Darwin Station on the Precipice

The non-profit Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS), the oldest and largest scientific operation in the Galapagos Islands and an iconic visitor site, is at a high risk of forever closing its doors before the end of 2014 according to its director, and CNH Tours friend, Swen Lorenz. 

Why?  It boils down to the sticks being put in its fundraising wheels by the local mayor Leopoldo Bucheli, who is under pressure by small t-shirt shop owners to prevent the Station to operate its own Station store.   The recently refurbished store opened in May this year, selling almost exclusively Ecuadorian products.  The unrestricted funds so generated were part of a strategy developed three years ago to deal with the major cash-flow issues at the Station, which runs a $3million annual operating budget (it's internet connection alone costs $3,500 per month, let alone the high cost of electricity, water supply, maintenance, management of large collections of animal and plant collections, the most important research library on Galapagos in the world, waterfront facilities etc. etc.).

The Station, previous run by intelligent and well meaning scientists, had gradually been run to the ground over the past 10 years for lack of concerted attention to the bottom line.  In 2011, Swen Lorenz stepped in as a volunteer at first, recognizing the tremendous turn-around potential of the Station.  A London financier, Swen had a knack for business and succeeded in dealing with many of the financial "hangover" issues he had inherited.  The Station store was on track to get back into the black, relying in good part on the generation of up to US$300,000 of unrestricted cash flow per year from the Shop, to cover all those costs associated in the operation of a remote research station, and that are hard to pay for from research grants or for other fund-raising efforts.  

CDF urgently needs your support.

A fundraising plan is in place to raise signficant funds to transform the Station. However unless the Station raises funds now, its entire operation will not survive until the end of 2014.

​The Charles Darwin Foundation needs to raise $1,000,000 before the end of 2014 to avoid bankruptcy and secure funding to continue our work in protecting these Islands and their natural inhabitants.

Please, to enable nature and science to have a voice in Galapagos:

  • Donate what you can using this link here
  • Purchase a CDF online membership here
  • Share our cause with your friends and supporters online by downloading our fundraising and awareness media pack: here 

CNH Tours donated $1,000 to the Station a few months ago this year, and we are encouraging others to help in any way they can to ensure that this beacon of good science.

You may also wish to send a note to the town of Puerto Ayora's mayor, letting him know that without the Station working in town, you would see no reason to visit Puerto Ayora at all during your Galapagos cruise and ask him not to obstruct the Station store operations.

Leopoldo Bucheli:  leopoldobucheli@hotmail.com

Let's be sure the sign below can be removed soon.

CDRS Closing sign

 

Another cargo ship slips under the waves...

Thankfully the "San Cristobal" (built in 1966) did so soon after having left the mainland on its way to the islands on November 17 - so there's no risk of an oil slick affecting Galapagos, nor of debris scattered among their wild shores.  The San Cristobal seems to have developed a list of 15 degrees before capsizing completely and going down in 10 minutes no more than 100 km from the coast (Galapagos is 1,000 km away) - the crew was unharmed.  This comes 6 months after another such cargo ship sank, the Galapaface (who names these ships?), but this time just off the shores of San Cristobal island in Galapagos (see our earlier news stories in May and July this year).  

Though not a risk for Galapagos ecosystems, this sinking, right on the heals the other, is a big blow to many small merchants in the islands.  The ships carry all kinds of goods, from food, household goods, hardware, building supplies, gas cannisters, even vehicles.  Very few of these small merchants insure their shipments, and those having received a blow last May, may now find themselves completely bankrupt.  There is a real risk of shortages of supplies in the coming weeks and months.  

There was a time back in the 1970s when the islands were served by one cargo ship which came once a month - but rapid growth in both population (from perhaps 5,000 then, to 30,000 now), and the great expectations of material comforts and a rapid increase in land based tourism have led to the need for a  much more regular supply of goods to the islands.  This increased back-and-forth between the islands and the mainland also poses a risk for the introduction of new species to the islands. Introduced species are the greatest threat to Galapagos biodiversity.

So everything is connected.  One silver lining in this and the earlier sinkings is the hope that the ships will be replaced by new ones that meet the strictest bio-security and phytosanitary standards, reducing the chance that they will be vectors for the introduction of harmful pests to the islands.   Let's keep our fingers crossed. 

Española tortoises in Good (saddlebacked) shape

(Reuters) - Conservationists said on Tuesday they have brought giant tortoises found on the Galapagos island of Espanola back from the brink of extinction, gaining a foothold strong enough to allow humans to leave the reptiles alone.

Numbering just 15 some five decades ago, the tortoises, which can live as long as two centuries, now number about 1,000 and can sustain themselves, according to a study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

"We saved a species from the brink of extinction and now can step back out of the process. The tortoises can care for themselves," said James Gibbs, a vertebrate conservation biology professor at the State University of New York (SUNY) College of Environmental Science and Forestry who led the study.

Española giant Galapagos tortoises, their scientific name is Chelonoidis hoodensis, measure 3 feet (1 meter) long with a saddle-backed shell.

They live up to 150 or 200 years, eating grasses and leaves during the wet season and cactus during the dry season on an arid, low, rocky island measuring only 23 square miles (60 square km). Gibbs said the population numbered perhaps 5,000 to 10,000 tortoises before the arrival of people.

"The tortoises were hunted by buccaneers, whalers and other sea goers throughout the 18th and 19th centuries," added Linda Cayot, a herpetologist who is science advisor to the Galapagos Conservancy group.

"They collected them live, stacked them in their holds, and had fresh meat on their long voyages. Tortoises can live up to a year without food or water, so a natural source of fresh meat," she said.

Gibbs said the tortoises had been given up as extinct by the time the islands were protected as a national park in 1959.

In the 1960s, only 14 tortoises were found on Espanola, 12 females and two males. They were all taken into captivity and a third male was found in the San Diego Zoo. From those 15 tortoises, the population was rebuilt through a breeding program in captivity before they were reintroduced to the island.

"Nobody knew how to breed tortoises in captivity and the best zoos around the world had failed. The Galapagos National Park figured it out and actually became exceedingly effective at it," Gibbs said. 

The success story of the Espanola subspecies comes in sharp contrast to the closely related tortoise found on the Galapagos island of Pinta. In 2012, a male dubbed Lonesome George died in captivity as conservationists tried in vain to find a way to breed him. He was the last of his subspecies.

Even though the human threat was eliminated by protecting the Espanola tortoise, the reptile still faced a formidable foe in goats that inhabited the island for 90 years before being removed in the 1970s.

Introduced to the island by humans, the goats mowed down just about everything in their path, including most of the cactuses the tortoises thrive on.

Unlike the grassy place it once was, the island now is covered with woody vegetation unsuited for tortoises. Gibbs said it could take hundreds of years for cactuses to reach previous levels.

Charles is back!

(this article is copy pasted from the Charles Darwin Foundaiton news release of yesterday)The Archipelago's must-have selfie! 12 months in development, our Darwin statue has finally arrived to the home of science in Galapagos. We decided it was time to move away from the tired, weathered looking Darwin profile so often connected to Galapagos. Our statue embodies the young man who visited the Islands - full of energy, notebook and magnifying glass close by, ready for the gap year of a lifetime.

The above photo shows the team behind the statue: renowned Galapagos scientist and life-long Darwin scholar, Godfrey Merlen (left -  CNH Tours's note:  Godfrey is one of our oldest Galapagos friends) with Ecuadorian sculptor Patricio Ruales. Godfrey has put together a fabulous article about his involvement on the project. Darwin’s Right Hand Man describes his personal joy, pride and fear (of turning to clay) all for the love of his hero.Check out the complete article below.
 
Click here to read Darwin's Right Hand Man by Godfrey Merlen

 

Darwin Statue

Lonesome George’s Final Resting Place – What do YOU think?

There’s an animated debate going on right now about the final resting place for the icon of Galapagos, and by extension, all island conservation challenges – even all conservation challenges worldwide:  Where should the stuffed and mounted remains of Lonesome George (LG), the Pinta Island Galapagos tortoise so famous for having been the last of his kind for at least 40 years, rest?   LG died in 2012.  His remains were sent to the Museum of Natural History in New York where they were given careful treatment and restored.   He was unveiled a few days ago at the museum, where he is on display until January.   Aftr that, he’s to travel back to Ecuador.   Galapagos residents are of course furious at the idea that the Ecuadorian government’s proposal to have him displayed in Quito, in exchange for a bronze replica to be standing guard in the islands.    A heated discussion is filling social media these days on the matter.

The Guardian newspaper has come up with a novel idea: Lonesome George, already an emissary for conservation work worldwide, should go on a slow (tortoise paced) world tour to help educate and sensitive people on the challenges of species survival in a rapidly changing, globalizing world with fewer and fewer wild spaces in which to seek refuge.  See their article here:

http://www.theguardian.com/science/animal-magic/2014/sep/22/lonesome-george-tortoise-world-tour

Lonesome George’s species was killed off by a combination of hungry whalers and seafarers looking for fresh meat to eat, the accidental introduction of egg and hatchling tortoise eating rats and pigs to Pinta island in the 19th century.    Giant tortoise species on other Galapagos islands managed to survive this pressure.  Those surviving on islands with rats and pigs remain in a precarious state.  Thankfully, conservation efforts by the Galapagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Foundation are helping improve matters.

Below:  LG on display in New York

LG and Linda

Your penguin pictures petitioned by scientist

I was just contacted by a member of the leading penguin research team in Galapagos.   They've been studying penguin populations since the 1970s.    Thanks to their work, they've managed to understand some of the leading threats to penguin survival (some include absence of suitable nesting sites) and have taken action to support their conservation.   One the biggest (and most expensive) challenges is carrying out regular population surveys.  YOU CAN NOW HELP.  By taking pictures of penguins, and recording where and when you did so, and sending them to the researchers, you will help them get a lot more valuable information on penguins.  See their website:  http://www.igalapagos.org/

 Penguins

Google's "Street view" project - behind the scenes.

I guess I missed this video, released last year.  It's 7 minutes long, and gives us a good idea of the kinds of things one will see on a Galapagos cruise. It's fun - I even recognize a face or two, and see my old office.  If you're considering a trip to the islands, have a look a this, and it will give you an idea of what you are in for (but don't expecting the fun music track). 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKG2qH8778U

 

 

Sept 18: Lonesome George at the American Museum of Natural History

Poor old lonesome George – he was my neighbour for 2 years in Galapagos (literally, we lived about 100 metres apart) and after many years of unproductive efforts at finding him a mate, he died on the 24 June, 2012, the last of the Pinta island tortoise species.  He was the famous icon for Galapagos conservation – on the logo of the Charles Darwin Research Station, which did some pioneering work on captive breeding of giant tortoises.    But his fame lives on.   His “stuffed” version will be unveiled at the American Museum of Natural History (New York City) on September 18th, and a special event will be held.   CNH Tours is proud to say that we worked side by side with Johannah Barry, and Linda Cayot – two old Galapagos friends and that we have good contacts with Arturo Izurieta – current National Park director.    From the AMNH website:

Charles Darwin’s visit to the Galapagos Islands in 1835 helped him decipher evolution by natural selection, the process responsible for the dizzying abundance of species on the planet. Today, hundreds of species go extinct each year. In honor of the Museum’s special exhibition of Lonesome George, the famed Galapagos tortoise that was the last of his species, join us for an in-depth conversation about biodiversity and conservation. Uncover the issues and current environmental initiatives in the Galapagos, and explore the possibilities and perils that lie ahead. The conversation will feature Johannah Barry and Linda Cayot of the Galapagos Conservancy, James Gibbs of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and Arturo Izurieta, director of the Galapagos National Park. The discussion will be moderated by Dr. Eleanor Sterling, chief conservation scientist of the Museum's Center for Biodiversity and Conservation.

lonesome george

Mild earthquake(s) in Quito area

The U.S. Geological Survey said the moderate quake was only 4.8 miles (7.7 km) deep, with its epicenter located 14 miles northeast of Quito.  Striking at 2:58PM on Tuesday, 12 August, the 5.1 magnitude quake was widely felt, but caused only minor damage.  Two people died, one working in an illegal quarry, and a boy who was killed by falling bags of rice.  The airport was closed for a short time, so that the authorities could be sure the infrastructure was in good working order.  Three other smaller earthquakes struck during the course of the afternoon.  There is no reason for concern on the part of anyone traveling to Ecuador via Quito.

Picture: Dust rising from the hills surrounding Quito following the earthquake.

Earthquake in Quito

Darwin Station Director proposes ambitious infrastructure plan

Sven Lorenz, the young, dynamic director (and CNH Tours friend) of the Charles Darwin Foundation and its Research Station (CDF) announced today his "EXTREMELY ambitious" infrastructure projects for the CDF.  According to Lorenz,  if realised, the plans "will have a transformative effect on the organisation but also on science, conservation and education in Galapagos. Benefits for the bio-diversity of Galapagos, for Ecuador as a nation as well as the local community, and with effects to be felt for the next 50-100 years."

He also explained that as I side-effect, it will would to the CDF becoming financially sustainable, for the first time in its five decades of operation.

To have a look for yourself, please see his 15 page “State of the Union” mid-year letter to the CDF General Assembly: http://tinyurl.com/m6kg2tb (English).   For those who want to know more, you can consult his 46 page Powerpoint presentation just about potential infrastructure projects: http://tinyurl.com/oau43nc.

He is inviting feedback - if anyone out there would like to have their "2 cents' worth", please send your comments to CNH Tours and we'll forward them.