Galápagos Oil Spill

An Ecuadorian oil tanker has run aground a mere 800 yards off the western coast of San Cristóbal Island, the easternmost island of the Galápagos archipelago, and has released over 160,000 gallons of oil into the Islands' biologically rich waters. Containment and clean up teams are racing to save this biological jewel

Mistaking a signal buoy for a lighthouse, the captain grounded the vessel during a routine delivery of fuel to the island.  Ocean currents had initially pushed the oil west, away from the shores of San Cristóbal into deeper waters, dispersing it and lowering the intensity of its effects. However, late on January 23rd, pounding surf damaged the tanker's hull, releasing the remaining oil into the water. 

The spill's western migration has reached the islands of Santa Fe and Santa Cruz and threatens endemic marine iguanas, masked and blue-footed boobies, and frigatebirds. So far, boobies, sea lions, and pelicans have been affected by the spill.  Birds are at the hightest risk from the oil.  They die by ingesting toxins, but also by hypothermia-the viscous coating disrupts their waterproof layer of feathers.

The Charles Darwin Research Station, the National Park Service, and local volunteers have set up makeshift rehabilitation centers for wildlife.  The Ecuadorian Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard are cooperating on the clean-up activities.

  foreground:  sea lion  background:  the foundering Jessica oil tanker
  Sea lion on San Cristóbal Island in sight of foundering Jessica oil tanker. Photo: Charles Darwin Research Station

The Galápagos Islands, where Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution, are one of the most biologically rich, ecologically cherished, and scientifically studied regions in the world. They are estimated to still have 96 percent of their endemic species intact. 


The California Academy of Sciences, at the request of the Ecuadorian Consul General, has created a special emergency fund to help Ecuador deal not only with the Jessica clean-up and subsequent ecological monitoring, but with contigency planning to avert future environmental disasters.  If you would like to help, please make your tax-deductible contribution to: California Academy of Sciences.  The memo on lower left of your check should read: Emergency Environmental Funds for Equador.  Please make your gift as soon as possible, before February 15. 

Please mail to, or leave with:

Stewardship Officer, Development
California Academy of Sciences
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA 94118


  map of the oil spill
Map: Charles Darwin Research Station
Swallowtail gull
  Galapagos penguin   flightless cormorant (Nannopterum harrisi)
Swallowtail gull (Creagrus furcatus) A most beautiful gull, this rare endemic species, has very large eyes that aid in its unusual nocturnal feeding forays for luminescent fish and squid. Photo by Terry Gosliner.   Galápagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) Another bird found nowhere else in the world, it stands only 35 cm tall, and is the only penguin to nest entirely in the tropics.  Photo by Terry Gosliner.   The flightless cormorant (Nannopterum harrisi) is the only one of the twenty-nine species of living cormorants that has lost the ability to fly. As an endemic species, it is very vulnerable; there are only 700-800 pairs left in the world.  Photo by Terry Gosliner.