An app for identifying Galapagos birds

From the Charles Darwin Foundation Facebook page this week:

Have you downloaded the new free app for Galapagos? Did you know you can use it without an internet connection? "BirdsEye Galápagos" has been developed for Apple and Android. This app aids in the monitoring, identification and study of birds in the Galapagos Islands. "BirdsEye Galápagos" gives users interesting facts about the unique avifauna of the archipelago and its conservation efforts. "BirdsEye Galápagos" was developed by Birds in the Hand, LLC along with the CDF and the Galapagos National Park with the support of Galapagos Conservancy. 
Read more: http://bit.ly/1K9y2dk

Mainland Cotopaxi volcano erupts - in a minor sort of way

Snow covered Cotopaxi, one of the tallest volcanoes on earth (5,897 m, or 19,347 ft) and the 2nd highest mountain in Ecuador, blew off some steam and ashes this morning, reporst the Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute.   A fine layer of ash fell over surrounding communities - the pictures at the bottom of this ost showing ash on plants and a car were taken early on Thursday AM, 14th August (thanks to Lenin Vilatuña Moya for these).

CNH Tours reported on Cotopaxi's rumblings last month.  It last erupted in the 1940's and has not had a major eruption since 1905.  There are no reasons to believe, at this time, that the eruption will be a source of inconvenience to travellers on their way to Galapagos.   Any trips around Cotopaxi might be affected of course.

UPDATE:  The volcanic ash is causing some inconveniences to airport traffic in Quito.  The airport is not closed, but flights may be delayed.   See picture below for a wonderful view of Cotopaxi today (photo credit:  Roberto Lema Cruz).

Cotopaxi Ash

 AshesAshes 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaping lizards? Mainland iguana in Galapagos

Though it was likely some of the ancestors of this green iguana that ended up stranded on a floating mat of vegetation after some floods, many thousands, perhaps over a million years ago, to make it all the way to Galapagos, but chances are this particulary critter came over the easy way, either on a ship, or by plane.   

It's good that the authorities and the Galapagos people are keyed in enough now to i) recognize non-native species and to ii) do something about it.   The discovery of this lovely green iguana is an indicator of a heightened awareness of the dangers these non-native species present to the ecosystems that Galapagos is so famous for.   

The increasing number of ships / planes / people moving  back and forth between the continent and the archipelago, and between the islands of the archipelago, are removing the "ecological isolation" of the islands.  It is this ecological isolation that was responsible for the development of new species through natural selection over tens and hundreds of thousands of years.   Boats and planes can turn a remote archipelago into amost a piece of the mainland - allowing all kinds of new species to appear on the islands, upsetting the evolutionary processes in place.  

The authorities, with plenty of help from the Charles Darwin Foundation, have been working hard at dealing with this iusse. Visitors to the islands are screened for plants and animals that could harm native ecosystems. So remember, when you are boarding your flight to the islands, leave the green iguana behind. 

Green Iguana

 

 

Big demonstrations on the mainland - goodbye Mr. President?

There was quite a large demonstration of frustration and anger yesterday in Ecuador, culminating in many thousands of people marching in Quito late into Thursday night / Friday morning, putting up road blocks and surrounding the presidential palace.  Tear gas, and police on horses were deployed to keep people from storming the palace.  A CNH Tours source, in the thick of things, and among those leading the effort to see the president leave, predicts that he will do so in 3-4 days. We'll see.  

This demonstration is a culmination of many months of growing exasperation on the part of various groups in the country, the indigenous people, the private sector, media, middle class... there was even a large contingent of Galapagos residents in Quito for the event.  See our June 26 item reporting on protests.

Though the president started with quite a good track record in investing in much needed infrastructure and services, in developing a decent, new constitution, and in establishing the foundations of a transparent government,  it seems that in his efforts to have it his way only, he's crossed too many lines in terms of freedom of the press, in muzzling opposing voices, and in wanting to change the constitution (promulgated under his own watch), so that he could extend his tenure to a third term.   Bad luck, the precipitous and completely unexpected (no contingencies) fall in oil prices, a resource which contributes 25% of the nation's tax income is akin to having pulled a magic carpet from under his feet.  Debts are growing, creditors are at the door.  The president has had to raise taxes across the board to compensate.  The country is headed for hard financial times, the people are feeling it already - not helping them grow any fonder of the president.

CNH Tours has seen many governments overthrown in Ecuador since we first started monitoring Ecuadorian politics (1998). Invariably, there is growing popular unrest, usually culminating in the sudden departure of the man in charge.  In April 2005, CNH Tours' Marc Patry (Heather's husband, working with the United Nations at the time), was in a private meeting with the then president, Lucio Gutierrez, in the presidential palace - from where he reported hearing people outside chanting "Fuera! Lucio!" (Out! Lucio!).  Marc traveled to Galapagos 2 days later, and that week, Lucio took the hint, and left the country! For the time being, we have no reason to doubt that this is a highly likely prospect with the incumbent at the palace, in the not too distant future.  

Visitors to Ecuador these days may have difficulties circulating in and around main cities.   CNH Tours would recommend you do your best to find hotels as near to the airports as possible, so as to avoid having to drive into town, and risk long delays. Based on previous experience, any inconveniences will be short lived, as Ecuadorians, an industrious bunch, tend to be eager to get back to work.   Otherwise, for the time being, it's likely to be "business as usual" for the Galapagos visitor. 

Picture credit: Enrique Kast.  Demonstrators in Quito, 13 August 2015

Demonstration Quito

 

Samba and its guide get wonderful reviews

We're proud and happy - this just posted on TripAdvisor bulletin board for the Galapagos Islands (click here to see it for yourself):

6. Re: TipTop III vs Samba

Samba, Samba, Samba with Juan Manuel Salcedo as your guide. He made our second trip to these islands spectacular and magical. This is where he grew up and he shares his passion for wildlife, conservation, and the ocean. Every island is special and the snorkeling with Juan was out of this world. You won't go wrong with any itinerary in the islands, but you will not know what your trip could have been unless you visit again and experience the difference. I already said this was our second trip here. We were happy with our initial visit and all aspects of it. But, in comparison and looking back....it would maybe be a 5 to the Samba's 10. There is no way, I would consider any other boat or guide in the islands unless Juan is on it. It's that simple, he's the best guide we've had anywhere.
CNH Tours discovered the Samba in 2004 and has been using it ever since for its ACTIVE GALAPAGOS charters, going from 4 charters a year to 16 charters a year - which all sell out.   Word of mouth from previous guests (such as the one who made the comment above), great reviews on the internet is all it takes to fill the Samba on its ACTIVE GALAPAGOS depatures.  Juan Manuel Salcedo (whose family owns the Samba) keeps on pushing us to charter more and more weeks on the Samba - he tells us our "ACTIVE" guests are the most fun of all.  My son, Emile, got back last week from a 14 day cruise aboard the Samba with Juan Manuel - ostensibly as a deckhand!
In the same TripAdvisor thread, another former guest voted (back in 2014) for the ACTIVE GALAPAGOS trip on the Samba:
4. Re: TipTop III vs Samba
We just returned from 8 days on the Samba and had a wonderful experience. We booked through CNH Tours and they reserve the Samba 12-14 weeks per year.

About our Samba experience...The cabins are small, but very comfortable, and we were only in them to change and sleep. The crew was helpful, friendly and welcoming. We went to all of the islands you mentioned, hiking and snorkeling at least once a day, sometimes twice. The food was excellent. We even had fresh caught lobster one night. The chef buys all of the food locally and fishermen bring their fresh catch to the boat while on the tour. 

We saw the Tip Top III on a couple of occasions. It seems like the Samba, at least through CNH, is more active, out earlier and more often. The Samba is an older boat. 

You can't go wrong with the Samba.

Historic sentence imposed on shark fishermen

Translated from “El Universo”, and Ecuadorian newspaper (story from 29 July 2015)

“The captain and 12 crewmen of the vessel Fer Mary I will go to prison for illegal fishing within the Galapagos Marine Reserve, the Galapagos National Park (GNP) announced on Wednesday.

The fishing boat Fer Mary I was captured on July 19, 2011, while conducting fishing operations 20 miles inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve.  Park personnel found 286 thresher sharks, 22 blue sharks, 40 Galapagos sharks and 6 hammerhead sharks in their holds, among other protected species.

The captain was sentenced to two years in prison and each of the crew for one year.  In addition, the ship and attendant skiffs were seized and will later be auctioned.

According to the GNP, this is an historical decision, as it is the in which all violators have been sentenced.” 

CNH Tours friend, Hugo Echeverria, a Galapagos based environmental law expert – states “the decision is the culmination of 4 years of hard work, with support from many people in Galapagos”.

CNH Tours is extremely pleased at the outcome of this effort.   So much money is spent in protecting the marine reserve – outfitting and managing ships is a very costly affair – and previous decisions had been weak, and not very effective as disincentives to illegal fishing.  This decision will raise the stakes in the risky game carried out by unscrupulous captains of fishing vessels, and their crews.  Bravo!

 

Fer Mary

 

Mainland volcano spewing clouds of gas

Cotopaxi volcano, the tallest of the many volcanos running up and down the Andean mountains of Ecuador, has been emitting large clouds of gas over the past several days.  Located only 80 km (50 miles) south of Quito, it is the second highest summit in the country, reaching a height of 5,897 m (19,347 ft) and considered one of the highest volcanoes in the world.   On a clear day, it is easily visible from many downtown Quito vantage points.   Seismologists consider the activity level as “low to moderate”. 

This active volcano has erupted many times in recorded history, with an average of 1 eruption every 20 years, though the last major eruption was over 110 years ago.   CNH Tours has found no report on previous eruptions significantly affecting Quito – so it would appear that risks to eventual trip to Galapagos, transiting via Quito, are quite low.  

Cotopaxi National Park is a popular day trip from Quito – with many visitors hiking in the high altitude plains and foothills.   It is likely that any such trips in the near future may be cancelled. 

Cotopaxi Volcano

Cotopaxi

Protests in Ecuador last night

(from Euronews)

Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets across Ecuador. This is the third week of protests; people are angry about new tax legislation tabled by the government of President Rafael Correa.

Bills have been introduced to raise taxes on inheritance and capital gains. This has hit hard in Ecuador, where 95 percent of businesses are family-owned.

The reform is currently being debated in Ecuador’s National Assembly.

In Guayaquil, the city’s mayor told the crowd that Ecuador is going through a difficult time, both politically and ideologically. Describing the situation as a “class war”, Jaime Nebot accused the government of dividing the country, following the same path as the government of Venezuela.

After eight years in power, Rafael Correa says the protests are aimed at destabilising his government. With an economy based on high oil prices, the Ecuadorian government has had to introduce a series of measures to counter a 50% decline in revenue.

The president says the new laws will create greater equality.

(from CNH Tours)

The protests in Quito caused delays to those wishing to move around the city, as reported by our travel agent friend there.   The protests have been facilitated by a growing opposition to the president's desire for a constitutional changed which would allow him to sit for a third term.  

We have heard of no significant impact on visitors to Ecuador. 

For more interesting background on Ecuador, its economy, dollarization, and where things are thought to be headed, see this:  http://news.investors.com/ibd-editorials/062415-758828-ecuador-weakens-us-dollar-as-its-official-currency.htm 

 

Meeting with UK Galapagos Conservation Trust CEO

CNH Tours has been on the road recently, passing through London earlier this month.  We took advantage of our visit to invite Ian Dunn, CEO of the Galapagos Conservation Trust (GCT), for lunch at a Spanish tapas restaurant on Great Portland Street.  It was a sunny day, and Ian joined us with his colleague, Leah Jones for a light meal and a great conversation.

The GCT has been around for many years, certainly well before we first arrived in Galapagos, back in 1998.   It helps raise funds for conservation work in the islands, focusing on science, education and culture.    The GCT is quite a dynamic organization, also organizing events in the UK and fund-raising cruises in the islands.  

Our lunch meeting was very interesting - and we are following-up with some mutual cooperation on improvements to information sharing with each other, and with CNH Tours guests.  

GCT runs a monthly newsletter - no better way than to keep informed about what's going on in the islands.  For more information, see:  http://galapagosconservation.org.uk/get-involved/newsletter/ 

Petition against hotel development in park lands

Galapagos residents have been growing increasingly alarmed by plans for luxury hotels and golf courses in the islands - expressing concern over the transformation of Galapagos into another Hawaii.   CNH Tours notes that 50% of all Hawaiian bird species became extinct since the first arrival of humans about 1,500 years ago, and agrees that the same fate awaits Galapagos species unless strict measures are applied.

Click here to see the petition requesting that the site be placed on the UNESCO World Heritage in Danger list - this would raise the profile of the issue with national and international governments.