Galapagos News

Tuna fleets benefit from Galapagos marine reserve

A few former colleagues of ours at the Darwin Station co-authored a new paper that just came out, looking into the effects of having established one of the largest marine reserves of the world on the industrial tuna fishing fleet operating in nearby waters.   

Typically, industrial tuna fishing interests are annoyed when governments establish "no-fishing" zones.  That was the case when Ecuador created the Galapagos Marine Reserve in 1998 (which was subsequently recognized as a World Heritage site along with the Galapagos islands in 2001).   

They discovered that the effects were positive on fishing productivity (e.g the amount of effort required to capture a set amount of fish) when dealing with yellow fin and skip jack tuna, but neutral for big eye tuna.  

This is good news for marine conservation proponents, and for industrial tuna fishing interests.   For the full article, click here

Boobies and presidents meet

Galapagos, land of red, blue and just plain old beige footed boobies (the latter is actually known as the Nazca booby) was used as the backdrop for a meeting between the Ecuadorian president, Lenin Moreno, and his Chilean counterpart, Michelle Bachelet yesterday.  The meeting is portrayed by the Ecuadorean press as an opportunity to re-establish closer ties between the two South American Pacific nations after relations had cooled down somewhat in the past years.  

They met at the Royal Palm hotel - among the few luxury hotels in the islands - in part likely due to a combination of its relatively easy access while at the same time being quite isolated, located in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island, just a few hundred metres off the main road.  This time of year, they were likely socked in by the garua, the low mist-laden clouds that tend to gather over the windward side of higher elevation islands such as Santa Cruz between June and December.

Lenin asserts himself in Ecuador

During our time living in Galapagos, we were always surprised by the politically charged names of some of our colleagues - clearly an indication of their parents' political inclinations...  Stalin, Lenin... Washington, Jefferson... but parental aspirations don't necessarily impact on their children.  Lenin Moreno was elected president earlier this year.  Prior to that, he had been the right hand man of the previous president, the very charismatic and authoritarian Rafael Correa.   Many assumed that Moreno would be Correa's puppet while he sat out a mandatory break from serving as president, so that he could return later (à la Putin-Medvedev) - but no sooner was he installed that he expressed his own style, to the frustration of Correa.  The Economist magazine has a good piece on the new president in its most recent edition.  Click here to read it. 

During our time living in Galapagos, we were always surprised by the politically charged names of some of our colleagues - clearly an indication of their parents' political inclinations... Stalin, Lenin... Washington, Jefferson... but parental aspirations don't necessarily impact on their children. Lenin Moreno was elected president earlier this year. Prior to that, he had been the right hand man of the previous president, the very charismatic and authoritarian Rafael Correa. Many assumed that Moreno would be Correa's puppet while he sat out a mandatory break from serving as president, so that he could return later (à la Putin-Medvedev) - but no sooner was he installed that he expressed his own style, to the frustration of Correa. The Economist magazine has a good piece on the new president in its most recent edition. Click here to read it.

Not dead yet! Extinct tortoises being brought back to life...

An article published today in the very presitigious scientific journal "NATURE" describes how very close relatives to Galapagos tortoise species once thought extinct (Floreana Island and Pinta Island tortoises) were found to be living and thriving on the slopes of Wolf Volcano (Isabela Island).  Scientists carried out genetic tests and discovered a number of individuals that not only had elements of the classic saddle-backed shell shape typical of dry low altitude islands (such as Pinta and Floreana), but also had clear genetic fingerprints from these same extinct tortoises.  

32 of these tortoises have been transported to a captive breeding centre in Galapagos and over the years, they will be bred in such a way as to focus on removing genetic traces of the Isabela island species with which the Floreana tortoises had mixed.    In the words of the scientists:  "A genetically informed captive breeding program now being initiated will, over the next decades, return C. elephantopus tortoises to Floreana Island to serve as engineers of the island’s ecosystems".

For the full article click here.  (you will appreciate the article more if you've had some training in genetics...).

 

Image below from Nature journal. 

Distribution of tortoises among Galápagos Islands and representative photos of tortoise carapace morphology. (a) Map of the distribution of tortoises among Galápagos Islands along with cartoons indicating carapace morphology for each. Light grey shading indicates domed morphology, unshaded indicates saddle-backed. Extinct species are noted with †. (b) Larger view of Volcano Wolf on northern Isabela Island. The circle indicates the approximate field location of the current study. Examples of Galápagos giant tortoises with domed (c) saddle-backed (d) morphology.

When sharks have lawyers...

Following the recent big news in Ecuador over the seizing of a Chinese ship carrying over 6,000 mostly endangered shark carcasses, we asked our old friend Hugo Echeverría, a lawyer who nearly singlehandedly helped raise the profile of wildlife law in Galapagos and Ecuador, to give us his perspective of the case.   Thank you Hugo!

 

WHEN SHARKS HAVE LAWYERS

A case about shark’s protection in the Galapagos Marine Reserve

Hugo Echeverría[1]

 

The facts

On August 13, 2017, a ship of Chinese flag was intercepted by Ecuadorian authorities. It was intercepted east of San Cristobal Island, 34.5 nautical miles inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve. It was a vessel of 98 meters of length and 16 meters of breadth. A cargo this size is not something you normally see in Galapagos waters.

Upon inspection, 300 tons of fish were found in its hull, including 6223 sharks of different species, most of them mutilated.

This operation relied on technology designed to monitor every vessel that enters the Marine Reserve. The 6223 sharks found in this ship exceeded by far the record number of 357 sharks found in a vessel caught in 2011. Since 2014, a total of 18 ships have been caught inside the Marine Reserve and charged with different environmental infractions. Not even the total number of sharks found in all these vessels accounts for the immense numbers found in this ship.  

 

World Heritage Site

The Galapagos Marine Reserve is a natural protected area since 1998. Due to its outstanding universal value, the site was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2001. The legal framework applied in the Galapagos Marine Reserve is based upon rules on wildlife protection, including the application of penal law: In this protected area acts that affect marine species, including possession and transport, are considered as environmental crimes.  

The trial

After interception, the ship was directed to San Cristobal Island, where a trial took place. During judicial hearings, it was established that the ship not only entered the Galapagos Marine Reserve without authorization but it also possessed and transported sharks of endangered species that are protected by Ecuadorian law and environmental treaties. On August 27, 2017, a guilty verdict was issued: The captain and crew were found guilty of illegal possession and transport of endangered species through the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

In Ecuador, Nature has constitutional rights

Since 2008, the Constitution of Ecuador grants rights to Nature. It is a unique juridical perspective, which has been embraced by Ecuadorians, especially among the young.  Ecuadorian society was taken by surprise by the massive popular outcry resulting from this case, with organized demonstrations in the streets of cities on the continent and in Galapagos. A greater social reaction emerged once it was informed that the ship belonged to a immense fleet, of some 300 vessels, located at high seas but just outside the Ecuadorian Exclusive Economic Zone. It was a nation-wide reaction.

It was a reaction that showed the importance of Galapagos to Ecuador, as well as the importance of wildlife / sharks to Ecuadorians: To many in Galapagos, sharks are not fearful predators but they are marine species that are protected in the Marine Reserve. In fact, the hammerhead shark is the symbol of the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

Legal matters

In Ecuador, this case was labelled by the press as the ¨case of the century¨. This case certainly provides important lessons: the legal relevance of international standards on protection of endangered species; the intrinsic value of sharks and their importance to the local economy; the role of ecological sciences in the court room; and, most notably, the rule of environmental law.

Rule of environmental law

At the end of the trial, the Captain was sentenced to 4 years in prison. Depending upon their role, the 19 crew members were sentenced to 1 to 3 years in prison. At the time of writing, they have already been transferred to a penitentiary on the mainland. A fine was also ordered, as well as reparation of environmental damages resulting from the crime, in the amount of a $6,137.753,42.

The ship was confiscated.

Other measures include renaming the site were the ship was intercepted, Punta Pitt. In the future, tourists visiting this site will learn about the case and why it was renamed as ¨Punta Pitt – Punta Martillo¨.

The appeal and civil action

On September 6, 2017, defendants appealed the verdict. This means that the case is not over yet. On the other hand, Galapagos authorities have announced civil actions against the corporation that owns the ship, for the environmental damages caused to the Marine Reserve.

How will this case end? At the time of writing, it is unknown.

It is also unknown if a case of this magnitude will ever happen again. It is unlikely, at least on the short term: Authorities have already strengthened control of the Marine Reserve, with Navy vessels, planes and a submarine.

Law enforcement

What we do know is that the immense fleet of some 300 vessels, left the border of the Ecuadorian Exclusive Economic Zone. This happened two days after the guilty verdict was issued. Law enforcement is all about sending a social message of compliance. This is never easy when it comes to enforcing environmental law, especially at sea. This time law enforcement was effective.

 

Picture:  White spots indicate location of massive offshore fishing fleets.

 

*Pictures

Vessel: Diario El Universo

Sharks: Diario La Hora

Image: Juan Carlos Murillo Posada

 

 [1] Doctor on Jurisprudence (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador). Master of Laws (McGill University – Canada).

hugo.echeverria@mail.mcgill.ca

 

Best BEACH destination?? Surely you kid.

In all of its wisdom (and back-room sleight of hand), an obscure organization called "World Travel Awards" (whose website provides no information whatsoever on who is behind it / who owns it) has awarded the "best beach destination in South America" to Galapagos this year.   It is amazing how the organization's "best X" awards rotate nicely from one place to another every year - as if a beach (or other category) can only be best for one year and no longer.  It would be nice to be able to "follow the money" at World Travel Awards.

CNH Tours dismisses these awards as self-serving hype.  There is no criteria against which "best beaches" and other categories are considered; there zero transparency on the decision-making process.  The process lends itself to all forms of influence peddling and clientelism.  

Though there are some very nice beaches in Galapagos, the islands are not a beach destination.  People don't go all the way there partake in beach type tourism.  You can get a lot more "beach bang" for your buck elsewhere. Cancun is a beach destination; Punta del Este is a beach destination.  Galapagos is a beach destination like Paris is a canoeing destination. These awards trivialize what Galapagos is all about and commodify what is otherwise an ecosystem unique at the planetary level. 

 

 

 

Dust in the wind - volcano erupts

I get automatic notifications of seismic activity readings in Galapagos - and yesterday, a 4.1 earthquake was recorded between Fernandina and Isabela Islands (this part of the archipelago is under the "hot spot" in the Earth's mantle and it's on that side of the islands that volcanic eruptions usually occur).   I did think to myself "hmmmm... perhaps there will be an eruption somewhere...".   Today, on my Facebook account, I saw a post from our long time friend Gabriela Bohorquez (naturalist guide on duty on the western shores) with the following picture, saying: "Finally, at the right place and at the right time:  The eruption of "La Cumbre" volcano today".

 

 

Chinese crew found guilty of environmental crime

(translated - thanks to Google - and adapted from the article that appeared in the El Comercio newspaper on Sunday, 27 August 2017).

The announcement was made by Lorena Tapia, president of the Galápagos Government Council, in her Twitter account. "Judge sentenced for environmental crime to Chinese boat crew: prison and fine payment," she wrote at 20:00 on August 27, 2017.

Also on Twitter Environment Minister Tarsicio Hail wrote: "Zero tolerance for environmental crimes! From 1 to 4 years in prison for various crew members and more than USD 5 million in fines."

The official also said that the court determined that the ship "goes to the Galapagos National Park service" and said that the fine is USD 5.9 million as compensation.

Walter Bustos, director of the Galapagos National Park, told El Comercio that the ruling "has just created a legal precedent for Ecuador, for Galapagos, for the whole world." He said that as part of the sanction the Chinese vessel Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 will be seized. This, plus the penalty of deprivation of liberty and the fine are "an opportunity for the life of marine migratory species".

In a communiqué issued last night, the Ministry of the Environment assured that the criminal confiscation of the vessel will be in charge of Real Estate and will be "for the benefit of the population of Galápagos, in case of being auctioned the value of the sale will reach the Park National Galápagos."

Bustos explained that "what is happening is that there is a fleet in the Pacific" that has been in places like Baja California and Argentina. "Now it was us, with the difference that here we act with all the rigor of the law and with all the transparency of the case. That is why we have this ruling today. "He also stressed that with the decision of the judge sits" the sovereignty of Ecuador ... in an issue of defense for our natural resources."

The ruling, according to the MAE, "was determined by the evidence found inside the Chinese vessel, which included the holding and transport of protected species (sharks) within the Galapagos Marine Reserve, an offense established in Article 247 of the Organic Code Integral Penal ". This Sunday, August 27, 2017 was the third day of hearing against the 20 Asian crew of the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, captured while sailing through the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Judge Alexandra Arroyo was in charge of the process. Earlier, the Directorate of the Galapagos National Park reported that the freighter carried more than 6 620 sharks in its hold. The Park and the Ministry of the Environment acted as private accusers.

It was also heard today that the nearly 300 tonnes of fishing found in the hold of the Asian ship were received from two Taiwanese vessels: the Hai Fang 301 and the Hai Fang 302. According to the crew, the transshipment took place between the August 5 and 7, more than a thousand kilometers northwest of the Galapagos. The ship was captured by the Ecuadorian Navy on August 13, near San Cristóbal Island. "It was also possible to determine, according to the captains' versions, that the vessel entered unauthorizedly into the Galapagos Marine Reserve, bound for Peru, and then returned to China," Galapagos National Park reported in a statement .

The accusation of the Office of the Prosecutor and of the Park's Management was based on the transportation and possession of protected species, an offense stipulated in article 247 of the Integrated Criminal Code (COIP). In addition, the freighter was not allowed to drive through this protected area. Hammer, silky, fox, pelagic fox and maiko are the species of sharks found in the refrigerators of the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999. They were heaped and some already without fins, as determined the inspection. The management of the Galapagos National Park has already developed several actions within the case, such as the process of destruction of the first eight tons of fishing, between 21 and 22 August. And it managed the delivery of the ship to the Navy, in operation and with the freezers lit to avoid contamination by the decomposition of the fishing.

$36 billion in damages sought

Ecuador will seek US$36 billion in damages caused to the Galapagos Marine Reserve (a World Heritage site) as part of its case against the owners of the Fu Yuan Leng 999, which was caught illegally crossing the Marine Reserve, with 300 tonnes of fish in its holds (including a large number of sharks) earlier this month. 

The case has made headlines around the world, while in Ecuador, both locals in Galapagos and on the continent have organized rallies against illegal fishing.  Thanks to satellite monitoring of fishing vessels, this case has brought to light the fact that massive fishing fleets are operating in international waters, just outside the Galapagos Marine Reserve, hoping to scoop up fish that move outside its boundaries.

 

Anti fishing rally in Galapagos last week (Galapagos National Park photo)

According to local media, the Fu Yuan Leng 999 is one of a fleet of 300 cargo ships that is operating around the marine reserve, each attended to by up to 30 small fishing vessels.  These small ships travel up to 30 km away from it, fill their smaller holds with fish, and bring them back to the mother "cargo vessel" for refrigerated storage, only to head back out again.   They can enter the reserve undetected.

Ecuadorian authorities claim that this fleet is responsible for impoverishing biodiversity in Galapagos.  Currently, 20 crew members of the Fu Yuan Leng 999 are being in held in Galapagos for the trial that started this past Friday. 

CNH Tours hopes this case will shed light on the massive amount of uncontrolled fishing taking place in the high seas fishing, particularly close to marine reserves and strengthen efforts at bringing sustainable fishing practices throughout the industry.  To be taken seriously, Ecuador will have to show that it is also just as tough with illegal fishing taking place by its own fleet.  

 

 

 

From wild west to civilized society? Clandestine hotel seeks post facto permit

Five years ago, an enterprising business person obtained a permit from the municipality of Puerto Ayora (the main town in Galapagos) to build a house on the “other side”, that part of town accessible only by water taxi.   The other side is the sleepy / quiet side of Puerto Ayora – it currently boasts a few dozen houses, a restaurant and one hotel (the Finch Bay hotel – built long ago).   As the construction of the house began, residents became suspicious.  It soon became obvious that this was not going to be a house, but a hotel.  The construction showed about 20 rooms, each with private bathrooms.   The developer hoped to use an old trick:  i) Get a cheap and easy building permit for a house, ii) build a hotel very quickly (which would not have been allowed in that part of town to start with), and ii) deal with any criticism the usual way, including most likely a few bribes at the right places and arguing that it was a misunderstanding, but now that it is built, we might pay a small fine and start operating.  (story continues after picture)

House or hotel - what do you think?

 

Unfortunately for the developer, Galapagos residents soon became aware of what was happening, and they raised a ruckus.   The project became the poster child for anti-corruption champions, for conservationists and contributed to the growing resentment felt by citizens feeling that the rich and powerful had a whole different set of rules applied to them.   The case was even reported to the United Nations.  

The developer was hoping to catch the “land based tourism” wave that started in Galapagos 15 years ago, showing no sign of abatement yet.   While only about 5,000 visitors came to Galapagos with no intention of taking a cruise in the late 1990’s, that number is now nearing 200,000.    The pressure to take advantage of this growing economic opportunity translated into a lot of unregulated development (hotels, bars, restaurants, rooming houses, day trip operators).   Government authorities have been playing catch up for years, forever being behind the ball.  While some progress has been made in terms of regulation / safety / management, there is still no vision on how things should go from here, with numbers continuing to increase.

As for our hotel owner, his project was stopped by authorities.  They didn’t have him tear it down (what many people wanted) but opted to call for a full environment Impact study.   That study was presented to Galapagos residents yesterday and feedback will be possible over the next few weeks.    Let’s see what happens.

SAD! Massive shark haul uncovered

A feeling of nausea is what I first experienced when I learned about the contents of a Chinese vessel caught fishing in Galapagos waters.  Possibly over 10,000 shark carcasses.  It's a wake up call to those who think that such things getting under control.   Let's hope the Chinese government will NOT interfere with the judicial process here.  PLEASE SHARE THIS NEWS ITEM.   I copy paste the excellent National Geographic article below:

By Rachael Bale

PUBLISHED August 15, 2017

On Sunday marine ecologist Pelayo Salinas was on his way back from a 12-day research mission on a Galápagos National Park patrol ship when at 6 a.m. the captain spotted a vessel on the radar. Access to these waters is restricted, so they radioed the vessel to find out what it was up to.

No response. Salinas, who works with the Charles Darwin Foundation (Editor’s note: CNH Tours’ Marc Patry is an elected member of the CDF’s governing council), and an Ecuadorian Navy officer who was also on board tried again. Still no response. They warned the vessel that the law requires them to respond. Silence.

Then Salinas and three others jumped in a 13-foot inflatable boat that had been donated to the park and took chase. They’d identified the vessel as Chinese and strongly suspected it was involved in illegal fishing.

The vessel was intercepted about 40 miles northeast of the island of San Cristóbal.

This part of Galápagos National Park—a marine sanctuary where absolutely no fishing is allowed—has the greatest abundance of sharks in the world.  It’s this that has made these waters a target of fishermen looking to supply Asian markets with shark fin and shark meat. Worldwide, shark populations are declining, with more than a quarter of sharks and related species considered to be threatened with extinction.

Their little boat, a Zodiac, wasn’t designed for hot pursuit, however, and they weren’t able to catch up. They abandoned the chase and reported the Chinese boat to headquarters.

Later that day a navy helicopter and coast guard boat were dispatched. They caught up with the ship, a China-flagged vessel called Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999. What they found stunned them.

The Fu Yuan Leng 999 (credit: Ecuadorian armed forces)

The Ecuadorian Navy tweeted aerial photos of the ship just before capture.

“There were thousands, if not tens of thousands, of sharks,” Salinas says. “This is going to be historic. The biggest seizure of sharks in the history of the Galápagos, for sure.”

The crew of 20 have been arrested, and the Ecuadorian authorities are planning a full accounting of the ship’s inventory. It’s illegal to cross the marine sanctuary’s waters without a permit, and it’s also illegal to catch, trade, or transport sharks there. Authorities do not yet know where the fish were caught, according to a statement from Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment.   

Galapagos National Park staff inspecting the illegal shark catch - your $100 park entrance fee at work. (credit: Galapagos National Park Service)

Pelayo suspects the vessel is a “mothership,” or reefer, which collects fish from smaller fishing boats, allowing them to stay out at sea longer. It’s more than 300 feet long with six cargo bays, several of which were completely full, he says. The ship’s log says there are about 300 tons of fish on board, according to the statement. Salinas himself hasn’t been on board yet, but in photos of the holds he identified endangered scalloped hammerheads and silky sharks, as well as tuna.

CAUGHT BY PURE CHANCE

“Sadly, this is day-to-day business on the ocean,” Salinas says. “There are thousands of these ships roaming the waters.”

The incident highlights the ongoing problem of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing that occurs even in the world’s most protected waters.

It was pure chance that the vessel was caught, Salinas says. For some reason (likely by accident, he suspects), it had its AIS—an automatic tracking system used by all ships—turned on. Ships engaging in illegal activity, for obvious reasons, turn them off. That likely lapse helped law enforcement track the vessel down.

Despite its high-profile status in the tourism and scientific worlds, Galapagos National Park doesn’t have all the resources it needs to protect the ecosystem.

“Resources are limited,” Salinas says. “The bad guys are every day making more money. Patrolling is expensive, especially for a county that is in economic crisis.” He points to the Zodiac as an example. If they’d had a proper boat intended for law enforcement, they could have caught up with the vessel when they first spotted it.

The arrested crew could face up to three years in prison, and conservationists are hoping this case will be aggressively pursued. China is Ecuador’s largest creditor, providing some 60 percent of the government’s funding, and critics have accused Ecuador of being lenient with China when it comes to protection of timber and other natural resources in the Amazon rain forest.

At a press conference today, Ecuador’s Minister of the Environment, Tarsicio Granizo, said the government is committed to doing so. “Our policy is zero tolerance for the transport and trafficking of protected wildlife,” he said.

 

Photo contest winners - you can be next...

The UK based Galapagos Conservation Trust holds an annual Galapagos photo contest.  The BBC covered the winners in a recent article.  Click here to see it. 

We agree with the #1 selection - it's our favourite as well.   A tiny delicate Galapagos storm petrel skips over the sea, held aloft by the slightest breeze, picking up any tidbit it can find.  So fragile, yet so robust.    Our CNH Tours artist, Magno Bennett, captured a very similar scene in one of his paintings, the one we use on our "CONTACT" page.  You can compare the two below.

 

Photo by:  McKenna Paulley

Our "CONTACT" page banner (Magno Bennett)

Wasps to rescue finches?

This article appeared in the New Yorker recently - explaining how biological control might be the best way to deal with the Philornis downsi parasitic fly (introduced accidentally to Galapagos years ago),which lays eggs in birds' nests, and whose larvae feed on chicks, most often killing them.   It's not a pretty story, and it's one that the Darwin Foundation has been working on as well.   It's also a good example of how apparently harmless organisms (in this case, what looks very much like a house fly) can be responsible for the extinction of iconic species.   Cross your fingers!

Click here to read the New Yorker article. 

Below, three Philornis downsi larvae feed on a Galapagos finch chick (thank you to the Darwin Foundation for the picture)

 

Ecuador Embassy Invites CNH Tours to present

2017 is the 150th anniversary of Canada's confederation, when separate provinces agreed to join together under one political entity.   Ottawa has been celebrating in style, and one of the many ways it has been doing so is the "Ottawa Welcomes the World" series of national days held in the city.   Ecuador day is on 11 August.    The embassy of Ecuador in Ottawa turned to CNH Tours to make a presentation on the Galapagos Islands on that day.  

We are very honored to accept that invitation and look forward to meeting people interested in one of our planet's most iconic wilderness areas.

This is the 2nd time we present to Ottawa audiences (this is not a sales pitch, but rather an introduction to Galapagos for the beginner, with extensive Q&A sessions afterwards).   We'd love to present in your neighbourhood as well - assuming you don't live too far...

For more information, click here.

CNH at the Darwin Station

Our 18 year old son, Émile, arrived in Galapagos yesterday to start his 6 week volunteership with the Charles Darwin Station's communication team.  He'll be helping our former colleague, Paola Diaz in the creation of new communications videos.   Émile was born in Quito and spent the first 3 years of his life in the islands.  He learned how to walk on lava rocks. 

Since he was 12 or 13, Émile displayed an interest in video production and edition.  He was accepted into his high school's Artistic Excellence Centre, allowing him to pursue his interest there over the past 2 years.   We hope he'll be able to apply his skills to help further the Darwin Station's objectives.

Apart from his regular volunteer responsibilities, we have asked Émile to get to know the islands and the people and to improve his Spanish language capabilities.  In his spare time, we've also asked that he say hello to many of our partners - hotel, restaurant and ship owners.    

As a token of our appreciation, Émile brought down with him a new iMac computer to help with the Darwin Station's communication efforts (scroll down for picture).

Enjoy your summer Émile!

PS:  Here is the Darwin Station Director's "thank you" email:

From: Arturo Izurieta [mailto:arturo.izurieta@...
Sent: July-19-17 9:41 AM
To: Heather Blenkiron <hblenkiron@cnhtours.com>
Subject: Thanking you so much

 Dear Marc and Heather,

With this letter I send my sincere thanks on behalf of the entire CDF team for your very kind donation of both the computer and Emile’s stay with us here at the Research Station.

It’s a great joy to have Emile here working with us and we look forward to his contribution to our work and success. The CDF is expanding once more, with the corresponding need for additional resources, and so this donation of equipment is a tremendous help, in particular for the growing communications team.

Once more, from all of us here in Galapagos, thank you for your generosity and support. We look forward to seeing you in November!

Un abrazo,

Arturo Izurieta V, Ph.D
Director Ejecutivo / Executive Director
Fundación Charles Darwin para las Islas Galápagos
Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands
www.darwinfoundation.org

 

Émile (2nd from left), Paola (left) and the communications team at the Darwin Station, showing off the newly installed iMac yesterday.

 

 

CNH Tours Elected to the board

We are pleased to report that on the 20th of June, Marc Patry (co-owner of CNH Tours with Heather Blenkiron) was elected to the board of directors of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO).   Of the 15 positions on this board, only 3 are elected by the 2,400 travel agencies in Ontario, who are obligated to be registered under TICO.  All the others are appointed by either the Minister of Government and Consumer Services of Ontario or by industry associations. 

TICO is an organization mandated by the Ontario government to administer the laws and regulations governing travel agencies with offices in Ontario, ranging from small home-based internet agencies (like CNH Tours) to the much larger corporate entities such as Carlson Wagonlit and Expedia Cruise Ship Centers.  In addition, TICO administers an industry-financed Travel Compensation Fund.

Besides attending and contributing to overall TICO governance issues during regular board meetings, the position requires engagement in various working committees.  It will be a busy time for the next three years.

 

 

Don't touch the cucumbers

Thanks to "El Telegrafo" daily paper in Ecuador and Google Translate for the following:

Three individuals were arrested on the island of San Cristóbal when they transported 1,934 sea cucumbers in a boat, according to the Interior Ministry on Twitter.

The operation was carried out last Friday with the participation of personnel from the Judicial Police, the Environmental Protection Unit and the Galapagos National Park.

The Ministry of the Interior showed in its Twitter account the evidence found in this case in which, according to the entity, it was possible to disrupt an organization had been operating for some time.

A fishing boat, a car, two cell phones and the cargo of sea cucumbers were seized as evidence.

This is an alleged offense against wild flora and fauna (trafficking of animals in danger of extinction). (I)

The law:  Article 247
The person who hunts, fishes, catches, collects, extracts, has, transports, traffics, benefits, exchanges or markets specimens or their parts ... of threatened, endangered and migratory species - will be punished with imprisonment of one to three years.

 

Dolphin soup anyone?

We can't guarantee you'll have this opportunity - but some of you will.  Our son was in the Galapagos on the Samba (this was already 2 years ago), and the ship came across a very large group of dolphins (not too uncommon in Galapagos).   Juan Manuel Salcedo, the Samba's principal guide (and co-owner) ordered all engines stopped, and suggested that people might want to jump in and "make like a dolphin".  Our son was an enthusiastic participant and managed to make this video of his experience.

FINALLY! Quantitative ratings for visitor sites

CNH Tours has just completed the first ever quantitative analysis of Galapagos visitor site quality.   For years, people have been asking us: “Which is the nicest visitor site?”; “Where’s the best snorkeling?”; “Is this itinerary better than that one”.    Our answers have always been very much based on our own judgement and limited experience – taking into consideration the fact that we have not been to each of the 54 visitor sites surveyed in our analysis.  

How did we do it?   We asked 12 naturalist guides, with a combined 231 years guiding experience in Galapagos, to rate visitor sites on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the poorest) against 5 specific criteria:

  1. Iconic species: The likelihood of seeing relatively rare but iconic Galapagos species (e.g. giant tortoise in the wild, penguin, flightless cormorant, flamingo, land iguana)
  2. Biodiversity: The abundance and diversity of plant and animal life, not necessarily iconic.
  3. Striking vistas: The likelihood that visitors will be taking pictures of the landscape at a particular site.
  4. Beach quality: The quality of a beach for playing in the sand, sunbathing, swimming, relaxing.
  5. Snorkel quality: The likelihood of seeing rich and diverse underwater life.

It’s important to note that the results paint a broad, general picture, and contain plenty of “wiggle room” in terms of actual visitor experience, with some variability due to seasonal wildlife fluctuations and to simple chance of seeing, or not seeing some species on a particular day (Punta Suarez’s iconic waved albatross is a seasonal visitor, for example), or simply due to personal preferences.   For this reason, it is better to use the ratings as a general indication and not as an absolute measure.   For example, the #4 site is not necessarily worse than the #1 site, but you can be confident that it is among the top sites for a particular critera.  

The ratings do not take into consideration cultural or historical attributes of the sites.  Some sites might have little appeal for wildlife, but are steeped in history (Post Office Bay, Floreana Island for example). In the lists below, those sites presenting cultural or historical interest are demarked with an asterisk.  

Based on our painstaking work (3 years in the making!), here are some results of interest:

 

TOP 10 SITES FOR ICONIC SPECIES:

Española Island, Punta Suarez

Fernandina Island, Punta Espinoza

North Seymour Island

Genovesa Island, Darwin Bay

Genovesa Island, Prince Phillip's Steps

Isabela, Punta Vicente Roca

Santa Fe Island

Floreana Island, Champion islet

Santa Cruz Island, El Chato

South Plaza Island

Isabela Island, Albemarle Point

 

 TOP 10 SITES FOR BIODIVERSITY

Española Island, Punta Suarez

Fernandina Island, Punta Espinoza

Genovesa Island, Darwin Bay

Genovesa Island, Prince Phillip's Steps

North Seymour Island

Isabela, Punta Vicente Roca

Marchena Island, Punta Mejia

Floreana Island, Devil's Crown

Floreana Island, Champion islet

South Plaza Island

 

TOP 10 SITES FOR STRIKING VISTAS

Bartolomé Island

Fernandina Island, Punta Espinoza

Isabela Island, Sierra Negra

Isabela Island, Tagus Cove

Española Island, Gardner Bay

Isabela, Punta Vicente Roca

Genovesa Island, Prince Phillip's Steps

San Cristóbal Island, Cerro Brujo

San Cristóbal Island, Punta Pitt

Española Island, Punta Suarez

 

TOP 10 BEACHES

Española Island, Gardner Bay

Santa Cruz Island, Tortuga Bay

San Cristóbal Island, Cerro Brujo

Bartolomé Island

San Cristóbal Island, Lobos Island

Rábida Island

Santa Fe Island

Santa Cruz Island, Bachas Beach

Santiago Island, Puerto Egas

San Cristóbal Island, Galapaguera

 

 TOP 10 SITES FOR SNORKELING

Marchena Island, Punta Mejia

Floreana Island, Champion islet

Floreana Island, Devil's Crown

Isabela, Punta Vicente Roca

Rábida Island

North Seymour Island

Sombero Chino Island

Bartolomé Island

Fernandina Island, Punta Espinoza

San Cristóbal Island, Leon Dormido

 

TOP 10 SITES OVERALL:

Fernandina Island, Punta Espinoza

Española Island, Punta Suarez

Isabela, Punta Vicente Roca

Genovesa Island, Prince Phillip's Steps

North Seymour Island

Floreana Island, Champion islet

Floreana Island, Devil's Crown

Marchena Island, Punta Mejia

Española Island, Gardner Bay

Santa Fe Island

South Plaza Island

New entry requirement: Health Insurance

We've been told that a new regulation is now in place regarding entry documents for arrivals into Ecuador. Anyone who enters the country  as a tourist must now have public or private health insurance for the duration of their stay in Ecuador. If you cannot provide proof of such insurance, the immigration agent has the power to deny you entry into the country.  

So, be ready to show any travel medical insurance documents you may have - and if you haven't purchased any, you might want to show your national health card or something similar.   

I do find it hard to believe that people without such documents will now be systematically turned back upon arrival - but it doesn't hurt to be ready to show the immigration clerk the right piece of paper (or plastic).

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