Notes from the Field

Powerpoint in Paradise

July 23rd, 2009 by Gene Feldman

My journey to Galapagos began with a letter of invitation that I received from the Charles Darwin Foundation which included the following statement:


“Recognizing the great contribution of your research and of NASA developments in remote ocean sensing across the dynamic Galapagos region we invite you to deliver a lecture as part of the Galapagos Science Symposium,  July 20-24, 2009. This event celebrates Darwin’s 200th birthday and 50 years of science for conservation working to develop a sustainable future for the islands.  We would also take this opportunity to invite you to participate in the marine ecological and oceanographic research planned aboard the Galapagos National Park Service vessel M/N Sierra Negra.”

Although my very first peer reviewed publication 25 years ago focused on the Galapagos, and even though I have been involved in collaborative research with a number of scientists working in the Galapagos over the years (including a recent and very comprehensive program that was co-sponsored by NASA), I had never actually been to the islands.  Consequently, when this invitation arrived, I found it an offer impossible to refuse.

Satellite Color Observations of the Phytoplankton Distribution in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific During the 1982-1983 El Niño (pdf, 916 KB)

The symposium organizers had spent a great deal of time planning the Symposium and in trying to bring together researchers covering all aspects of Galapagos science to share their expertise and perspective over the course of the week and to not only present their work but perhaps more importantly, to learn from each other and strategize how best to understand and protect this incredibly unique and unfortunately endangered ecosystem.  I will let the words of the organizers provide the context, goals, aims and specific themes of the workshop.

2009 marks the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, the 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work “On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life” and 50 years since the establishment of the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF). We will celebrate these three events in a way that will focus international attention on one of the world’s most vulnerable and unique ecosystems.

The goal of this symposium is to bring together international expertise to discuss the future of conservation and sustainable development of the Galapagos Archipelago. We invoke the inspiration and courage of Charles Darwin to motivate participants in this discussion.


  • To recognize and honor the scientific work of Charles Darwin, particularly in the context of creationism’s challenges to the evidence for evolution;
  • To review the scientific work from Galapagos and other parts of the world in context of conservation in Galapagos;
  • To discuss the present role of science in developing a sustainable future for Galapagos;
  • To foster long term collaborations with international and local experts in conservation and social sciences.

Specific Themes

  • Charles Darwin and the principles of evolution;
  • Monitoring biodiversity and ecological change: approaches and challenges;.
  • Understanding system resilience: quantification and modeling of system dynamics;
  • Reconciling biodiversity conservation with socioeconomic development; and
  • Restoration of ecosystems: concepts and tools for self-sustaining systems.

The Galapagos are not used to hosting major scientific symposia, especially those involving several hundred scientists with all their computational needs (laptops, LCD projectors and most importantly, air conditioning) so the only venue on the islands that could accommodate all these people was the “Salon de la Ciudad I. Municipalidad de Santa Cruz”,  the local government’s town hall.  I don’t know whether this was done in anticipation of the symposium but all the exposed wood had been freshly varnished and all the chairs in the auditorium had just been repainted with a thick, gray, enamel paint which in the humidity of the islands had not completely dried by the time the symposium started. Nonetheless, the wealth of knowledge presented that first morning was truly remarkable and while the air was thick with vapors, all participants remained in their seats throughout the day which may or may not have been related to the slightly tacky armrests.


The meetings began between 8:30 – 9:00 am and aside from a couple of short coffee breaks and one for lunch, continued without stop until nearly 6:30 pm every evening, which is just about the time the sun sets here at this time of the year.

Symposium Program (pdf, 1.8 MB)

As for me, rather than the more typical science-based talk that I would have normally given in a situation like this, I realized that it would be somewhat arrogant of me to presume to be able to tell some of the world’s leading experts on these islands anything that they did not already know.

Gene Feldman

So, I decided to try something a little different and present a story of both the development of my career as an ocean color scientist starting with my first work about the Galapagos and the advances over the past twenty five years in ocean color science since the two were so tightly interwoven.  The title of my presentation, “Satellites, Seabirds and Seals – A twenty five year retrospective” was based on a paper that I had quite interestingly written for a book published by the Charles Darwin Foundation in 1985 documenting the effects of the 1982-83 El Nino in the Galapagos.

Satellites Seabirds and Seals (pdf, 1.2 MB)

I traced the hurdles that a novice ocean color scientist faced back in the early days of trying to work with the data that was collected by the Coastal Zone Color Scanner (CZCS), through the planning for the SeaWiFS mission, and finally highlighted the ease with which anyone, anywhere in the world can access near-real-time satellite data products through the advances in the internet and the world wide web, and as I mentioned in an earlier journal, to  have those images delivered directly to your desktop via e-mail even in a place as remote as the Galapagos.


3 Responses to “Powerpoint in Paradise”

  1. William Hempel says:

    Hello Gene, it is intersting to read your article about your visit to the Galapagos islands, and see the video films from your trip.

    A few weeks ago I attended a lecture at the Zoological Museum in Copenhagen where biologist and scientific reporter Jørn Madsen has made an exhibit ’evolution’ to commemorate Charles Darwin. He also is translating the first edition of ’the origin of the species’ into Danish. We learned a lot about the life of Charlels Darwin.

    You write about the symposium: As for me, rather than the more typical science-based talk that I would have normally given in a situation like this, I realized that it would be somewhat arrogant of me to presume to be able to tell some of the world’s leading experts on these islands anything that they did not already know.

    Which reminded me about a young american Naval Officer who also, at a seminar, should lecture the old top-brass something that was his specialty. So he also had the same problem, how to overcome the in-bred opposition by old wise men and women.

    He therefor began his lecture by saying: ” I know there are many who know more about the subject I am to lecture about, but I see none of them here ”

    And perhaps you, when you are old, will be among these wise men !

    Thank you for an interesting lecure. William Hempel, Copenhagen.

  2. Chuck says:

    It would have been interesting to see in person. Did you get a DVD?

  3. gene carl feldman says:

    i believe the darwin foundation videotaped all five days worth of presentations but am not sure of the plans for that material. i’ll keep an eye on their website and see if they plan on posting them or putting them out on a dvd.