Getting into the Field By corinne Tarantino

Growing up on the island of Santa Cruz in the Galápagos, Gianna Haro, was inspired by the world around her. “I’ve always been curious about stuff, like my toys. I would open them up to break them apart to put them back together, not really play with them.” Since there were no phones or TV and the generator did not run 24 hours a day, she spent much of her childhood outside.

Her father, one of the first Ecuadoran naturalists in the Galapagos, showed her the incredible beauty of their home including the ocean introducing a passion for aquatic life. She says, “under the water I feel good and free.” Her mother inspired her love of biology through her respect of nature, “My mom would tie herself to a tree to save a tree.”

Gianna and her mother on a boat her father worked on.

On the island she saw first-hand how humans can impact wildlife. “There were iguanas on the streets and now there are cars.” Witnessing this change motivated her to become a scientist. “If you have a record then you can show people and maybe they will then understand.”

Gianna walking in the street in 1994 in Puerto Ayora.
A street in Puerto Ayora in 2019.
A marine iguana Gianna remembers seeing often in town growing up. Additionally, a sally lightfoot crab appears in front. Two of the many wonderful creatures in the Galápagos. Photo by Gianna Haro

After finishing high school, Gianna received a scholarship to study biology at the University of California Santa Barbara where she was able to make this dream a reality.

On a summer research trip with her professor Dr. Carla D'Antonio she studied lantana camera in Hawai’i. Lantana is an ornamental shrub for landscaping which was introduced in the mid-nineteenth century and rapidly spread across the big island of Hawai’i. The park rangers at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park initially planted mamane a native nitrogen-fixing tree (a tree that helps move nitrogen, an important natural element, throughout the environment). However, while researching they discovered that lantana flourishes during disturbances from fires and near the native tree. Therefore, after publishing a paper and informing park rangers the practices of the park were changed. This is the type of scientific work she would love to continue, where a study can make an impact.

Lantana camera, the invasive species Gianna studied in Hawai'i.
Gianna on the volcano in Hawai'i.

Unfortunately, not all of her research projects felt as fruitful. She graduated college disappointed that the general practice of scientists is to only publish papers and present at conferences. She wanted the results to be communicated to the world beyond scientists and to see changes regularly made based on findings.

Therefore, she returned to the Galápagos. Upon her return she became the first woman free-diving instructor in Ecuador and began the Galápagos freediving project. She started the project because many children on the islands dive, but it can be dangerous. Through this project they learn proper techniques to be safe and can even compete in free-diving on mainland Ecuador.

Then, her father urged her to become a naturalist on the island which has exceeded her expectations.

Explaining the feeding frenzy occurring behind her to the guests.
In Santa Cruz, explaining where we are within the Galápagos island chain.

Now, she is ready to continue a career in biology and is interested in earning a PhD to study how plankton is impacted by climate change.

One plankton viewed through a microscope.

Gianna hopes to see a future where research can help humans make informed decisions about our impact on the environment.