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.

2014 a banner year for Ecuador tourism

(from the Global Travel Industry News wire)  CNH Tours notes:  No mention of Galapagos, beyond the Finch Bay Eco Hotel.  The government of Ecuador has invested a lot in developing a more diverse tourism offer, beyond just Galapagos - and this seems to be paying off.

 

QUITO, Ecuador - According to figures released by the government, Ecuadorian tourism gained strength as a basis for the country’s socio-economic development. 2014 was an excellent year for South American tourism, but Ecuador managed to link promotion, growth and investment activities to improve its indices, which was shown by foreign tourist arrivals, which, as an unprecedented milestone, exceeded 1.5 million.

According to Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism, the best months of the year were April and February and among the main source markets recorded in the period January to November 2014 are Colombia with 333,197 visitors (23.80%), United States 232,868 (16.6%) and Peru with 161,370 (11.5%).

In 2014, destinations, accommodations and travel companies also won prestigious international awards – among them Ecuador, the World’s Best Green Destination 2014; Quito, South America’s Leading Destination WTA 2014; Finch Bay Eco Hotel, World’s Best Green Hotel; Pacari earned 14 trophies at the International Chocolate Awards 2014; Cuenca was Best Adventure Destination 2014; Tren Crucero, South America’s Leading Luxury Train 2014, and the New York Times declared Ecuador an undiscovered paradise in 2014.

Last year private entrepreneurs invested $211 million in the sector. Guayas, Manabí, Pichincha and Azuay were the provinces receiving most investment, especially in the hospitality sector.

Ecuador’s tourism potential makes it an attractive place for investment, not only in its major cities, but also in other locations where it is feasible to establish luxury hotels, resorts and other businesses, as highlighted by a publication of the Ministry responsible for the sector.

The portfolio of State estimates that private tourism entrepreneurs have plans to invest about $2.16 billion in hotel infrastructure in Ecuador by 2020.

New road to Quito airport - FINALLY!

Though the new Quito airport was opened in early 2013, road access had been delayed, leading to at times very long trips to and from the city - stretching to over an hour.  The 12 km distance between the airport and the city was traversed via a roundabout, 42 km journey, a tortuous trip down mountain slopes, through traffic snarled by shopping and strip malls in Cumbayá and Tumbaco, and, worst of all across an aging bridge built in the 1970s that created an eye of a needle over the narrow Chiche river.

Now, travel times have declined dramatically as the new route reduces the distance to the airport by a third and promises to be far less congested than the previous roads. Driving at the legal 90km/hour limit, the new road can be driven in about seven minutes, compared with what could take a frustrating 45 minutes. The total ground travel time from downtown will be slashed to around 25 minutes from 77, according to optimistic estimates from city hall.

This is wonderful news for all travelers to the Galapagos islands transiting through Quito - even those simply considering an overnight there.   It puts Quito again on a competitive basis with Guayaquil in terms of hosting overnight visitors.   CNH Tours has used Quito as its continental base for years, but had been advising transiting guests not considering any continental stays to pass though Guayaquil since the new Quito airport was opened.  Quito is a much prettier city, and more enjoyable to visit than coastal Guayaquil.

(thanks to Analytica Investments for much of the material in this news item)

Transit control card - $20 as of March 1st

Within Ecuador, the province of Galapagos is the only place where Ecuadorians don't have the right to simply move to.   This unprecedented situation arose after the islands became a magnet for internal immigration, as people from the continent sought out better opportunities elsewhere.   The islands being very small and having very limited natural resources such as water and arable land, simply could not take the massive inflow of immigrants.   As a result, the new constitution made Galapagos into a bit of a distinct province, in which immigration was treated very much as it would be in an independent country.

These rules apply to foreigners as well.

To cover the costs of this de facto immigration department, the government set up the "Transit Control Card", which electronically tracks the comings and goings of visitors to the island.  The price has been $10 per card for the past 7-8 years, but will go up to $20 on March 1st 2015.   CNH Tours believes this is a small price to pay for the maintenance of an effective immigration control service to the islands.  

Sales tax to be applied on cruises purchased in Ecuador

CNH has learned that Ecuador's internal revenue service has started applying regulations more seriously - in that it will no longer consider cruises as a transportation service, but as a tourism product.  Whereas transportation services (buses, taxis) are exempt from charging 12% tax on sales, tourism operations are not. 

Apparently, this will not be charged to people buying their cruises outside of Ecuador.  But if you are inside Ecuador, Ecuadorian or foreigner, you will be charged the extra 12%. 

 

 

 

Gift shop the focus of cash flow efforts

(Unashamedly copy-pasted from "The Guardian" newspaper - published 30 November 2014)

Galápagos Islands wildlife threatened by battle between locals and scientists

Researchers’ souvenir outlet has to close after pressure from local traders and the Ecuador government, denying Darwin group a precious $8,000 a week in sales to tourists
Galapagos Giant Tortoise
A giant tortoise, one of the unique species to be found on the Galapagos Islands Photograph: Tui De Roy/Minden Pictures/Corbis

Wildlife on the Galápagos is under a new threat. The scientific group that has helped to preserve the islands’ giant tortoises and other unique creatures is on the brink of closure – because of a row about a gift shop.

Local traders have objected to the Charles Darwin Foundation running a souvenir shop at its research station at Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island. They claim it was siphoning business from their own shops and in July local officials, backed by the government of Ecuador which owns the Galápagos, ordered the station’s shops to be shut.

The impact for the foundation – which carries out wildlife research in the Galápagos and provides key scientific advice on protecting wildlife there – has been devastating, its executive director Swen Lorenz told the Observer.

“The shop provides us with about $8,000 a week in income from the sale of souvenirs to tourists. Losing that key source of funds was bad enough but it has also affected other donations. People don’t see why they should give us money if the Ecuador government will not support us by letting us run a gift shop.

“There has been a dreadful chain reaction following the shop’s closure and we have run out of cash.” The foundation is now two-and-a-half months late with salaries for its staff and some projects have had to be suspended. One key staff member has already left.

“We are now on the brink,” added Lorenz. “It’s going to be touch and go. The Ecuador government has since said it supports us, but unless we get some money from them and are allowed to reopen our shop in the next few weeks we will have to close.”

The Galápagos are an archipelago of volcanic islands in the Pacific, 560 miles west of the coast of Ecuador, and are renowned for the species of birds and reptiles unique to the islands. These creatures include the marine iguana, the only species of iguana that can forage at sea; the Galápagos giant tortoise, the world’s largest tortoise species; and the Galápagos hawk.

The islands also played a key role in helping Charles Darwin to formulate his theory of natural selection. On his round-the world voyage on the Beagle, the young biologist stayed on the islands for a month in 1835, noting the subtle variations in species from each of the islands.

In particular, Darwin was fascinated by differences in colour and beak shape in the islands’ mockingbirds and finches (now known as Darwin’s finches), observations that played a critical role in developing his evolutionary theory.

In the 20th century the Galápagos became a popular tourist destination and the islands have suffered from persistent problems associated with the introduction of pests and loss of habitat. The Charles Darwin Foundation has played a key role in helping the islands overcome these threats – for example, in setting up a breeding programme for several of the islands’ different species of giant tortoises.

The foundation was also involved in eradicating feral goats from several islands where herds had stripped them of their vegetation (CNH Tours editor's comment:  My husband was in charge of that project). Once these goats had been removed, giant tortoises could then be reintroduced to their former habitats. However, new threats continue to bombard the islands. The latest, said Lorenz, is a recently introduced parasitic fly, Philornis downsi, which is devastating bird species – including Darwin’s finches. The fly lays its eggs in nests with incubating birds and its larvae feed on the blood of the nestlings, sometimes causing up to 100% chick mortality in a particular nest.

At least 16 of 20 song bird species only found in Galápagos are now threatened. “This is another very serious threat to the wildlife of the Galápagos,” added Lorenz. “We have developed a strategy to deal with it, but it is touch and go whether we will be in existence long enough to implement it.

“This matter has to be resolved very quickly or the islands’ wildlife will suffer severe damage.”

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