs. The following are a few of the programs:

  • Research and protection of green sea turtles – In collaboration with the Galápagos National Park, this program strengthens the student’s conservation leadership skills through hands-on activities, while engaging community members in helping to protect sea turtle nests from Santa Cruz Island and Isabela Island. The students assist with sea turtle data collection and analysis.
  • Trash reduction campaigns – Students collaborate with international Litter Scientists, a group of researchers from Chile who lead a citizen science program educating and empowering Latin American youth to take action on litter problems. Students are empowered to provide plastic reduction solutions for the local community.
  • Wildlife-safe road campaign – Students lead a campaign that aims to increase awareness among drivers on Santa Cruse Island about the problem of bird collisions. They offer drivers solutions to reduce bird collisions.
  • Invasive species removal – Students collaborate with other local environmental organizations to remove foreign plant species (species not native to area).

Charles Darwin Foundation’s Galapagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Program (GTMEP) provides research, outreach and education to help the Galápagos National Park and other local stakeholders effectively conserve Galápagos tortoises. GTMEP addresses the need to find solutions for people living alongside giant tortoises in Galápagos through determining the movement needs of the tortoises, assessing changes in tortoise populations over time and looking at the extent to which their health is being impacted by human activity.

Galápagos tortoises are long-lived animals that provide information about the health of their entire ecosystems. Studying both the movement and the health of giant tortoises, GTMEP is informing future strategies to protect wildlife on the Galápagos Islands.

The Houston Zoo provides funding and support for the monitoring of satellite-tagged giant Galápagos tortoises. Zoo staff have been traveling to the Galápagos Islands to assist local conservation professionals with tortoise conservation work for many years.

Take Action

Reduce Single-Use Plastics

Replacing single-use plastic items with reusable options keeps plastic out of the ocean and animals, like sea turtles, out of harm’s way.


Eat Local Ocean-Friendly Seafood

Ocean-friendly seafood is seafood that has been caught in a way that protects animals like sharks and rays and ensures fish populations thrive over time.

Easy Action: Choose U.S. sourced/fished seafood when eating at a restaurant or shopping at the grocery store.


Visit the Zoo

By visiting and supporting the Houston Zoo, guests are helping protect wildlife in the Galápagos and many other places around the world.


Inside Videos

Galápagos Partner Visits Zoo

Lady Marquez in Galápagos

More Conservation Impact