Wellington Reef, Galapagos Islands

A new heatwave earlier this year was detected by the Aqualink buoy in Wellington Reef, Galapagos Islands. High ocean temperatures seriously threaten the Galapagos reefs, which have already lost most of their corals. 

Photo credit: William Bensted-Smith

The reefs in Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands once had 17 structural coral reefs, but it all changed when the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) came in 1982/3. This disastrous event had a mortality rate of 97% and left the Galapagos Islands with only one remaining structural coral reef, Wellington Reef. Corals have since then begun to slowly recover, but another ENSO event 14 years later reversed most of the recovery. These events placed the existence of the reefs in the Galapagos Islands at serious risk and caused several wildlife extinctions. After the second ENSO, the coral reefs in the Galapagos Islands have continued to recover, but Darwin Island's Wellington Reef remains the last structural reef. 

Aqualink buoys

The Charles Darwin Foundation is doing a great job of monitoring the reefs in the Galapagos Islands. They currently have an Aqualink buoy monitoring Wellington Reef (view dashboard). Another buoy will be delivered in the fall of 2022 to monitor the reef in Wolf Island, where notably coral recovery has been seen. 

Photo credit: Inti Keith

Photo credit: William Bensted-Smith

The heatwave in 2022

Corals are very sensitive to temperature increases. An increase of just 1℃ can start a bleaching process, eventually killing the coral unless the temperature returns to normal. The Aqualink buoy detected another heatwave in March 2022. The buoy at Wellington Reef measures ocean temperature at 1 meter and 18 meters depth. The maximum surface temperature for this heatwave event was 29.5°C (85.1°F), and the maximum seafloor temperature was 29.1°C (84.38°F). That resulted in a maximum +3.6℃ (+6.48°F) temperature anomaly for the surface, which is well over the bleaching threshold. Luckily, this heatwave only lasted for about a month, but we will know how much damage it caused when the team at the Charles Darwin Foundation conducts their next survey.