Raising awareness through communications: An interview with Barbara Arizaga of the Galápagos Conservancy
Barbara Arizaga is the Director of Communications for the Galápagos Conservancy, an organization based out of the beautiful town of Puerto Ayora in the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador. The Galápagos Conservancy is committed to protecting one of the world’s most unique island chains and the animals that inhabit them, such as the critically endangered Pink Land Iguana, and multiple species of Galápagos Giant Tortoises.
In this interview, Barbara shares her insights on how to break into the conservation field using transferable skills and why communications for conservation is such an important role. She also highlights some of the amazing work she does in her role at the Galápagos Conservancy.
Barbara Arizaga on getting a job in communications for conservation
Barbara has always been passionate about conservation and the environment, and believes that effective communication is essential in protecting the natural world.
This passion led her to pursue a degree in communications and a minor in nonprofit management. She remarks on her early-career experiences:
“During my time in university, I also took advantage of various opportunities that provided me with practical experience in the field, such as internships and volunteer positions. After graduation, I continued to build my knowledge and connections by working in various sectors, including nonprofit, academic, and government.”
“This allowed me to gain a broad perspective on the conservation field and establish key relationships that have helped me succeed in this role. I also made sure to develop a deep understanding of the unique conservation challenges facing the Galápagos Islands.”
Before acquiring her role as Communications Director, Barbara worked as an advisor at the Presidency of the Republic of Ecuador, and as an Editor-In-Chief of Universidad San Francisco de Quito, which gave her the skills needed to acquire her new role.
“These experiences gave me valuable insights into the importance of collaboration between government, academia, and civil society in advancing conservation objectives.”
Barbara’s experience highlights the need for a diverse set of skills in the conservation sector. Her skills in her other jobs made her a top candidate for the Communications Director role.
“When the opportunity arose to work for Galápagos Conservancy, I was excited to use my skills to help raise awareness and support for the conservation of Galápagos’ unique and precious ecosystem. I was particularly drawn to the organization’s mission of supporting science-based conservation initiatives and working closely with local partners to achieve sustainable outcomes.”
What are your main roles as Director of Communications, and why is communications for conservation so important?
“As Communications Director, my main activities include developing and implementing communication strategies that support Galápagos Conservancy’s conservation priorities, managing media relations, overseeing content creation for our website and social media channels, producing emails, newsletters, and other publications, and organizing events and outreach activities.”
“I work closely with colleagues across the organization to ensure that our messaging is accurate, compelling, and aligned with our strategic goals.”
A part of Barbara’s job is leading fundraising campaigns, and communicating the importance of the Galápagos Conservancy’s work through various media outlets. A campaign without effective communications isn’t likely to get very far! Her role is critical in helping people take action to protect the remarkable biodiversity in the Galápagos Islands.
Barbara says that this is the best thing about her job: “One of the most rewarding experiences was leading a successful fundraising campaign that supports the restoration of critically endangered Giant Tortoise populations on the islands.”
“It was amazing to see the impact of our work and the dedication of the Galápagos National Park Directorate, and our partners and volunteers who made it possible. I am also proud of the relationships that I have built with journalists, scientists, and other stakeholders in the conservation community, which have helped to amplify our message and reach new audiences.”
What are some challenges you face as Communications Director?
During Barbara’s hiring interview for this role, she asked the President of the Galápagos Conservancy about the worst part of the job. He said that there were none, and every day has been fantastic. Barbara agrees, and says she absolutely loves her job.
However, “One of the biggest challenges of my job is balancing the need to communicate complex scientific information with the need to make it accessible and engaging for a broad audience.”
“We are often working with highly technical content, and it can be difficult to distill it into a format that is both accurate and appealing to non-experts. However, this challenge is also an opportunity to be creative and innovative in how we present our work, and it keeps me motivated to constantly improve our communications strategies.”
What is the most exciting project you’ve worked on at the Galápagos Conservancy?
“One of the most exciting projects that Galápagos Conservancy is currently involved in is Iniciativa Galápagos. This initiative is focused on the restoration of Giant Tortoises across the Galápagos Archipelago and is also developing innovative scientific solutions for the management of the critically endangered Pink Land Iguana, the Opuntia Cactus, and other native wildlife and plant species.”
For some perspective, the Pink Land Iguana is only found on the slopes of Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island, and there are only around 200-300 of them left.
There are 15 species of Galápagos Tortoises, and several subspecies have gone extinct already, with most of the extant species on the endangered species list.
“Iniciativa Galápagos has the potential to make a significant impact on the conservation of these iconic species and their habitats, and I am excited to see the progress that we will make in the coming years.”
What advice would you give someone wishing to gain employment in communications for conservation, especially in Ecuador and Latin America?
“If you are interested in pursuing a career in conservation, my advice would be to first consider obtaining a degree in a related field such as communications, environmental science, biology, or natural resource management.”
“However, practical experience is equally important. Seek out internships, volunteer opportunities, or entry-level positions in the conservation field to gain hands-on experience and make valuable connections. Building a strong network of contacts, staying up to date with the latest research, and being willing to learn and adapt are all crucial elements for success in this field, especially for those in Ecuador and Latin America.”
Utilizing Transferable Skills for a Career in Conservation
Barbara also notes that, for career-switchers, utilizing transferable skills acquired in other jobs can be invaluable in finding a new career in conservation. Skills useful to conservation include fundraising, management, communication, interpersonal skills, writing and editing, and perhaps most importantly, passion.
“I believe that my diverse experience in government, academia and the nonprofit sector, along with my passion for conservation were key factors that gave me an advantage over other people who applied for this role. Through these experiences, I honed my skills in strategic communications, public relations, and stakeholder engagement, all of which are critical for success in my current role.”
So, even if you have been working in a different sector for a while, you certainly have developed some skills useful to conservation. Knowledge of conservation issues also helps, even if you’ve never worked in the sector before.
“I have a deep understanding of the issues facing the Galápagos Islands and the importance of conservation efforts to protect their unique biodiversity. This perspective allows me to effectively communicate the importance of Galápagos Conservancy’s work to a wide range of audiences, from donors, government, and academia to the general public.”
Passion combined with knowledge is sure to make you stand out when applying to communications for conservation roles. A diverse work history is often an asset to conservation, so don’t sell yourself short! We need passionate people in the right places, and you could be the person perfect for the next job that really makes a difference.
Plus videos of mischievous sea lions at the fish market is sure to brighten up anyone’s day!
Author Profile | Lisa Mills
Lisa Mills is an avian field biologist and a wildlife blogger. Her website, The Weekly Warbler, highlights her adventures studying animals in various parts of the world. With her words, she hopes to show people that our natural world is absolutely amazing, and that it deserves our protection. Follow her on Instagram here.