Roberto Plaza is the owner of Montemar, a sustainable farm on Santa Cruz Island dedicated to Galapagos giant tortoise conservation. In 2010, Roberto and his wife, Reyna, began growing Arabic coffee on abandoned pasture land. The coffee flourished under the shade of tropical fruits and native trees, which the couple painstakingly planted. Proceeds from coffee purchases have funded the restoration of tortoise ecosystems, as the area serves as an important migration route for these rare creatures as they move from the highlands to the coastal lowlands to lay their eggs.

Tagging a male tortoise in the Galapagos.

Montemar is also collaborating with the Galapagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Program to collect research on these large long-living reptiles. Income generated by coffee sales has been used to purchase four GPS trackers that monitor the tortoises’ movements as they roam and graze. These solar-powered devices last between 20 and 30 years.

Tagging Steve, a male tortoise that is estimated to be more than 120 years old.

Tagging Steve, a male giant tortoise that is estimated to be more than 120 years old.

Roberto comments that “the information gathered will let us know the range of the tortoises’ habitat and their migration patterns depending on their sex. It will also allow us, in the case of female tortoises, to find the exact location of nesting sites.” Montemar is studying the population density of giant tortoises on the farm, as well as their behavior, food preferences and favored resting places. In addition, a camera trap has been placed by the tortoise lagoon that takes four pictures per hour. The project’s aim is that this data will help develop a plan of best practices for tortoise management that farmers across the Galapagos will be able to use.

Researcher at the tortoise lagoon in the Galapagos.

The tortoise lagoon

Tortoise Conservation Coffee in the Galapagos

Montemar has already committed to using biodynamic farming methods that maintain soil health and keep invasive species at bay. These agricultural practices are at the forefront of a sustainability movement being implemented throughout the islands and serve as an example for farmers seeking to apply their own eco-efficient operations.

On many Galapagos departures, Nat Hab travelers tour Roberto and Reyna’s sustainable farm and learn more about the tortoise tagging project at Montemar. And in case one is hoping to try a cup of coffee infused with sweet notes of chocolate, fruits and nuts, each guest receives a small bag of ground roasted beans. Nat Hab contributes more than $10,000 per year towards tortoise conservation through these visits. We are proud that experiences like these enable our travelers to directly support research and recovery of tortoise habitats in the Galapagos.