Galapagos News

Small Giants Retaking Deserted Island

CNH Tours is happy to share today's press release from the Galapagos National Park Service (we have edited for brevity)....   

But there is more behind this story than meets the eye.  While the National Park and its donor partner, the Galapagos Conservancy have carried out this work, the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) is not satisfied that there is incontrovertible evidence of giant tortoise populations on Santa Fe island in the past.   The CDRS has expressed reservations - particularly in regards to the native population of land iguanas on the island.  They indicate that giant tortoises may outcompete the land iguanas for food and nesting sites on this very dry island.  The CDRS feels that the introduction of giant tortoises there was premature.   

Such are the polemics that exist in the conservation world.  You will note that the Park indirectly addresses the CDRS concerns in the last paragraph of its press release.    

 

Press release - Galapagos National Park.  3 March 2021

191 giant tortoises released for the ecological restoration of Santa Fe Island


"The last phase of the process of introducing giant tortoises to Santa Fe was completed"

A group of 191 juvenile giant tortoises of the species (Chelonoidis hoodensis) were transferred from the breeding center in Santa Cruz and joined the population that has been introduced to Santa Fe Island since 2015, as part of the ecological restoration of this small island.  A total of 732 have been introduced to date.

Washington Tapia, director of the initiative, explained that “the introduction of 31 sub-adult turtles carried out at the beginning of 2020 and the high survival rate of juveniles of 99.8%, allowed to accelerate the process of establishing a reproductive population in the island, which was essential to effectively contribute to the process of restoring the ecological integrity and biodiversity of Santa Fe ”.

The transfer was carried out by 22 National Park rangers and scientists from the Galapagos Conservancy, who traveled approximately five kilometers from the landing site to the release zone in the center of this 24.7-square-kilometer island.

National Park director Danny Rueda explained that “the process of ecological restoration of the island began in the 70s with the eradication of goats, but in 2015 it took a new impulse with the introduction of turtles, a decision that was taken after a comprehensive evaluation of the island showed that its main herbivore was missing, because the population of land iguanas, despite being large, did not fulfill the same role as turtles in the ecosystem, especially in terms of their contribution to seed dispersal ”.

The project, since its inception, has included a rigorous development of annual monitoring, the results of which have shown that turtles have dispersed approximately 30% of the island's surface and that there is no competition for resources between turtles and iguanas that are actively contributing to seed dispersal, especially of Opuntia cacti. Which in other words means that they are fulfilling their role as ecosystem engineers, an aspect that will continue to be documented through the monitoring activities that will continue in the long term.

JOIN OUR GALAPAGOS SEMINAR: Origins and Conservation Challenges

One of our founders, Marc Patry, is giving a 45 minute presentation on Friday 15 March, 5PM EST ("Happy Hour" in Montreal, New York, Miami time).

If you're curious about WHY Galapagos is a globally iconic wildlife destination, how such an eclectic collection of odd animals arose there, and what the current challenges are to their conservation, this event is a good place to start finding some answers.  Interesting, dynamic and interactive - limited to 12 participants so that you have a chance to ask questions. 

Marc worked for the Charles Darwin Research Station in collaboration with the Galapagos National Park Service from 1998-2002 and is an elected member to the Charles Darwin Foundation's General Assembly. He was also the United Nations' point person overseeing the state of conservation of Galapagos under the World Heritage Convention, from 2003 - 2012.  Marc is an experienced public speaker and presenter.

Price is US$20.  Book your spot here:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/galapagos-history-and-conservation-challenges-tickets-142338074011

PIGS GONE – ORANGE REPTILES RETURN TO SANTIAGO

They are back.   Last spotted nearly 200 years ago, the Galapagos Land Iguana is staging a comeback.   Last week, the Galapagos National Park Service released a further 421 individuals on Santiago Island, further boosting numbers following the first re-introduction in 2019. 

Coincidentally, this is where Charles Darwin spent most of his time while in Galapagos in 1835.  He was the last person to report seeing them. According to Darwin, not one for diplomatic niceties: “From their low facial angle they have a singularly stupid appearance”.   

"Singularly stupid appearance" (photo credit Peter Norvig)

Pigs are no friends of ours!

The original land iguana population, having inhabited the island for likely hundreds of thousands, if not well over a million years, were done in by pigs.  Pigs are very good a sniffing out iguana nests in search for tasty and nutritious eggs – and were thankfully absent in Galapagos until the late 1700’s, when whalers, having exhausted the easy catches in the Atlantic, started hunting in Pacific waters.   The whalers would “seed” islands with animals that would provide them with fresh meat on future expeditions.  Goats were a favourite – but pigs were also on the menu.

While it was clear that removing the goats and pigs from Santiago Island would be necessary for any successful re-introduction of the land iguana to Santiago Island, both the Galapagos National Park Services and its scientific advisory partner the Charles Darwin Research Station considered it an unachievable fantasy.  The large island (35km long, 25km wide – or about 21 miles x 15 miles) consisted of very rugged volcanic terrain with portions of thick, spiny brambles.   

Still, something had to be done.  In an effort to reduce their predation on the Giant Tortoises (older individuals still roamed the island, but they had no success in raising new generations thanks to the pigs’ appetite for their eggs as well), the Park started sending out regular hunting parties in 1972.   These groups of 12 or so nimble hunters would head off to Santiago island once or twice a year for 10-12 days, head off into the landscape and shoot pigs.   They returned, having reported shooting as little as a dozen pigs to as many as 800.  Over a 24 year period, the total number of pigs reported shot came to 18,903.  

Thanks to GPS technology and to new techniques to removing pigs, in parallel with several years of steady funding, the Park and the Darwin Station, the last sign of a pig on Santiago Island was observed in November 2000.  The island was declared “pig free” in 2002, after several months of intense monitoring.   That conservation success story opened the door to a land iguana re-introduction effort, the fruits of which we are witnessing today.   For more info on the pig eradication campaign, see my technical report written while I was working at the Darwin Station here. 

Iguana stamped on Santiago Island

International Travel: "Health Info as Vital as Passports"

A recent "The Economist" article (Well Travelled, 13th February 2021) reviews how health status of travellers may be monitored as we deal with COVID-19.  The article describes how good the air is in airplanes, and explains that today's travellers are more concerned about regulations / testing / quarantine issues on arrival, and less so about the safety of actually flying.  

It goes on to describe a variety of efforts underway to develop a digital vaccine passport.  "Such technologies will become common, reckons the world's biggest travel-security firm, International SOS".  

For the full article, click here.

Image:  The Economist

 

Insider Thoughts on Upcoming National Elections

We asked our good friend, the charming Fernando Ortiz, for his thoughts on the upcoming national elections in Ecuador.    Fernando is a long-time naturalist guide, organizer of the Galapagos Triathlon and father to two daughters and husband to another naturalist guide.   The first round takes place this Sunday, followed by a 2nd round for the 2 candidates having received the most votes, on 11 April.   In his words: 

 

2021 Presidential elections in Ecuador

By law, 48 hours prior to election day, there must be no politician´s propaganda to give citizens quiet time to reflect on our vote. But until then the blaring, screaming, chanting, squealing, lying, empty promising and dream (nightmare?) weaving is noisy, relentless and furious.

Ecuador is in dire straits.  8 years of surfing the previously High Priced Oil Wave (Ecuador´s main export), mortgaging the country´s future at mafioso interest rates, followed by an awakening to a sudden low-price commodities reality and a huge mounting debt to honour, plus corruption at levels never ever seen in our republican life, have taken us into a deep hole, made deeper by Corona virus and its consequences.  Using a sadly fashionable comparison, Ecuador is in an Intensive Care Unit, surviving out of the money the IMF is puffing into our lungs.

There are 16 (!!!) presidential wannabes. It is either a display of selfish bravery (Who wants that job?!?)  or foolish bravado.  According to polls, 13 of them are such unknowns that they will only be receiving votes from their closest relatives and friends. 

Three of them are fighting for the first 2 places to go to a second round.  

The final run-off vote (11 April) will be in between a populist candidate sponsored by the very same guy that took Ecuador into its darkest hours, or a banker who represents everything the left-wing camp recognizes as evil (self-made, rich, conservative). The third one is a long-haired saxophone player, articulate but not bright... idealist, almost new to politics but surprisingly popular amongst certain ethnic groups.

I love democracy even though it is not perfect.  I like to think that my ballot is worth the same as everybody else´s.  I just wish my people would realize that neither legislation nor politicians are going to give us anything that has not being produced through our own efforts and honest sweat.  Do not trust freebies, they cannot last forever.  We all should be rowing in the same direction.  Wish and demand for an honest job, safe streets and room for working towards a healthy, green, plausible future.  Not only for my compatriots, but for mankind.

Election day is Sunday the 7th. Fingers crossed……

 

Explorer Club Honours our Former Colleague

We are delighted to share that a former colleague, Dr Inti Keith, has been honoured by the famous Explorers Club as one of the 21 most remarkable women members. 

Photo credit: CDF (darwinfoundation.org)

Inti is certainly a remarkable scientist, leading the research of marine invasive species at the Charles Darwin Research Station. In the last couple of years she has expanded her research and leadership work into marine plastics, international research partnerships, shark tagging, sea turtle tracking, and monitoring the coral and rocky reef systems of Galapagos. 

Photo Credit : Forbes (Geiner Golfin)

Inti, of Scottish parents, grew up in Quito and spent her academic career between the two countries, amongst others. In addition to being an impressive researcher, it can be said that she is the very heart of the social aspect of the Station and even the town on Santa Cruz. She is incredibly welcoming and will invite any newcomer out for a cerveza (or two). She has a special way of making people feel included and generally, to have a great time. Work could be intense and quite stressful at times, but a beer with Inti would always be a great cure (especially if they continue going til the wee-hours of the morning!) 

Our biggest congratulations (and toast!) to Inti for this spectacular and well-deserved honour!

 

Take our survey: Should "vaccinated only" cruises be organized?

A Galapagos cruise ship owner we know is uncertain on how to proceed once vaccinations will become widely availale.  On the one hand, he wants to do all he can to ensure the health and safety of his guests.  On the other hand, he recognizes that there may be a large number of people out there who may not want to take a COVID vaccine.  

He's not sure if it will be good for business to ask that guests show proof of vaccination before embarking.  If he goes that route, he would also have his crew vaccinated.   He wonders if just asking for a negative PCR test will be enough to satisfy his guests.

In an effor to help him, we've organized a small survey on our CNH Tours FaceBook page.  We would be delighted if you took the time answer this 15 second survey.  

Thank you in advance!   You can get to the survey by clicking here: SURVEY.  

PCR Testing Facilities in Galapagos? An Idea for Now

The recent decision on the part of the government of the USA to require negative PCR test or negative antigen tests taken no more than 3 days prior to entry into the USA, even for US citizens, is worrying the tourism sector in Galapagos (the Canadian government imposed a similar requirement 2 weeks ago).  While numbers were still only a fraction of what they had been pre-pandemic, they were starting to grow, giving hope to the beleagured tourism sector. 

Currently, there are no testing facilities in Galapagos beyond those in the hospitals on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal Isalnds - and these are available only to people showing symptoms.  Visitors will need to get tested on the continent, as they make their way back home.  As most tests require a minumum 24 hour turnaround, this new requirement will force people to spend at least 2 extra nights on the mainland before getting their results.   Some higher end ships are working on having their guests tested on-board, 2 days prior to their flight back to the USA/Canada.  This calls for accredited technicians from the mainland to fly to Galapagos, board the ship on it's penultimate cruise day, test the passengers, and fly back to the continent to process the samples.   It's a logistical challenge in many respects - but shows how important this is to the tourism sector.

The Galapagos governing council is looking at ways to make testing available more broadly on the islands - facilitating things for visitors from the USA and Canada.   The article below appeared in El Universo today, 25 January:

 

Doubts in Galapagos due to COVID-19 regulations in the US, which could affect tourism

The decision of the newly elected President of the United States, Joe Biden, to require negative PCR tests to all people who enter that country is a cause for concern in Galapagos, since this could cause tourists to suspend their trips to the archipelago.

Norman Wray, president of the Galápagos Government Council, considers it important to establish a private laboratory in the archipelago that charges a "reasonable" price for PCR tests to tourists who need to return to the United States, since citizens of that country occupy an important segment of the visitor numbers to the islands.

"There are tourists who, faced with the decision to require PCR testing and the lack of a facility in the islands that can provide the service, will decide not to come. We are talking with the Ministry of Health and the private sector to find out how to implement a service of these characteristics, "says Wray.

The visitor curve to Galapagos has been upward in recent months. In September 2020, the arrival of 1,400 tourists was registered, last December this figure rose to 6,800, but this "is very far from the number of tourists that came before the pandemic." (Ed: December 2019 tourist arrivals were in the 25,000 range – during the pandemic, most visitors are Ecuadorian nationals who spend more modestly than foreign visitors).

To reactivate the economy, according to Wray, they have promoted initiatives, with funds from the Governing Council, where conservation "converges" with the hiring of local labor, such as the project for the control of invasive species.

"We are handling the concept of green reactivation, but we also want to get international cooperation involved (...). We have worked with the United Nations to pay people and clean up the coast. We have worked on the scientific monitoring of the visitor sites" he says.

New Darwin Station Executive Director

CNH Tours is "copy-pasting" the press release published by the Charles Darwin Foundation today.   All of us here at CNH Tours worked for the Foundation - we have a collective 16 years of experience working there.  So it's understandable that we feel that we have a bit of ownership issues!  One of us is even an elected voting member of its General Assembly.  The Foundation's main activity is running the Charles Darwin Research Station.   

--- Press Release --- The Board of Directors of the Charles Darwin Foundation has announced the appointment of Dr. Rakan (“Zak”) A. Zahawi as Executive Director of the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), effective March 1, 2021. As the chief executive officer, he will be responsible for all operational and administrative functions at CDF and will direct a strategic scientific program at the Charles Darwin Research Station. 

“On behalf of the Board, the Selection Committee and everyone at CDF, we are delighted to welcome Dr. Zahawi to the Charles Darwin Foundation,” said CDF Board President Hans Van Poelvoorde. “Rakan impressed us with his deep experience as a field station director, his accomplishments in conservation science, his vision and his passion for community building.”

Dr. Zahawi was most recently Director of the Lyon Arboretum at the University of Hawaiʻi, Mānoa, and was previously director of the Las Cruces Research Station in Costa Rica (part of the Organization of Tropical Studies) from 2006-2016. As the co-author of more than 60 scientific publications, it is his commitment to world-class science in the interest of conservation that stands out. In 2017 he was awarded the Theodore M. Sperry Award by the Society for Ecological Restoration for his contributions to the field. Dr. Zahawi holds adjunct faculty positions at Duke University and the University of California, Santa Cruz. His research focuses on assessing cost-effective methods to accelerate tropical forest recovery in degraded habitats.

Dr. Zahawi earned a B.S. in Botany from the University of Texas at Austin and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Plant Biology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His master’s degree was based on fieldwork undertaken in northwestern Ecuador at the Maquipucuna Reserve. He has also worked in many other areas of the Neotropics. Dr. Zahawi speaks fluent Spanish, English and Arabic, as well as conversational French and Italian.

“I am very much looking forward to joining CDF and to furthering its legacy of conservation and protection in this iconic archipelago,” said Dr. Zahawi. “The Galapagos Islands are unparalleled in the world—unique both for their role in advancing our understanding of evolutionary science and as a place that captures the imagination of anyone interested in the living world around us. I hope to leverage the spotlight on Galapagos to bring attention to the conservation needs of not only the archipelago and its people, but also of its role as a global model of smart environmental stewardship. This remarkable archipelago is a showcase of best sustainable practices and a powerful example of a strong conservation ethic.“

Devoted to bringing together diverse interests to advance research and conservation in natural systems, Dr. Zahawi’s extensive experience working with scientists, local communities, governments, donors, and a wide international network will enhance CDF’s work in benefit of the Galapagos Archipelago.

Gabriela Sommerfield, CDF treasurer and member of the selection committee, noted that “Dr. Zahawi is a world-class scientist, conservationist and leader, who has a record of building organizations.”

Dr. Hernán Vargas, longtime CDF General Assembly member and the first Galapagos permanent resident who was granted a PhD in 2006, added “Great science has always been one of the hallmarks of the CDF. Given his ability to bring scientists together from many different backgrounds, I look forward to working with Dr. Zahawi to strengthen CDF’s support for the conservation of Galapagos in harmony with the sustainable development of resident human communities”.

Dr. Zahawi takes over from Interim Executive Director Dr. Maria Jose Barragan, who will continue as Science Director. The Board extends its great thanks to Dr. Barragán, who has admirably led the Foundation during this transition. The Board also thanks the 10-person Selection Committee appointed in March 2020, which included board members, representatives from the government of Ecuador, independent scientists, and leaders of non-profit NGOs.

About Charles Darwin Foundation:

The Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands (CDF) was established in 1959, one hundred years after the publication of “The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin, under the auspices of the Government of Ecuador, the Belgian Government, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Under an agreement with the Government of Ecuador, the CDF advises and assists the Government of Ecuador in aspects regarding the conservation of the Galapagos Archipelago. CDF’s mission is to provide knowledge and assistance to ensure the conservation of the environment and biodiversity in the Galapagos Archipelago through scientific research and complementary action.

Message for our American Guests

About 75%-80% of our guests are from the United States.  Over the years, we have had direct, personal contact with thousands of people from all corners of this great nation to the south of our border (we're based in Canada).  We've had guests from Florida, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, California, Wisconsin, Maine, Oregon, Georgia... the list goes on.  We seem to have an unusually high number of guests from Alaska (we don't know why - but that's fine by us).   Our USA guests are always a pleasure to work with and we often feel a twinge of sadness when our business relation comes to an end, and we go our separate ways.   

It's with you in mind that we share some of your pain in response to recent events in Washington D.C.  We've always considered the USA as the world's premiere center of innovation and creativity, as a powerful standard bearer for what's right and wrong, and despite occasional missteps (completely normal for any nation), over the years, we've taken for granted that the USA will be our strongest ally on the path to progress, in the struggle for human rights, and in the quest for peace, democracy and prosperity. 

We've noted how many large companies in the USA have taken a variety of impactful measures to support efforts at keeping the ship of state on an even keel in the past couple of days.  CNH Tours would like to join in that effort - though all we feel we can do is ask for the privilege of standing in solidarity with you.   

We wish all of our neighbours to the south the necessary sobriety, rational, clear-eyed thinking in the days, weeks and months ahead as you work at making things right again.  

Best wishes, and warmest regards from your neighbours north of the border.  

 

2021 Samba Galapagos Reactivation Cruises: A Deal not to be Missed

The highly-reputed 14 passenger Samba, the ship we have been regularly chartering for 15 years, is getting back into business after a COVID-19 related hiatus.   It has been hard for ship owners in Galapagos - but they are emerging renewed and eager to get back to business.  

The Samba actually ran its first post lock-down cruises in December.  It took advantage of the COVID hiatus by going through an extensive maintenance and re-fit on the mainland in September.   The ship diligently implements rigorous COVID-safe measures to reduce the risk of transmission while on board.  

The Samba owners recognize that the market for Galapagos cruises is not yet what it was pre-COVID.  But in an effort to attract those willing to travel in these complicated times, it is offering its 7 night / 8 day cruise for only US$2,450 / person (double occupancy) or $2,850 (solo).  This is over 40% off the 2021 rate that had been set pre-COVID.  This is an excellent price - equivalent to the going rate back in 2008.  But the owners have indicated that it may be increased at any time - booking now for a cruise starting no later than 14 December 2021 will guarantee that price.  Please note, the domestic flight, transit card and park entrance are extra - estimate about $650. 

While CNH Tours generally recommends that we stay home and wait until COVID-19 is in our rear-view mirror before contemplating international travel again, we do recognize that people are now getting getting access to vaccines, and that those who are younger and fitter are already starting to travel again.   

If you fall in one of those categories, and if you are willing to assume all the risks related to traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic, then we would be happy to help you organize your Galapagos trip of a lifetime on the Samba.   

Contact us:  hblenkiron@cnhtours.com  for more information.  

 

The Samba is a very well-managed "tourist superior" 14 passenger ship.  

 

A small ship like the Samba offers a lot more versatility when it comes to wildlife encounters.

 

It hires top quality naturalist guides who will take you to the ends of the trails, and get

you snorkeling as often and as long as possible.

 

The ship has 6 cabins below decks and one above.  The crew is very engaged in the whole

trip experience.  

SOME LIKE IT HOT!

It's the "rainy" season now in Galapagos. Ironically, during the rainy season, skies are bluer, it's hot, the seas are warmer and calmer. You might get an occasional, short-lived tropical downpour - but that's just another "𝗪𝗢𝗪!!" event on a typical trip to the Galapagos islands.

The main disadvantage to travel in the rainy season is not the rain, but the temperatures. While some like it hot😏, others find it too hot.

The rainy / hot season starts sometime later in December and ends sometime earlier in May. The cooler, dryer "garua" season starts in July and ends later in November. The garua season is characterized by early morning and later afternoon mists, particularly in the windward sides of islands. Temperatures are milder, seas cooler with the chances of a bit of chop a bit higher. There are never any storms in Galapagos... here, the "PACIFIC" ocean very much earns its name.

There are transition months between the seasons during which you can't be sure what kind of weather you'll get.

Thanks to critically acclaimed top naturalist guide, Jimmy Patiño, for the picture taken just a few minutes ago!

Returning guest sheepishly admits... it was "a trip of a lifetime"

Vicki Metcalfe is an avid birder. 

She approached us in early 2019 wanting help organizing a trip to Ecuador that would expose her to the wonderful bird diversity of the country.  While having less than 0.1% of the Earth's surface area, over 10% of the world's bird species have been recorded in the country (mostly on the mainland).  Galapagos offers birders the chance to easily spot species found nowhere else on the planet (flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins, the waved albatross, all kinds of Galapagos finches - and that's just for starters). 

On her return, just before the pandemic kicked in, Vicki wrote up a review of her trip for her local community newspaper, the New Edinburgh News (which happens to be just walking distance from our home).  In the concluding paragraph of her article, she writes:  "Cliché though it may be, my birding adventure in Ecuador and the Galapagos was truly the trip of a lifetime."   It may be cliché, but frankly, a big proportion of our returning guests use the very same words.   

CNH Tours can help you plan a custom trip to Ecuador and Galapagos, ensuring you get the most out of your time there.  Whether you're an avid birder, into horseback riding, chocolate, lost civilizations, textiles... we can work with you to assemble the elements of a wonderful extension before or after your Galapagos trip.    


For Vicki's full article, click here.


Galapagos penguin

In Galapagos, not all of the bird sightings are on dry land!
 

COVID Vaccination Certificate: Likely Requirement for Traveling

Now that COVID-19 vaccines are starting to be approved and made available, there's more and more talk about making them a requirement for international travel, among other things.   

Yesterday, the minister of health in Ontario announced that the province will provide "proof of vaccination" to those that have been vaccinated.  The minister, Christine Elliot, said the province will not make the vaccine mandatory, but some activities – such as travel and access to communal spaces like cinemas – could eventually be restricted for those who opt not to get immunized. 

Her statement is validated by comments from the CEO of Australia's flagship airline - Qantas.  Alan Joyce recently indicated that the airline would require future international travelers to prove they have been vaccinated against  COVID-19 before flying. 

The world's major cruise lines (Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean - the latter which operates the Silversea and Celebrity brands in Galapagos) have not made any statement along those lines as far as we can tell.    The point may be moot if airlines refuse service to those not vaccinated.   

But as a public health policy, we believe it's a smart one.   While the vaccine cannot be made mandatory until it become widely available, CNH Tours feels that it's safe bet to assume it will be so sometime later in 2021, or early 2022.   

So, if you're planning on coming to Galapagos, ensure you get some form of proof of vaccination when the time comes.   




 

 

A Truly Complete Guide to Galápagos

Review of “Galápagos” (Book author: Josef Litt)

 

Josef Litt has created one of the most comprehensive guidebook on Galapagos. He has put together a work of both in-depth information, through remarkably thorough research; as well as visual beauty, by utilizing his skills as photographer. He covers not just the visitor sites with their unique flora and fauna, but also the history, people, geography, political context, science and conservation work, as well as general tourism topics. The reasoning for it being one of the best is that it balances interesting written content with ample images to compliment it. In summary, “Galápagos” by Jose Litt is part guidebook, part textbook, part beautiful coffee table book.

Photo Credit: Josef Litt

It is a fantastic read for those looking for detailed, interesting, and in-depth material to inform them of what to expect to see and discover during their trip to Galapagos; alternatively, it is entertaining and insightful for those simply interested in that special Archipelago.

As one would expect, the bulk of the book though is about the various visitor site locations one can see either by land tour or cruise; Litt breaks these down by island. The exhaustive amount of research Litt conducted for this book is apparent. Each visitor site’s description is not just complete, but includes special notes not found in your typical guidebooks. For example, he highlights the sole button mangrove found at La Lobería beach on San Cristobal Island – a stunning photo of it is found on page 149. For these site descriptions, Litt includes artistically descriptive language as well as stats, measurements, photographic insights, and historic notes when possible.

Throughout the book Litt also brings in aspects of natural (recent) history. For example, he mentions the observation that flamingoes used to spend time in the lagoons near Playa Espumillla on Santiago, before the strong 97-98 El Niño event. This type of historical example provides helpful demonstrations of the impacts of such climate events in Galapagos specifically.

While he does a fantastic job of providing details of each visitor site, the one element I would consider missed in parts are how the various visitor sites are approached. One very frequent question we receive from our guests is about “dry landings”, “wet landings”, and what to expect for each when arriving on location. Some visitor sites have rather tricky landings, while some are a sandy beach on which the visitor simply needs to plop on to from the dingy. Where he does make brief mention of landings is for Punta Espinosa on Fernandina Island, where visitors can only use the man-made landing dock during high tide; at all other times of the tide cycle visitors to Punta Espinosa must make their way onto land via the lava rocks that border the small beach area.  Perhaps this small extra bit of practical info could be added in the next edition?

Photo Credit: Josef Litt

Beyond the tourist sites and natural elements of the Archipelago, Litt is able to clearly and succinctly describe the various political influences on human life in Galapagos. He goes through the changes implemented by the Special Law for Galapagos, as well as certain challenges in bringing it in to force. For those interested in stats, he presents a clear picture of the numerical impacts of the special law both on people and the tourism industry.

The photographs throughout the book are stunning. In addition to Litt’s own fantastic images, he includes a variety of others from a wide range of sources (all thanked in his opening acknowledgments). What is particularly interesting is the use of aerial photographs throughout the book. Drones have only very recently been allowed in the national park/marine reserve (with special permits only) and the amount of such images from a bird’s eye view is impressive. The shot of the Corona del Diablo on page 169 is particularly stunning (photo by Heidi Snell) as well as my personal favourite of Sombrero Chino and Rocas Bainbridge (courtesy of Rory Stansbury, Island Conservation). These are not the perspectives from which regular books on Galapagos tend to present the Islands. 

Litt truly delivers on what he mentions about himself, “As much as I enjoy taking images, I am keen to understand the subjects”. This book does exactly that – at first glance it provides the reader with stunning images of all that is Galapagos and upon closer inspection of the contents, the writing leaves the reader with ample knowledge of what their eyes have seen in the awe-inspiring images captured. What Litt has done is brought a level of detail to the entirety of what is “Galapagos” - something rarely seen in guidebooks.

  

Photo Credit: Josef Litt

One aspect that struck me personally was towards the end of the book – one minor point that proved to me that Litt had truly done his homework. Litt lists various ways to support the conservation work done in Galapagos by including organizations based in different countries of the world to which citizens of those countries can donate. This may seem a minor point and, admittedly, given my background in fundraising at the Charles Darwin Foundation/Research Station I am perhaps more attuned to these details than most. However, one would be shocked at how much confusion there is over this topic – even by some very closely involved with it! Litt does an excellent job in providing that information clearly. 

The book is larger and heavier that your typical guidebook.  It may not be one to pop in your backpack and take with you on your expedition, but it is, in my opinion, a must read both before and after your trip to Galapagos.  It would also be a good bedside companion during your trip (should you have the room in your suitcase).  The level of detail in Litt’s descriptions is remarkable and it is a great tool to prepare you for what to expect on your Galapagos voyage. Later, the stunning photographs throughout the book will leave you feeling nostalgic when you look through them after your return back home.

For those that perhaps Galapagos is still a dream not yet attainable (especially in this time of the pandemic), Litt’s book is an informative piece of art that will take you there through his stunning visual and descriptive imagery.

Photo Credit: Josef Litt

 

Should you like to read further reviews of this book, it is listed on Amazon.com (here). While we highly recommend this book, I will note that we have no business association with the author nor benefits from the sales of this book -- we simply wish to inform. 

Her Deepness Designates Galapagos as a “Hope Spot”

Her Deepness – the title for the world-renowned oceanographer, marine biologist, and explorer Sylvia Earle – has officially included Galapagos amongst the list of “Hope Spots” of the Planet. This designation by her foundation, Mission Blue, is intended to help focus on special areas of the Ocean through communication, media campaigns, and tactics to elevate the global recognition of the special locations. “Mission Blue inspires action to explore and protect the ocean” – the mission of the foundation.

The giant, pancake-looking fish, a Mola mola. (Photo credit: Alex Hearn)

While Mission Blue (and Dr Earle herself) acknowledge the importance of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) as one form of helping to protect and conserve ocean life, “Hope Spots” designations for areas that are already defined as MPAs (such as parts of the Galapagos Marine Reserve) are assigned as an additional measure of conservation as well as to note that extra action is needed.

Specifically, the foundation states that their definition of Hope Spots have: 

  • A special abundance or diversity of species, unusual or representative species, habitats or ecosystems
  • Particular populations of rare, threatened or endemic species
  • A site with potential to reverse damage from negative human impacts
  • The presence of natural processes such as major migration corridors or spawning grounds
  • Significant historical, cultural or spiritual values
  • Particular economic importance to the community

A fur seal of Galapagos (Photo credit: Alex Hearn)

One reason for this designation of Galapagos was thanks to the work by Dr Alex Hearn on the migration patterns through and around the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR), as well as the supporting conservation work done by the conservation-focused tourism of Manuel Yepez Revelo through his company Sharksky (both of whom CNH know personally). In particular, research showing the vast migration routes of various shark species beyond the safe haven of the GMR and into the greater Eastern Pacific has brought to light the need to further enhance the conservation methods used in Galapagos. The designation as a “Hope Spot” will, ideally, reinforce this with both international policy makers and inspire the general population at large to do what they can in conservation efforts.

With relation to the effect of the pandemic on tourism in Galapagos, the Mission Blue blog presents an interesting point that now might be the best time to push for an expansion of the MPA in Galapagos. The full blog piece on this from Mission Blue can be read here.

One of several turtle species found in Galapagos, a green turtle. (Photo credit: Alex Hearn)

VIDEO: $54,000 raised by former and future Samba guests

Back in May, with the help of a former guest, we launched a fund-raising effort in support of the crew and support staff of the Samba - a 14 passenger ship we charter regularly for our "ACTIVE GALAPAGOS" trip.  

COVID-19 was a terrible blow to the island economy.  Most of the dollars flowing into the islands come from tourism.  With tourism at a standstill, and with meagre government support, the road ahead did not look bright for island residents.  

Laura Sebastianelli, a former guest, approached us with the idea of organizing a fund raiser.   It took us a while to put it together, but once launched, it quickly raised over $54,000 (with a bit of support from another company that uses the Samba).  

We were very impressed by the enthusiasm.  Some participants had travelled over 10 years ago - and a few were booked on a trip later this year.    

The Samba's owners (they did not receive any of the funds raised) asked the crew and staff to say a few words of thanks on video.   My son, Emile Patry, took the raw footage and assembled a bit of a summary video of the campaign.  It starts with some text explaining the background, continues on with the videos of thanks from the Samba team, and ends with pictures and words submitted by those who contributed.    

To see the video, click here.

Tourism remains very anemic in Galapagos.  While the national park is open, and while some ships are tentatively starting to sail again, there remain very few people showing up.   To enter Ecuador and Galapagos, all you need is a negative RT-PCR COVID test taken within 4 days of your entry into the islands.  However, for many, the current pandemic climate is not conducive to a return to normal.  Those that are less risk averse are likely to benefit from some of the best prices in a long time during these uncertain times.    

To AirBnB or not to AirBnB - that is the question!

Today, my former Darwin Station officemate, the charming and brilliant Michael Bliemsrieder posted the text below on the "Realidades Galapagueñas" (Galapagos Realities) FaceBook page.   Michael has a bit of the politician in him (he was a recent candidate for the mayor of Puerto Ayora) - identifying issues that concern a lot of Galapagos residents and giving them some public air. 

His recent post refers to the new requirement by incoming visitors to have a "safe conduct" in hand prior to boarding a flight to Galapagos.   What is a safe conduct?  It's an attestation by a registered travel agency or a certified accommodation establishment that the person holding it has indeed reserved services in the islands.  

Michael argues that the safe conduct is nothing but a devious way for the government to cut off business for the many informal (AirBnB, VRBO…) establishments in the islands, redirecting it to the formal ones.  

Such measures will, by definition, have supporters (a smaller number of hotel owners, travel agencies) and a larger number of detractors (those who are using the AirBnB and such platforms). 

It’s not an easy issue to resolve.  That’s what politicians are for.  Notwithstanding a few edits, thanks to Google for the translation from Spanish

 

Michael Bliemsrieder's words:

The Ministry of Tourism has declared war on Airbnb. And not just Airbnb.

Under the pretext of a false "tourist reactivation" that does not arrive, they have dedicated themselves to the task of inventing illegal and arbitrary fines, trying to prohibit all types of private leasing and rental, even going so far as to invade private homes, knocking down doors without order of raiding and taking people to the streets, in the best style of Cuban and Venezuelan authoritarian Marxists.

They use their infamous safe-conduct, a document that has no legal basis, that has absolutely nothing to do with the health emergency and that goes against the Constitution, the Civil Code, the Tenancy Law and the Galapagos Law itself, to persecute even people who want to receive their friends and family, and the same agencies that are supposed to issue such a pass.

The useless Ministry of Tourism and its servile officials must understand that they are not policemen, commissioners, criminal or civil judges, or self-erected guards of public morals, and that the abuse of authority and the arrogance of functions will lead them directly to prison.

The people are fed up with the permanent abuse of the corrupt "Ruptura de los 25" regime and the continuous arbitrariness of the Governing Council. Whoever plays with fire ends up burned.

Snapshot: What's occupying the minds of Galapagos residents these days

An old friend of mine in San Diego forwarded an article from the LA Times to me yesterday.   It's a good one, effectively illustrating the zeitgeist of Galapagos these days - as far as I can tell from what I'm hearing from friends and associates there.

The article from the LA Times covers the massive industrial Chinese fishing fleet cloud that hung over the islands for many weeks in the summer - which added to the overall feeling of creeping discouragement brought about by COVID-19's moth-balling of the tourism economy there.   

It also contains 2 short but well done video clips narrated by a good old friend of ours, Fernando Ortiz (also an excellent naturalist guide).  It refers to another old friend, Fiddi Angermeyer (son of a German pioneer who, with 3 of his brothers, sailed from Germany to Galapagos before WWII), and Norman Wray, the presidentially appointed provincial governor, with whom I've had the chance to speak with on a couple of occasions.   


Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz Island): The main economic hub of Galapagos

While tourism destinations are all suffering tremendously during COVID, Galapagos is suffering even more because the economy there is overwhelmingly dependent on dollars flowing in from tourists.   Take that away, and you're left with a few NGOs, government services (all being cut back because Ecuador has a huge cash flow problem these days) and relatively small scale fishing and farming.   

Almost all goods purchased in Galapagos are imported from outside.  This means that every time someone buys a roll of toilet paper, a bottle of water, a pair of sandals, a t-shirt, rice, beans... money is leaving the islands and it's not being replenished by dollars coming in from tourism.   

The Galapagos economy is drying up.   

I know of several people that have left.  While economic conditions on the continent are not good at all, they are better than in the islands.   

What's in store in the months ahead?  Nobody knows.  But until COVID-19 can be tamed, things will remain delicate.  The service providers we are in touch with are rearing to get going again of course.  They've worked hard at adopting COVID-19 safety protocols, be it on land or on ships.   Tourism is open - you CAN go to Galapagos - but as can be expected, there are hoops through which travelers must pass (COVID testing) and options will be fewer as not all businesses are operating at full capacity.  

At CNH Tours, we continue to receive inquiries (though fewer than before!) from people who are very keen to organize their trip to the islands as soon as conditions improve.  Galapagos is a premiere nature tourism destinations of the world - it was the first place to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site (1978).  It will remain a "trip of a lifetime" place to visit well after COVID-19 becomes a distant memory.   

For the Los Angeles Times article, click here

Ten years and 422 stories later

CNH Tours has been helping people assemble their Galapagos trip of a lifetime since 1999 but it wasn’t until 2010 that we started publishing regular news items and stories we thought would interest our past, current and future guests.  

On the 20th of September 2010, we published:  THE ECONOMIST Magazine Features Galapagos and Danger Listing in this Week’s Edition.  As an avid reader of THE ECONOMIST, I was very excited by the fact that the magazine's international section editor came to my UNESCO office in Paris to interview me for the story.   I simply had to write it up for the website, making this the first of 422 stories that would follow in the next 10 years.

Our editorial policy over the years has been pretty constant.   We focus on a variety of issues falling under a broad range of categories such as:

  • Conservation success stories / threats
  • Wildlife poachers / smugglers caught / prosecuted / sentenced / jailed
  • Volcanic eruptions, tsunamis
  • El Niño: Trying to predict when the next one will come (we’ve given up on that)
  • Several stories on the possible increase in the park entrance fee. First announced in 2011, but yet to be implemented (we should give up on that too)
  • The rise and fall of various National Park directors – most of whom are old friends
  • The trials and tribulations of the Charles Darwin Foundation - a roller coaster of a ride
  • Expedition cruise ships running aground and several cargo ships sinking
  • The death of Lonesome George, his peripatetic corpse and the struggle for a final resting place
  • Some beating of our own drum – highlighting awards, third party recognition of our work and that of our chosen partners and their staff in Galapagos
  • Politics and economics of Ecuador
  • Concerns over rapid growth in land-based tourism numbers
  • Travel logistics matters we consider pertinent in planning your trip to Galapagos

No other travel company comes remotely close to publishing so many diverse stories and on such a regular basis.   We hope that it conveys to our guests the fact that few travel companies know Galapagos as intimately as does CNH Tours.   We have friends in all sectors of society there – from government to tourism to the fishing communities.   We return to the islands regularly and, after this COVID has been cleared up, we intend to spend several weeks a year there to further strengthen our bonds with the islands and the people.

Over the years, we’ve covered some interesting items and we’ve also tried to come up with catchier / and sometimes rather sensationalistic titles.   We provide links to a few below and invite you to have a look (be assured, none of this is fake news): 

When sharks have lawyers...

Flying Galapagos Penguins Captured on Video!

Ships swallowed by giant sea creature

Michael Jackson spotted on a remote beach in Galapagos!

"The captain helped me to the bottom of the ocean"

Lenin asserts himself in Ecuador

Dolphin soup anyone?

A Dog's Life in Galapagos

CNH Tours Acquires a Mercedes...

Man's life is changed!

Plump Pepe Put into Park Pen

 

We look forward to continued coverage of stories we think our past, current and future guests will find interesting.   We’ll provide an update on this story on 20 September 2030.  See you then!

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