Date — 2014-06-02T14:38:08
“September 17, 1835. As I was walking along I met two large tortoises, each of which must have weighed at least 200 pounds. One was eating a piece of cactus, and as I approached, it stared at me and slowly stalked away; the other gave a deep hiss, and drew in its head.”
Those were Charles Darwin’s words just two days after he arrived on the Galapagos Islands aboard the expedition ship HMS Beagle during his 5-year, 40,000 mile quest for scientific discovery. Over the course of the month he spent there, he would make the discoveries which formed the basis of his groundbreaking evolutionary theories and established the area as one of the most fascinating and ecologically diverse locations on the planet.
Almost 180 years later, this remarkable archipelago lying nearly 1,000 kilometres off the coast of Ecuador remains unique. A huge diversity of conditions prevail on the individual islands, resulting in a form of Darwinian natural selection which has produced animal and plant species not found anywhere else on earth. Around 40 percent of the wildlife – including the marine iguanas, the famous Darwin’s finches and, of course, those giant tortoises that expressed such displeasure at the young scientist’s arrival – is unique to the Galapagos.
For the past 55 years, responsibility for producing the science that is necessary for the protection of the islands has been carried by the Charles Darwin Foundation, which in 1964 took the significant step of establishing a Research Station there. This is now the base for more than 100 scientists, students, teachers and volunteers who work to research the flora and fauna of the Islands in order to help prevent the unique ecosystems from being irreparably damaged.
During the 50 years of its existence, the Research Station has played a crucial role in saving the archipelago’s iconic giant tortoises from extinction, been instrumental in the creation of the 135,000-square-kilometre Galapagos Marine Reserve and, since the early 1970s, has been securing funding and support to finance scientific scholarships for 1,300 Ecuadorian students. The work of the facility has played a crucial role in ensuring that the Galapagos remains a place where 95 percent of the original biodiversity is still intact.
This year marks the Research Station’s 50th anniversary. This is all the more significant as, until 3 years ago, the future of both it and the Galapagos itself looked decidedly bleak, with the Charles Darwin Foundation struggling for financial survival in the wake of the world recession and a lack of effective cost management. It was saved, however, when a 36-year-old German investor called Swen Lorenz visited the islands on holiday. Seeing that the situation was becoming critical, he abandoned his home and high-paying London job and returned to the Galapagos to work full-time as the Foundation’s CEO. He has since used his financial skills to turn it into a profitable organization with an annual budget of USD 3.5 million.
Jubilee celebrations began at the SIHH in January, where Lorenz co-presented IWC’s remarkable “Inside the Wave” event and explained what was planned for the rest of the year. The programme of events includes a public launch of the new visitor trail, cafeteria and shop in June on the Galapagos Islands and the hosting of an exclusive gala dinner in Quito towards the end of the year, at which dignitaries and leading politicians from around the world will learn more about the Foundation’s achievements over the course of the past half-century.
Guests at the gala dinner will also discover how Lorenz turned to IWC for assistance in facilitating the organization’s turnaround, having become aware of the Swiss watch manufacturer’s established reputation for supporting carefully chosen philanthropic projects around the globe. IWC has been helping underprivileged children through their long-standing partnerships with organizations such as the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – d’Agay Foundation. In line with the company’s commitment to being environmentally responsible, the IWC headquarters in Schaffhausen has been CO2-neutral since 2007, covering all its energy needs with ecological hydroelectric power.
IWC’s collaboration with the Charles Darwin Foundation began in 2009 – the bicentenary of the scientist’s birth. The watchmaker from Schaffhausen has since contributed a significant annual sum to secure the Research Station’s future. IWC CEO Georges Kern comments: “As a successful global watch manufacturer, IWC is committed to social responsibility. We therefore made the choice to support the work of the Charles Darwin Foundation on a long term basis in order to make a sustained effort to help preserve this area of natural beauty.”
“We combined elements of the aesthetic simplicity of the past and the distinctive internal rotating bezel with the ease of use of an external one that can easily be operated during a dive."
—Christian Knoop, Creative Director IWC Schaffhausen
That involvement has now been stepped up for the 50th anniversary, with the introduction of IWC’s all-new Aquatimer diving watches – among which are three special chronograph models dedicated to the magical archipelago: the Aquatimer Chronograph Edition “Galapagos Islands” with a rubber-coated stainless-steel case and a back engraved with an image of the Galapagos marine iguana, the Aquatimer Chronograph Edition “50 Years Science for Galapagos” with radiant blue hands and indices, and the Aquatimer Chronograph Edition “Expedition Charles Darwin” featuring IWC’s first bronze case and a back carrying Darwin’s portrait.
“Very few regions on earth are home to such a fascinating diversity of species, both on land and in the ocean, as this unique archipelago,” says Georges Kern. “Our Aquatimer watches are the perfect companion on demanding expeditions above and below the water and are entirely in their element in this natural paradise. But the massive extent of the threat posed to this World Heritage Site is also clear to us.”
Responsibility for developing the new Aquatimer range fell to IWC’s Creative Director Christian Knoop, whose challenge was to maintain the traditional character of the watch family while ensuring the latest designs were both technically and aesthetically innovative.
“As a successful global watch manufacturer, IWC is committed to social responsibility. We therefore made the choice to support the work of the Charles Darwin Foundation on a long term basis in order to make a sustained effort to help preserve this area of natural beauty.”
—Georges Kern, CEO IWC Schaffhausen
“We combined elements of the aesthetic simplicity of the past and the distinctive internal rotating bezel with the ease of use of an external one that can easily be operated during a dive,” says Knoop. “The choice of more subdued colours and the functional design pay homage to the first Aquatimer, which was released in 1967. We took inspiration from the Galapagos, looking at everything from the blue of the ocean to the brown tones of weathered wood and the greys of the different stones, while the idea for the bronze case of the Edition “Expedition Charles Darwin” came directly from reading the history of the HMS Beagle’s voyage and discovering how the ship was extensively equipped with bronze fittings. I’m personally delighted that by using bronze we’ve managed to integrate a very attractive and vibrant material into IWC’s repertoire of case materials.”
Since becoming involved with the Charles Darwin Foundation, IWC has become one of its most important benefactors, and by making an annual contribution has enabled important progress to be made in a number of different research areas. The most recent example is the facilitation of a vital new shark tagging project starting in July 2014, when 123 satellite tags will be attached to sharks living in the waters surrounding the Galapagos, enabling more insights into their movement and migration patterns.
“The Galapagos Marine Reserve is one of the last refuges for the sharks, which have become one of the world’s most threatened animals, largely due to the shark finning industry,” says Lorenz. “Through its funding, IWC is a driving force for our Galapagos Shark Research and Conservation Project. The research helps us to understand more about the movement and migration patterns of these creatures both within and outside the Galapagos Marine Reserve, information which will help us implement measures to protect them. One of the most important species that will be studied as part of this programme is the tiger shark, whose status as an apex predator makes it an excellent indicator of the ecosystem’s health – but until recently its presence had not been officially documented.”
IWC’s donation will also help with the important tagging of whale sharks, which, as the biggest fish on earth, are an important attraction for the divers and snorkelers that provide important revenue for the Galapagos’ economy. In the future, IWC’s involvement will enable the research centre to take on the challenge of protecting important birds such as Darwin’s finch, the mockingbird and the Vermilion Flycatcher, as well as to research the vast underwater world which accounts for a remarkable two-thirds of the entire Galapagos.
Other projects planned for the future include the Shark Baseline Population Assessment, which will measure the effectiveness of the Galapagos Marine Reserve since its creation in 1998, and a drive to determine what invasive species of marine life, flora and fauna might be causing harm to both the islands and to the waters that surround them. Work will also begin to protect the bird population from invasive parasitic flies and to develop innovative technologies to enable large-scale reintroduction of certain plant species without using the large amounts of water that such a programme usually requires.
“Since we began our partnership with the Charles Darwin Foundation 5 years ago, Swen Lorenz has brought a new dynamism and professionalism to the organization and we are now very confident that any money we can donate is going to be truly beneficial,” concludes Georges Kern. “The ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands is unique, but without careful management it could very easily be lost. I am personally very proud that IWC’s involvement is helping to ensure that such a tragedy is never allowed to occur.”
These projects and the Charles Darwin Foundation itself will also be supported by IWC through its website. By featuring ongoing details of the current shark tagging programme, as well as providing insights into the partnership, IWC will continue to engage its customers around the world with the committed and beneficial work of the Charles Darwin Foundation.