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.

 

 

Social rumblings in the islands

Over the past 2 years, the government of Ecuador has been reviewing the Special Law for Galapagos (SLG) - a law originally passed in 1998, which gives the islands and its residents special status, and providing a legal framework that overrides the national constitution, in an effort to better control development there.   It has been considered a major achievement even at the international level.

The revised law, passed earlier this week, loosens some of these controls, making large investments in high end hotels easier, as well as making easier the changing of the boundaries of the National Park.    Moreover, the "remote" status of the islands, which translated into a type of salary bonus for public employees there, is being revised in such a way as to reduce the isolation bonus they have been enjoying for nearly 20 years now.  

As a result of these and other changes, people in Galapagos have been demonstrating against the Quito government in recent days.  Sure, a good number are simply concerned over the risk to their pay scales - but others are concerned about the erosion of environmental protection guarantees.  

The government, in response, has sent in more police to the islands, protecting gas stations and the like.   There have been some public demonstrations and some stand-offs with police forces - but no violence has been reported.  

CNH Tours is of course very concerned that increased development in the islands (largely driven by land based tourism - as ship based tourism has been remarkably capped for 15-20 years) will contribute to the erosion of the values for which they are internationally recognized.  

For those of you visiting the islands in the coming days (perhaps weeks), if you are taking "just the cruise" with no land component, you will likely not even notice any of this.   For those of you planning on spending time in town (particularly in San Cristobal), you may get to witness interesting moments.   While you may want to stay out of the thick of things, these are interesting moments when society seeks to get a message across to a government based in a far away capital. 

 

History is made - shark fishermen found guilty!

This may sound banal to some, but in Galapagos, it is a landmark legal decision announced by the Galapagos National Park Service yesterday.   For the first in history, despite the existence of a legal framework allowing it, the captain and the crew of the fishing vessel Fer Mary I were found criminally guilty of conducting illegal fishing of protected species inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve – a World Heritage site. 

It took 4 years of intense criminal proceedings by the Galapagos National Park, the Ministry of Environment to reach this judgment.   The 10 hour trial resulted in convictions against the defendants, creating very important judicial precedents under criminal law. 

The fishing boat Fer Mary I was captured on July 19, 2011, while conducting fishing operations 20 miles inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve.  When captured, their holds contained more than 357 sharks, more specifically: 286 thresher sharks, 22 blue sharks,  40 Galapagos sharks, 6 hammerhead sharks, 2 tiger sharks and 1 mako shark.

CNH Tours is extremely pleased at this outcome.  For too long, the judicial system would dismiss such cases, mostly out of a lack of importance attached to environmental crimes.    This really does mark a change in the way Ecuador handles such crimes, and we expect illegal fisherman will take note.    It is a good day for shark in Galapagos waters.

Sharks are illegally fished all over the world to feed the large shark Asian (mostly Chinese) shark fin market.  Shark fins are used to make “shark fin soup”.   What a tragedy that these magnificent animals are being annihilated so that we may have some soup. 

 

Fer Mary

My husband joins the CNH Tours team!

I’m very pleased to announce that as of today, my dear husband, Marc Patry, will be joining me at CNH Tours.   After over 12 years working with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and seeing how I’m getting too busy to cope with all the work,  he decided to make the switch.  

 

Marc joined UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre after having spent 4 years with me in the Galapagos islands.  He worked for the Charles Darwin Research Station, where he helped develop and start up the largest ever conservation project in the islands - the eradication of goats from Isabela Island.   He worked closely with the Galapagos National Park Service as well.   Marc was also involved in managing several other conservation projects, and helped with the management of the Research Station.

 

We left Galapagos for Paris (UNESCO headquarters) where Marc was given the responsibility for natural World Heritage sites in Latin America and the Caribbean - which included the Galapagos Islands.   For over 10 years, he closely monitored the conservation status of the islands, and engaged with senior government officials, conservation organizations, the tourism industry, local politicians and other stakeholders in so doing.  He has had several meetings with various ministers of the environment, and he once even had a private meeting with the president of Ecuador to discuss World Heritage issues.

 

Marc’s position allowed him to travel to Galapagos on several occasions and to be taken around the islands as the United Nations representative for monitoring the islands’ state of conservation.  He was also responsible for reporting in person to the intergovernmental World Heritage Committee on what he saw.

This has given Marc a unique perspective and access to a wide variety of sources regarding the on-going efforts at addressing conservation challenges.  He has been frequently been asked to speak to the media, from The Economist, to Al Jazeera, on matters relating to Galapagos. 


With Marc on board, I’ll be able to breathe a bit easier, and we hope to provide even better service than we have so far. 

Spectacular eruption on Wolf Volcano

We've just received news of a volcanic eruption at Wolf Volcano, the northernmost volcano on Isabela Island (the largest island).

Wolf is also the highest peak in the Galapagos archipelago, at 1,707 meters (5,600 feet).   A rare pink land iguana lives there - surely they will be affected, as will the Wolf Volcano tortoises.  But that's part of the equation in Galapagos - these islands were born of fire and continue to grow by fire. 

Isabela Island and its neighbour to the west, Fernandina island, remain volcanically active, and such eruptions happen every 5-6 years.  They generally are quite impressive for the first few days, then taper off quickly, and ending 7-10 days later.   For those happening to be on a ship nearby, it is a spectacle you'll remember for the rest of your life. 

The picture below (by naturalist guide Diego Paredes) was just posted on Facebook - it could be just a few hours old - the time remains to be confirmed. 

Wolf Volcano Eruption

Charles Darwin Foundation Fires Executive Director - no reason given yet

Swen Lorenz, former London financier, and dynamic, "out of the box" thinking executive director of the Charles Darwin (CDF) Foundation since 2011 was fired last Friday by the board of directors, as reported in his Facebook page today.   At the writing of this news item, the CDF website is mum about the issue.

In his open letter to the Board, responding to the firing, Swen calls it a "haphazard and abrupt decision" that "was not coordinated with the CDF's strategic donors, is placing significant stress on staff and threatens current funding plans".    He states that "back in 2011, I was brought on board to radically change the model of CDF, as it was evidently broken. In 2015, I get fired because I was doing just that."   

Swen reports that the CDF remains in a very delicate financial situation, and may experience liquidity problems as early as next month.  He indicated that the innovative financing mechanisms he was in the midst of launching were the best way to keep the organization afloat in the coming months. 

He goes on to "place all responsibility for the financial and political survival of the CDF with its board", adding that "the timing and execution of their decisions lacks planning and puts the entire organization at risk". 

CNH Tours is extremely concerned over these developments - the CDF, with the Galapagos National Park Service, have been the foundations over which conservation in Galapagos was built since the 1960s.   Losing the CDF would  seriously undermine the scientitic backstopping against which the National Park service depends for developing and executing effective conservation programmes.

The 22nd of May letter of the CDF board of directors to its members, announcing its decision, was shared with CNH Tours today.  They simply state that Swen's firing was "part of our effort to develop a stable future for the CDF".    They also announce that a new CDF executive director had been appointed - and is none other than Arturo Izurieta.   Arturo himself was recently fired as the director of hte Galapagos National Park (see CNH Tours news items in April).    Arturo, whom we know, enjoys a good reputation as a solid professional, and is trained as a scientist, having worked in conservation for many years - though it appears the biggest challenge facing the CDF now is not management or research, but fund-raising.    It will also be interesting to see how the relations between the Park and the CDF will fare, given Arturo's own abrupt firing from that same institution.  We certainly wish him success.

It seems that the bold experiment consisting of the hiring of an experienced and demonstrated financial expert / entrepreneur as the CDF executive director, the first time a non-scientist held the job since the CDF's creatin nearly 60 years ago, has come to an end.  Swen was able to raise robust short term financing in the past year - but it appears his proposals for the future may have been too bold and too innovative for the comfort of the board. 

We are eager to hear more details.