The very first MASH style spay/neuter clinics on the Galapagos Islands were started by Animal Balance in 2004, and they continue today. This unique, humane method for controlling the populations of cats and dogs has resulted in unprecedented protection of the resident species. Thousands upon thousands of cats and dogs have been sterilized and vaccinated for free over the past 16 years. The program has been such a huge success due in large part to the support from the local community, especially the authorities tasked with protecting resident species endemic to these islands. The community and authorities both recognized the positive outcomes of our program, and now advocate for it within the political structure on the islands.
Animal Balance has played a vital role in humanely controlling the cat and dog populations on these islands over the past 15 years. But now the islands face a challenge which could prove far greater to control: PLASTIC.
This silent killer arrives on the three key currents which collide with the islands 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. If you add to that the plastic waste generated by the over 300,000 tourists who visit the islands annually, and the plastic waste left behind by the 30,000 people who live on the islands, the results are devastating. As social media has made us so well aware, this plastic ultimately ends up in the stomachs of some of the most sensitive wildlife on Earth, both on land and in the ocean. The wild residents of the Galapagos Islands will not survive this ongoing onslaught of plastic without immediate intervention.
The Animal Balance teams have witnessed the accumulation of plastics on the islands over the years. From marine iguanas with plastic bottles stuck on their heads, to Darwin finches feeding out of plastic cups of flavored ice, slowly but surely every species on the islands has started to feel the effects of the overabundance of plastic.
The Galapagos National Park Service has approached Animal Balance a number of times over the years to request urgent veterinary care for sea lions who have thick plastic wrapped around their necks, hoping to save them from imminent death. Our compassionate volunteer Veterinarians and clinic volunteers have spent many nights sitting up with these ailing sea lions as they are coming out of anesthesia. Our teams make the best of what supplies we have available in these situations, utilizing dog kennels to give the sea lions time to recover from anesthesia prior to releasing them back into the wild a few hours later, hoping they survive.
Right now, Animal Balance is in a unique position to intervene on the Galapagos. Having worked on the islands for over 16 years, we have built friendships and relationships with generations of community members and authorities who trust that when we say we are going to help, we will. Working together with our on-island partners, we have come up with a plan, and now we need your help to ignite it.
Animal Balance is excited to announce that in 2020, with the help of the authorities, we will be launching two new programs which will be implemented on the Galapagos Islands, both with the goal of reducing the amount of plastic on the islands AND repurposing the existing plastic waste into usable material. Today, we are formally announcing the beginning of the T-Shirts To Totes Program and the Bottles To Bricks Program.
The T-Shirts To Totes Program recruits volunteers from all over the United States by challenging them to repurpose a t-shirt that they already own and turn it into a tote bag. The idea is to then distribute these T-Shirt Totes throughout the Galapagos Islands, as a means of replacing plastic bags without creating more waste in the process. Every T-Shirt Tote will have a message in both Spanish and English thanking the person using it for saving one more plastic bag from entering our world’s oceans. When the 300,000 tourists who visit the islands each year leave to return home, they will each be asked to donate a t-shirt so that the community can continue to make totes from them. Because of our existing relationships, this program has already been approved by the authorities responsible for the protection of biodiversity and biosecurity on the islands and can be implemented as soon as we are ready.
The Bottle Bricks to Dog House Program will repurpose plastic waste into “eco-bricks” which can be used to build dog houses and fences for families on the islands. Everyone (schools, offices, hotels, yachts etc.) will collect their plastics and put them into 2-liter empty plastic bottles. These bottles become ‘eco-bricks’ and can be used to build dog houses and fences. Local residents cannot afford dog kennels, but in order to keep sensitive species safe, and according to an ordinance recently adopted on the islands they must keep their dogs confined. The eco-bricks will make it possible for local families to safely and humanely confine their dogs to their yards, while reducing the amount of plastic which would have otherwise ended up in the trash.
Two simple, grassroots programs which have the potential to quickly and positively impact all species of the Galapagos Islands. Our goal is to implement these two programs in 2020, as we have no time to waste if we want to preserve the Galapagos Islands. We realize our goals are lofty, but we never would’ve dreamed that we would be in a position to create this type of social change when we started back in 2004, and we’re not about to stop now.
Our goal: $10,000 by the end of this year.
The time to act is NOW. The stakes are too high not to do everything we can right now. Join us in promoting refuse, reuse and recycle when it comes to all plastics on these incredible islands. Join us in igniting social change so that tourists stop inadvertently loving one of the most precious and delicate ecosystems on planet Earth to death.