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.

 

 

Grounded ship sunk outside the marine reserve

This is the final chapter of the ill-fated journey of the cargo ship Galapaface - which struck bottom near Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal island in early May.  Against many odds, it was laboriously refloated, environmental damage was reported to be very minor, and it was towed to deep waters earlier this week.   The final solution, to sink it in 2,500 metres of water, took place 32 km (20 miles) outside the boundaries of the Galapagos Marine Reserve yesterday.  About as good as you can expect for the outcome of this accident.

Galapaface sunk

 

Grounded cargo ship is re-floated and towed away

Defying all my expectations, the Ecuadorian authorities succeeded in re-floating the grounded cargo ship "Galapaface" (what a name...??) yesterday.  This ship ran aground off of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno in early May.   Back in 2001, the Jessica, a fuel ship, ran aground at nearly the same place, dumping quite a bit of bunker oil into the sea and eventually falling to pieces due to the constant pounding of waves.  I had anticipated that this would be the fate of the Galapaface - but no, it appears that the national authorities have developed the capacity to salvage such ships.  This is very good news for all (including the ship insurance company I suppose!).   The Galapaface was salvaged with very minor environmental impacts.  Bravo Ecuador!

Galapaface being refloated and taken away, off San Cristobal Island, with the typical "Garua" season low cloud cover over the island. See Kicker Rock - Leon Dormido island in the background, just above the the Galapaface bow.  (courtesy Galapagos National Park Service)

 Galapaface

 

CNH Tours is the first Darwin Foundation "benefactor"

We donated $1,000 today to the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF)  in the framework of its partnership with the International Watch Company (IWC).   The IWC has been an important private sector support of the CDF for a few years now, helping ensure the conservatoin of the marine reserve in particular.   CNH Tours sent over 300 people to the Galapagos in 2013, and is always looking for ways to support the conservation of the place our business depends on.   We are also members of the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association, which provices financial and policy support to Galapagos conservation.    We encourage other tour companies to follow in our footsteps! 

You can also support the CDF through the campaing - see:  http://www.iwc.com/en/help-protect-the-galapagos-islands/

 

 

 

 

Sea Shepherd sniffer dogs on patrol in Galapagos

CNH Tours friend Hugo Echeverria, the legal advisor to the globally active marine conservation NGO "Sea Shepherd", recently informed us of the renewal of his organization's official (via signed agreement with the government of Ecuador) role in support of the Galapagos sniffer dog programme.    The "K9" (acronym for canine) dog team is trained to sniff out wildlife traffickers, and is an important deterrent in keeping people from trafficking in species and animal parts (e.g. live iguanas, shark fins, sea cucumbers, sea horses etc...).  

CNH Tours once had a one-on-one dinner with the Sea Shepherd Society founder, Paul Watson (one of the original founders of Greenpeace).   He is quite a character - and his dogged (no pun intended) determination to see (no pun intended) real conservation action in the marine world is second to none.   Sea Shepherd has been active in Galapagos for nearly 15 years and during this time, it has helped the Galapagos National Park Service achieve many conservation benchmarks.  They deserve our support.   For more information, see:

http://www.seashepherd.org/news-and-media/2014/06/26/k9-wildlife-contraband-detection-unit-will-remain-active-in-galapagos-through-2017-1599

For information on Paul Watson's adventures over the years, see the film made about them:  http://www.screensiren.ca/2011/05/eco-pirate-the-story-of-paul-watson-2/

 

Galapagos K9 Police Unit with sniffer dog (credit:  Cabo Marlon Valle, UPMA)

Sniffer Dog

 

 

 

 

Military inspections at Baltra airport

CNH Tours friend, and director of the Charles Darwin Research Station Swen Lorenz reported on Facebook yesterday:

"Military checks for passengers arriving in Galapagos today. All male passengers were rounded up on a barren stretch of Baltra Island, the women were allowed to stay on the bus. The military was extremely polite and the troop leader spoke fluent English. Quite the experience, but foreign visitors were still a bit puzzled by it all."

No word yet on the why and how long this may go on.  Some have commented that polite nature of the exercise made it more pleasant than passing through Miami or Los Angeles International airports!   This may have been a one off thing - but we thought we'd share the item to reduce any surprises.

Military check point Baltra 

 

In New York on September 18th?

I just came across this posting for an upcoming event at the American Museum of Natural History (I had the chance to visit this most wonderful museum only once, and only for 2 hours - but will be back!).

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.

Johannah Barry and Linda Cayot are friends of CNH Tours, while Artura Izurieta is an acquaintance.   I'm sure this will be a most fascinating talk.  

For more info, see:  http://www.amnh.org/calendar/lonesome-george-and-the-galapagos-today-what-the-tortoise-taught-us 

 

 

Virginia opposum intercepted

In a graphic manifestation of the very significant threat posed by the increased movement of people and goods between the mainland and Galapagos, the Galapagos Biosecurity team came across a Virginia opossum yesterday on one of the barges used to transfer goods from mainland supply ships anchored offshore, and Puerto Ayora's docks.  

There are barely any mammals in the islands because they simply could not make the journey from the mainland unassisted.   Only rats and bats ever made it - rats likely surviving on an unsually large mat of of vegetation.  The rats evolved over thousands and thousands of years to become an endemic species found only in the islands.  The absence of mammals allowed for the peculiar ecosystem make up we see today - where reptiles dominate the landscape.  Giant turtles replace herds of grass/shrub eating mammals in this ecosystem!  There are also lizards, marine and land iguanas. 

The arrival and successful implantation of opossums could have devastating effects on native wildlife - typically, it's hard to say until it's too late.  CNH Tours applauds the newly etablished capacity in Galapagos that allows for the interception of such potentially harmful new arrivals.

The threat remains very real though, and the increased population of the islands (driven by natural growth rates, but also from immigration, driven by the availability of jobs - many from the rapidly growing land based tourism) results in more and more opportunities for stowaways like the opossum to hitch a ride in the more frequent shipments of goods to the islands.  That's why it's important to support the biosecurity team and to also try to ensure you use / eat locally produced products and foods.  

Opposum

 

Cargo ship runs aground

Quito (AFP) - An Ecuadoran freighter ran aground in the Galapagos islands yesterday, but "for the moment" does not pose a threat to the Pacific archipelago's unique environment, the Galapagos National Park said.

The vessel, which ran aground off the island of San Cristobal, is carrying 16,000 gallons (more than 60,000 liters) of fuel oil.

But an inspection "confirmed that the part of the vessel that is on the rocks is distant from the fuel tanks," the park said.

"So for the moment it does not represent an environmental risk," it added.

Authorities, however, were drawing up contingency plans in case of a spill, it said.

The ship's cargo also is being offloaded to make it lighter in hopes that a high tide will lift it off the rocks.

The Ecuadoran-owned island chain, which is located 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from the mainland, is famous for unique flora and fauna studied by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle as he developed his theory of evolution.

CNH Tours adds that his is a near exact repeat of the Jessica shipwreck of January 2001.  That ship eventually broke apart, releasing most of its fuel.   60,000 litres would fill a box 5 metres (16 feet) wide, 5 metres deep, and 2.2 metres high - the size of a modest bedroom.  It seems somes lessons have not been learned.

Shipwreck