Marine iguanas are one of the most famous endemic Galapagos species. These remarkable creatures face many threats including invasive species predation, pollution from plastics, oil spills, and scarcity in algae during El Nino. Iguanas from Above is supporting their efforts to map marine iguana populations by using drones to photograph the Archipelago coastlines. Citizen scientists can then directly contribute to marine iguana preservation from their homes by counting how many marine iguanas are in each photo.
Data collection is difficult due to the remoteness and the rocky terrain of most colonies of marine iguanas. Before the beginning of this project, there were no reliable data for any of the eleven subspecies. These data are essential to reassessing marine iguanas' IUCN Red List Status, tracking threats, changes in numbers, and making conservation recommendations.
Since 2019, Leipzig University has been spearheading the "Iguanas from Above" initiative, dedicated to constructing an extensive database comprising drone survey images from the entire Galapagos Archipelago. Drones are employed as a non-intrusive, efficient, and cost-effective means for assessing marine iguana populations, playing a pivotal role for our field team. The team adeptly deploys drones from boats, actively collaborating with Galapagos National Park Rangers to innovate secure boat-based drone survey techniques.
Individual images captured during these surveys are subsequently uploaded to Zooniverse, an online platform for citizen science. Here, members of the public are encouraged to team up with scientists in scrutinizing the images for marine iguana sightings, as well as the presence of other wildlife and plastic debris. Participation is open to anyone with access to a phone or computer and an internet connection, providing an opportunity to join a community of over 6,000 fellow volunteers.
The project seeks to achieve the following objectives:
Generate updated and precise population assessments for every marine iguana subspecies.
Identify the marine iguana colonies facing the greatest peril from plastic pollution carried by ocean currents.
Provide valuable insights for conservation efforts aimed at safeguarding marine iguanas throughout the Galapagos Archipelago.