A 50-year-old conservation organization dedicated to preserving the biodiversity hotspot that inspired Charles Darwin is about to fall off a financial cliff and could close before the end of the year.
The Charles Darwin Foundation, based in Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands, has helped control goats, blackberries, and other invasive species while working to restore populations of endangered species, notably giant tortoises and mangrove finches. It also helps review applications to the Galápagos National Park from researchers and handles logistics for the approved projects.
Over the decades, however, it has struggled to make ends meet, and on Monday its general assembly may decide to shut its doors for lack of funding. “Our donors are generous when it comes to science but not in maintaining the institution,” explains Dennis Geist, a volcanologist at the University of Idaho in Moscow and chair of the foundation’s board of directors. “It has been in a precarious financial position for many, many years,” adds board member Judy Diamond, an ethologist and science educator of the University of Nebraska State Museum in Lincoln.
Swen Lorenz, the foundation’s executive director, believes that the national government should rescue the organization, but “I’m worried about the time it is taking.” Geist and Lorenz are hoping for a bailout from the foundation’s two largest supporters, the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, based in New York City, and the Galapagos Conservancy, based in Fairfax, Virginia. But so far neither has committed itself to additional contributions. In May, the Helmsley Trust awarded a 3-year, $2 million grant for conservation. And the Galapagos Conservancy contributes more than $500,000 per year.
The conservancy was actually formed about 20 years ago when the foundation wanted to invest endowment funds it had acquired. For several years almost all the money raised by the conservancy and a parallel organization called the Galapagos Conservation Trust in the United Kingdom went toward the foundation. But now, only about 30 percent does, Geist says. “They give us money when they want to” and donate the rest to other causes.
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