Thousands march in Ecuador streets

Ecuadoreans marched in the thousands yesterday, in several mainland cities, protesting what they believe is a growing centralization of power in the office of the president (Rafael Correa), reductions in the freedom of the press, and the president's expressed desire to change the constitution (a constitution that he himself promulgated in 2008) which would allow him to be a candidate for the next presidential elections (e.g. removing the two term limit).

Having observed Ecuadorian politics for the past nearly 20 years, CNH Tours was initially very pleased to see the work of the Correa administration when it first came to power in 2006.  Charismatic and intelligent, he seemed to understand the deep rooted challenges in terms of putting the country on the road to development, and sharing the wealth in so doing.   Though he pays strong lip service to the other populist regimes on the continent (Venezuela, Bolivia), generally, he has navigated a balanced path between investment in infrastructure and people, and social policies.  

It seems however that he increasingly believes that the changes he has set in motion require his continued presence at the helm, while the tools he is increasingly resorted are criticized as being close to authoritarian in nature.  Apparently, as the country saw yesterday, an important number of Ecuadoreans believe that they don't need him at the helm indefinitely to continue on the road to prosperity and social justice.  

Visitors to Ecuador and Galapagos need not be concerned about these developments, but they do offer a good opportunity to learn about politics, social justice issues, development and governance in another country.   CNH Tours recommends you read about these things on-line - and you'll be sure to engage in interesting discussions with the Ecuadorians you'll be meeting during your visit there.

Thanks to our old Darwin Station colleague, Michael Bliemsrieder, for the picture below.Quito

A tiny ray of hope for finches on the brink of extinction

(from the Galapagos National Park press release - with help from Google Translate).

For the second consecutive year, endangered mangrove finches are successfully hatched in captivity. 

The mangrove finch project team, led by the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the Galapagos National Park (GNP), in collaboration with San Diego Zoo ( SDZ) and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, began the process of captive breeding of mangrove finches, with the goal of providing one more chance for one of the most, if not THE most endangered bird species in the world to avoid extinction. 

From February 3 to March 3, 2015, 30 mangrove finch eggs were collected in Playa Tortuga Negra, northwest of Isabela Island. Then the eggs were transported 130 km by boat to the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) incubation lab in Puerto Ayora. 
Mangrove Finch Chick
The mangrove finch is the rarest of "Darwin's finches", with an estimated population of only 80 individuals with less than 20 breeding pairs population. Research shows that the introduced parasitic fly, Philornis downsi is a major cause of the high mortality of this species, with no less than 95% of the chicks dying during the first months of the breeding season under natural conditions.  (note from CNH Tours:  This is one graphic manifestation of how the careless introduction of non-native species to Galapagos can affect the wildlife there - after polynesians arrived in Hawaii, followed by others, nearly 50% of its bird species became extinct - something that is desperately trying to be avoided in Galapagos).  

An intensive conservation management effort to increase the number of chicks produced each year began in 2014 for the first time in the Galapagos Islands.  Eggs were collected from the wild and transferred to Puerto Ayora, where the chicks were hatched and cared for.  Fifteen of them were successfully released into the wild in May 2014. Due to the small size of the population of the mangrove finch, without viable technique today to protect wild nests from the parasitic fly, the collection of eggs and captive breeding chicks is a strategy that has given successful results, which should be replicated.

Mangrove Finch

After last year’s successful results, this season the team of scientists and rangers faced unexpected challenges in the field.  Francesca Cunninghame, an official of the CDF and leader of mangrove finch Project, explained that "it was exceptionally dry in Playa Negra Tortuga and mangrove finches reproduced slower than normal, therefore, only 12 pairs were seen to be nesting . We also had two days of gusty winds which made it dangerous to climb the tall trees to reach the nests"

The incubation equipment and captive breeding, led by San Diego Zoo personnel Global (SDZG) with the support of Ecuadorian fellows, put the eggs in incubators, located within the quarantine facilities in the CDRS. This year’s crop of eggs hatched during the last two weeks. The chicks are fed 15 times a day on a diet of scrambled eggs and papaya and introduced wasp larvae.

Nicole LaGreco, leading expert in wild bird breeding at  the SDZ Wild Bird that "with the success of last season, we were excited and anxious to be invited to participate again this year. Although this year has been more challenging than the previous year, we hope that this will be another successful season. "

Note from CNH Tours:  The mangrove finches exist only on the shores of a very restricted part of Isabela Island at Black Turtle Cove - this site is accessible only with a special permit from the Park.  It is not a visitor site.

CNN piece on successful tortoise conservation

Here's a 2 minute CNN piece on a recent success story - the survival of tortoise hatchlings on Pinta Island, for the first time in over a hundred years, now that the introduced rats have been eradicated (thanks to the work of the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Galapagos National Park Service).  The piece interviews our old friend Linda Cayot, the woman behind this work, and the woman who hired my husband for a job in Galapagos.  

Linda was inadvertently responsible for not only the birth of tortoises on Pinta, but of CNH Tours as well!

Click here to see the video. 

 

Visit the biggest tree in the islands

Adriana Mesa Vera, who regularly blogs about life in Galapagos, recently reported on a 300 year old Ceiba tree, near Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. If the facts are correct, this tree would be among the first introduced plants in Galapagos (e.g. early 1700’s and would have already been a very large tree when Darwin passed though (1835).   CNH Tours doubts the veracity of Ms. Mesa Verde’s dating – given that the first permanent residents of Galapagos did not establish themselves until the early 1800’s. 

The tree is located at El Progreso, about 7 kilometers from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island.  It’s over 40 meters tall (130 feet) with an 18 meter (40 feet) circumference.  Regardless of its age, it remains an impressive specimen!   

The owner of the land on which it grows, José Luis Cornejo, Quito had the great idea of ​​building a house in the tree.     The house is now a tourist attraction, containing artifacts from what was a sugar mill located nearby.   Visitors are encouraged to climb the tree as far as they can go – secured with a sytem of ropes and pulleys. 

A taxi to the tree takes 10 minutes from the main town, costing about $3. 

 

Ceibo

Darwin Foundation raises over $1.5M in 3 months

We reported last October that the Darwin Foundation had found itself in a surprise cash flow crunch, spurred in large part by the unilateral decision of the town of Puerto Ayora to close its gift shop, thought to be competing too well with the local shops.   After a last minute fundraising drive to help tidy it over well into 2015, Swen Lorenz, the Foundation's director, and good friend of CNH Tours, managed to raise over $1.5M from a combination of over 400 individuals (CNH Tours donated $1,000 earlier in 2015) and larger granting agencies. 

Well done Swen and friends!

30 second spot during the Super Bowl today

(This article has been copy pasted from the Wall Street Jounal- Galapagos is of course the most famous Ecuadorean visitor destination - but this small country is suprisingly very rich and diverse).

On Sunday (today!) Ecuador plans to make its debut in the big leagues during the Super Bowl XLIX halftime show. The South American nation with nearly 16 million citizens plans to use the widely-watched American football game to promote tourism.

In a 30-second regional Super Bowl advertisement, costing $3.8 million, Ecuador will run a spot called, “All you need is Ecuador.” The ad aims to entice American tourists with images that highlight the country’s Pacific Ocean coast, its Andes Mountains, the Amazon rainforest and the iconic Galapagos Islands.

The U.S. is already the second-largest source of tourism for Ecuador after Colombia. Last year about 259,000 Americans traveled to Ecuador.

“Advertising during the Super Bowl means we dare to dream big,” Ecuador’s Tourism Minister, Sandra Naranjo, said. And if the ministry’s dreams come true, the 30-second ad will trigger a 10% jump in tourism from the US.

Even a much smaller boost would justify the outlay, though. According to the tourism ministry, with even just a 1% gain in the number of U.S tourists to Ecuador, the country will cover the cost of the Super Bowl advertisement.

The ad will run in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Washington.

Massive ecological restoration on airport island

Taken today from the Facebook posting of CNH Tours friend, Swen Lorenz, very innovative director of the Charles Darwin Research Station / Foundation:

"Great feeling to arrive into Galapagos Airport and see the area outside of the airport BRIMMING with activity thanks to a project I helped to start from scratch two years ago. “Galapagos Verde 2050” is aimed at restoring large parts of the Galapagos Islands back to its original state, or as close to it as possible, by 2050. This project started with a coffee conversation arranged by the Dutch ”Friends of Galapagos" organisation Amsterdam. It now involves not just the Charles Darwin Research Station, but also the Galapagos National Park, the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency, the Ecuadorian Air Force, and the airport operator. That’s not even to begin mentioning all the international partners, donors, and individual supporters and advisors. Now visible when leaving the airport, this will soon be visible from the sky when flying into the airport. At some point in the future, the impact of this project will probably be visible on satellite images.

This is gearing up to become one of the world's most ambitious eco-system restoration projects. Applying scientific expertise, innovative funding strategies, and a local/national/international partnerships. The sort of stuff that TED, the Davos Forum and first-class international media could one day be interested in. With the possibility for such high impact projects, the CDF is an excellent investment for philanthropists and impact investors aiming to deploy funds. And "GV 2050" is a great example for CDF's strategy to do fewer projects, but bigger ones, with long-term funding and huge impact on conservation."

Congratulations Swen!

Baltra Restoration Map

 

Yet ANOTHER cargo ship is lost...

With tourist numbers going up and up (thanks to booming land based visits - as cruise ship numbers are rigorously limited), the loss of yet another cargo ship (down from 5 just 18 months ago, to 2 now) is reallys starting to have an impact on the availability of supplies in the islands.  Dry goods, hardware, gas for cookers - all appear to risk being in short supplies.  CNH Tours friends report empty shelves in some grocery stores.  

One ship owner responded to my query about how this might affect his business:  "We are affected big time, specially for engine supplies and fluids that are not transported by plane. Food refitting starts to become an issue for everyone on the islands."   

He adds that there is some negligence involved:  

"Negligence should be the title of your article. We quite don't understand why the Governor continues to force the entrance of a fully loaded cargo vessel (beyond its capacity - thus riding very low in the water) first to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno,when in fact 70% of the cargo will be delivered at Puerto Ayora. 
Everyone knows that Puerto Baquerizo is a difficult bay to access and exit. Named  officially “Wreck Bay” (Bahía Naufragio it is called by everyone today) by Ambrose Cowley in 1684!"

The "Floreana" cargo ship ran aground yesterday morning.  It is resting in about 10 metres of water - with most of the superstructure stilll above the water line.   Authorities are currently trying to figure out what to do.

 

Floreana 1 

Sea Shepherd - Champions of Marine Conservation

Here's a 3 minute video on what Sea Shepherd Society is doing in Galapagos, released just yesteday.  CNH Tours is familiar with the Society - they have quite an "interesting" history (created by former Greenpeace founder Paul Watson, when he thought Greenpeace was getting too cozy with the establishment).   CNH Tours had the chance to dine with Mr. Watson - he is indeed quite a personality!  In Galapagos, the Sea Shepherd Society works in a very constructive relationship with the Park and the Darwin Station, and make a real difference in the effort to conserve the Galapagos marine reserve.

See the short video here

 

 

Audubon magazine article on a CNH Tours Active trip

Douglas Peacock, the author of the Audubon magazine article entitled: Galapagos Journal: "A Quest to See a Place Untouched by Climate Change", was on a CNH Tours Active Galapagos trip earlier in 2014.   His wife Andrea, who is quoted in the article over concerns about the guide's lovelife, later told CNH Tours: 

"The trip was fantastic, and CNH's part in that was perfect from beginning to end."

To read the article, click here.