LAVA, or Laboratorio para Apreciar la Vida Ambiental, is a series of community science initiatives that address issues at the intersection of poverty, ecology, conservation, and educational inequality. They are designed, carried out, and refined jointly by the Galápagos community, Naturalist Guides, and our University of Pennsylvania research team. The projects are based in the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on the island of San Cristóbal. The first project with an executed pilot phase is LAVA Lobos, a study of the human impacts on the endemic and endangered sea lion population.
LAVA Lobos is a three-tiered initiative. The first tier is the study of the behavior and social structure of the sea lions, and was selected based on the needs of the Galapagueños who live in close quarters with the animals. Students in the International Baccalaureate Program at the Unidad Educativa San Cristóbal helped to develop a protocol of studying the sea lions on several different beaches. The process included performing behavioral assays, recording observations, and photographing the sea lions. As an ecosystem sentinel of the archipelago, the information the students collect about the sea lions indicates the health of the overall marine environment. The second tier is our empirical study of how this project affects the ecological literacy, scientific understanding, and conservation attitudes of the community members involved. The third tier is a philosophical reflection on how this community science model informs questions about the epistemology and ethics of science.
By working collaboratively with Galapagueños, we hope to learn more about this endangered species and how to protect them, promote positive attitudes towards conservation, and make new discoveries in answering philosophical questions about science.