News Environment Leonardo DiCaprio Helps Launch Massive Effort to Rewild the Galápagos Islands The initiative aims to eliminate invasive species and restore the islands’ flora and fauna to its original biome. By Michael d'Estries Writer State University of New York at Geneseo Michael d’Estries is a co-founder of the green celebrity blog Ecorazzi. He has been writing about culture, science, and sustainability since 2005—his work has appeared on Business Insider, CNN, and Forbes. our editorial process Michael d'Estries Published May 31, 2021 01:00PM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checker Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a writer, fact checker, and conservationist with a certification in sustainability. Our Fact-Checking Process Article fact-checked on Jun 01, 2021 Haley Mast Markus Gebauer Photography / Getty Images Share Twitter Pinterest Email News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices Calling it one of the “most irreplaceable places on the planet,” Leonardo DiCaprio is helping to lead a new initiative that seeks to turn back the clock on the Galápagos Islands. “Around the world, the wild is declining,” the environmentalist actor said in a press release. “We have degraded three-quarters of the wild places and pushed more than one million species to the brink of extinction. More than half of Earth’s remaining wild areas could disappear in the next few decades if we don’t decisively act.” DiCaprio’s latest decisive action as a famed activist is as a founding board member of the new global environmental organization Re:wild. Eponymous with their name, the group’s mission is to protect and restore the biodiversity of life on Earth. Their first major ambitious effort: to conserve and rewild the precious Galápagos and all of Latin America’s Pacific archipelagos. The $43 million initiative will take place over several years and in partnership with the Galápagos National Park Directorate, Island Conservation and local communities. “Re:wild offers a bold vision to amplify and scale the local solutions being led by Indigenous peoples and local communities, nongovernmental organizations, companies, and government agencies, to help increase their impact around the world,” added DiCaprio. “The environmental heroes that the planet needs are already here. Now we all must rise to the challenge and join them.” Restoring a world-celebrated by Darwin Despite human settlements being restricted to only 3% of the Galápagos Islands (with the remaining 97% protected as a National Park), the region is nonetheless much-changed since famed English naturalist Charles Darwin spent five weeks there in 1835. Invasive species such as goats, rats, and wild dogs have altered ecosystems, tourism (averaging over 150,000 people annually) is considered unsustainable, illegal fishing haunts marine reserves, and ocean pollution maligns once-pristine shorelines. "Time is running out for so many species, especially on islands where their small populations are vulnerable and threatened,” Paula A. Castaño, a wildlife veterinarian and island restoration specialist with Island Conservation, said in a release. “Galápagos’s pink iguanas, Floreana mockingbirds and other wildlife may soon be lost forever without action. We know how to prevent these extinctions and restore functional and thriving ecosystems—we have done it—but we need to replicate these successes, innovate and go to scale. We need catalytic investments like the one announced today to replicate our successes in the Galápagos and elsewhere.” What will $43 million in financial support do to help reverse and restore one of the world’s greatest biological wonders? To start with, Re:wild will focus on Floreana Island, a 67 square-mile shield volcano in the Galápagos home to 54 threatened species. The group plans to reintroduce 13 locally extinct native species, while also removing invasive threats and strengthening conservation programs. Specific species, such as the pink iguana (of which only 300 remain on a single volcanic island) will also be bred in captivity and redistributed throughout the archipelago. As part of a broader initiative, Re:wild and its partners over the next 10 years plan to restore 25 islands, protect at least 30% of each country’s waters, reverse the decline of over 250 threatened species, and improve both conservation programs and sustainable programs for local people. According to chief scientist and CEO Wes Sechrest, success in the Galápagos will provide a roadmap for other rewild efforts around the globe. “Where better to begin than the Galápagos, which, as the first-declared World Heritage Site, is among the most extraordinary wild places on the planet,” he wrote on the organization’s site. “Re:wild's work with partners is hope in action--from Darwin's laboratory to Australia's wildlands to the Congo forests of Central Africa.” DiCaprio gives Re:wild a social media megaphone In addition to offering his own time and support for the initiative, DiCaprio also temporarily handed over the keys to his massive social media empire to Castaño. She’s since been posting information on both the Galápagos effort and others around the globe to the actor’s combined 66 million followers on Twitter and Instagram. Of course, for those who have followed DiCaprio’s career both on and off the screen, such dedication to environmental causes is nothing new. Since 1998, his Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has distributed more than $80 million in grants to “200+ high-impact projects in 50 countries across Asia, the Americas, Africa, the Arctic, Antarctica, and all five oceans.” As he told Rolling Stone in 2016, acting is his profession, but environmental activism and fighting climate change is his passion. “I am consumed by this,” DiCaprio said. “There isn’t a couple of hours a day where I’m not thinking about it. It’s this slow burn. It’s not ‘aliens invading our planet next week and we have to get up and fight to defend our country,’ but it’s this inevitable thing, and it’s so terrifying.” View Article Sources "The Galápagos." WWF. "In the Galápagos, fighting the rising tide of plastic pollution." UN, 2018.