Galapagos News

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!

Potable water in Puerto Ayora: Always 3 years away

(The following article was Google translated, further edited, and slightly adapted for clarity from the original Spanish language article that appeared in the EXPRESO, an on-line newspaper on 5 September 2020.  Pictures are also from the original article. Click here to see the original.  CNH Tours can attest to the bad water piped into Puerto Ayora homes, as was the case with us when we lived there in 1998-2002.  Like all other residents, we had no choice but to bathe using this water - it had a mild salty taste to it and you certainly did not want to swallow any...)


Puerto Ayora and its endless wait for drinking water


In Puerto Ayora, the most populated settlement in Galápagos (apx. 20,000 people), the water that reaches homes and commercial and tourist establishments is still brackish and not suitable for human consumption.

It is extracted from underground aquifers via fissures in the bedrock on this island of volcanic origin. Because the bedrock is porous and full of fissures, it ends up being a mixture of rainwater and seawater, minerals and human wastewater.  The supply is limited to just two to four hours a day.  Typically, all buildings have large storage tanks on the rooftops and these are filled when the water is running, so that it can be used over the course of the day.

Above: A typical fissure from which brackish / contaminated water is extracted

"The fissures in the bedrock from which the water is obtained are interconnected with the septic tanks (little more than holes in the ground) and, obviously, they become contaminated and, finally, the water that reaches the houses is not drinkable (containing bacteria, salt etc…) and we are forced to continue to buy water in bottles", explains Jairo Gusqui, president of the Citizen Board of Santa Cruz.

In a city where some 200,000 tourists spend time each year, the lack of drinking water is not just a community problem that causes intestinal infections, skin allergies or untreatable hair to its inhabitants.

The Puerto Ayora waterfront - 200,000 visitors a year

“There are visitors from abroad who are used to drinking tap water in their countries. And you have to be telling them that you can't do that here, don't drink the tap water, ”says Rubén Montalvo, owner of a hostel in Puerto Ayora.

"A tourist who ingests the water and suffers an infection stays in the hotel.  He suspends his entire schedule of tours, and doesn’t spend his money," he adds.

For all these reasons, having potable water is an old claim of its 20,000 inhabitants.  They are used to hearing promises of potable water each time a new election comes around, and they are getting used to having it as an eternally unfinished project.

A very typical scene in Puerto Ayora - delivery of REAL potable water

Only in this century, in 2001, the government at the time put out an international tender to provide drinking water to the main islands; that work was awarded under the following government, but it did not advance from there. The government after that took it up again, but nothing came of it.

San Cristóbal, Isabela and Floreana islands, with a smaller population, have had potable water since 2013. But  not Puerto Ayora.

In 2016, the president at the time (Rafael Correa) announced that Santa Cruz was beginning to receive potable water "for the first time in its history." The project, initially planned for 2014, consisted of capturing water from nearby fissures and, through a reverse osmosis process, desalinating and making it drinkable.  But he was overly optimistic and it didn't happen.

“It's a long story, it has suffered quite a few setbacks in these years: politicians who have used it as a campaign promise, lawsuits against the contractor. And it the story is not over yet ”, sums up local journalist Daniel Montalvo.

Water purification plant for preparation of potable water

In 2019, a month after taking office, Puerto Ayora Mayor Ángel Yánez published a diagnosis of how he had found the municipality, including this issue. He noted that the initial cost of US$18.5 million had risen to US$23.7 million for supplemental contracts. And that the plant was not working due to pipeline damage and that the system required the interconnection of the networks, a work not foreseen in the contract.

Yánez says he has advanced the work up to 80% and hopes to complete it. To do this, it needs the Government -which claims fiscal illiquidity and owes one billion dollars to the municipalities- to deliver 4 million dollars for the additional work.

A Photographer's Galapagos Life in the Time of COVID

We've known Tui de Roy since we first went to Galapagos in 1998.

Her parents moved to Galapagos in the 1950's and she was born shortly thereafter. She grew up on the rocky shores of the islands almost living the life of Mowgli. She ended up being an accomplished wildlife photographer, having published several books and leading many photography trips around the world.

While she maintains a home in New Zealand, she spends a lot of time in Galapagos still. She was there in March when COVID hit, and has been there ever since.

Here are two very well-written pieces about Galapagos life in the time of COVID, dated 4 May and 1 September (scroll down) in which she shares her observations on Galapagos both humans and animals. They are quite insightful with a few nice pics.

To see the stories, click here.
Tui's house in Galapagos

Finally, Amazing Shark News in Galapagos

Marine scientists from the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) have made the first recording of the presence of two additional shark species in Galapagos waters -- the broadnose sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus) and the bluntnose sixgill shark (Hexanchus griseus). As stated in the press release by the CDF moments ago, the research was done in collaboration with the Galapagos National Park Directorate, National Geographic Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Media Lab Open Ocean Initiative, and Lindblad Expeditions (LEX).

We are delighted as well, that the lead scientist on this, Salome Buglass, is an old friend from the Galapagos days and certainly an incredible young researcher. Although she has not been in this scientific field for very long, she's an up-and-comer with more accomplishments under her belt than many seasoned researchers. (Not to mention, she's proudly part Canadian too!)

We welcome you to read the CDF's full press release here: 

Two shark species newly registered in the deep waters of the Galapagos Marine Reserve

 

Photo Credit - CDF

 

All of the research and conservation work carried out by the Charles Darwin Foundation at the Research Station is only possible through donations. While there is an inclination to think that Galapagos, being such a famous and incredible "living laboratory", scientific work must all be sufficiently funded already -- sadly, that it not the case. The CDF/Research Station would benefit greatly from any and all donations. As a company that values first and foremost the conservation of and scientific work being conducted in Galapagos, we ask that you please consider donating towards their work. (www.darwinfoundation.org

Whale Shark Disappearance

A female whale shark (Rhincodon typus), named Esperanza (or “Hope” in English), has disappeared off the radar around Galapagos; perhaps not coincidentally at the same time that a flotilla of 260 Chinese fishing vessels have been observed in the area (see our previous blog piece on that flotilla, here). The fins of sharks, especially whale sharks, are extremely valuable in many parts of Asia. Millions of sharks, many of them of endangered species, are killed each year solely for their fins. Esperanza was last seen between the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Galapagos Marine Reserve. 

 

A diver installing a transmitter on a whale shark. Photo credit: Galapagos National Park. 

 

Esperanza was tagged in September 2019 as part of a scientific monitoring project looking at the habits of whale sharks in and around Galapagos. The signals from her tags stopped transmitting on May 20, 2020. Norman Wray, the President of the Galapagos Governing Council, announced the disappearance of Esperanza’s transmissions and included his worry and suspicion of the flotilla’s possible involvement. Wray shared the news via a tweet.

Transmission sent from Esperanza, prior to May 20, 2020. Map used by Norman Wray in tweet announcing disappearance. Credit: Galapagos Whale Shark Project.

 

Whale sharks are the largest fish species on the planet and are classified as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List. The vast majority of whale sharks found in Galapagos are not only female, but pregnant females (almost 99% of them, according to researchers). They gather around the North Westernmost most islands of Darwin and Wolf during their gestation period. Jonathan Green and Dr Alex Hearn, those referenced in Wray’s tweet, are co-Founders and leading researcher in the study of whale sharks in and around Galapagos through the Galapagos Whale Shark Project.

We, along with many of our dear friends in Galapagos (and around the world), are extremely concerned and saddened by this news. Watch this space for more information as we monitor the developing situation in the waters of the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

 

Photo credit: IUCN Red List (Pedro Vieyra)

Economic, social and political challenges in Ecuador

While the focus of a trip to Galapagos might be nearly 100% nature oriented, you will be meeting mainland and Galapagos residents and you will have the opportunity to have some conversations with them.  Many people enjoy this part of their travels. 

For those who might not have considered it, a good talk with thoughtful locals goes a long way in helping one broaden one's understanding of people and societies.  Better yet, if you know something of the context in which the people you will be meeting are living, it gives you a better vantage point from which to have a more enriching conversation.  

We came across this article in The Economist (a news magazine widely read around the world) which was published in its July 4-10th issue.   It provides a succinct summary of the social/ political/ economic situation in the country these days.  In short, it has no money and the fact that it uses the US dollar as its national currency does not help.

I was living in Ecuador when they made the switch from the former "Sucre" to the US Dollar.  At the time, inflation was out of control, people were increasingly turning to the US$ for transactions.  A lot of the blame can be placed on corrupt bankers and enabling national leaders of the day - so much so that I've always thought that a monument to these people would help Ecuadorians remember why they had to give up their national currency.   Here's the article that appeared in The Economist:

ECUADOR'S ANGUISH:  THE DIFFICULTIES OF A DOLLARIZED ECONOMY / ECUADOR IS IN INTENSIVE CARE, AND A STRAIGHT JACKET.

At the start of the covid-19 pandemic in Latin America in March and April, Ecuador offered the world Dantesque images of dead bodies dumped in the streets of Guayaquil, a tropical port that is the country’s largest city. The outbreak has eased, but it is not over. After the government relaxed its lockdown last month cases picked up, especially in Quito, the capital. That is happening elsewhere in the region, too. But Ecuador faces additional difficulties.

One is that the centrist government of Lenín Moreno, the president since 2017, was economically and politically weak even before the virus struck. Another is that since 2000 Ecuador has lacked its own currency, using the American dollar instead. That switch was the consequence of hyperinflation and a previous economic crisis. It has brought a degree of stability. But it means that when recession strikes, Ecuador cannot print money. Nor can it easily borrow because Mr Moreno’s populist predecessor, Rafael Correa, piled up debt during his decade in power, which the government has struggled to repay. So while governments elsewhere are loosening the purse-strings, Ecuador has to cut public spending just when it is most painful to do so.

Mr Correa ruled during a commodity boom. He used windfall oil revenue to double the size of the state. Although some of the money was invested in infrastructure, much went on expanding public employment and much was simply wasted or stolen. Despite the spending splurge, in proportion to the population Ecuador scores barely above the Latin American average in number of doctors and below it for hospital beds.

When the commodity boom ended, Ecuador was left with a big fiscal deficit and mounting public debt. Mr Moreno, an ally-turned-foe of Mr Correa, has been left to pay the bill. In March of last year his government signed a $4.2bn, three-year agreement with the imf aimed at softening the effects of deficit-cutting and at boosting non-oil exports by making the economy more competitive. This reform programme soon went off the rails. In October, without preparing the political ground or compensating those worst hit, the government tried to eliminate indiscriminate subsidies on fuel (the imf had urged it to raise value-added tax instead). After a fortnight of protests and rioting left ten dead, Mr Moreno backed down.

With the deficit heading back up to at least 6% of gdp, the government is scrambling for cash. Since March it has saved 2.5% of gdp by agreeing with bondholders to postpone interest payments, and another 1% by trimming the working hours of public employees. The public’s anger at scandals over medical procurement has reinforced its resistance to tax increases. The imf approved an additional $643m emergency loan in May. The government has obtained a loan from China, and further relief from bondholders. It has used money from the Inter-American Development Bank to increase the payments to the poor and the number who get them. To try to boost recovery, it has introduced modest reforms of the labour law and the bankruptcy code.

Unpopular reforms are all the harder because a general election is due in February. But they are vital. Augusto de la Torre, a former Central Bank president, notes that “dollarisation is the most popular institution in my country—more popular than the church or the army.” But, he adds, “the country is learning the hard way that dollarisation means that we can’t print money.”

It is not a substitute for fiscal discipline and a more competitive economy. The problem is “there’s no coalition to pass the necessary reforms,” says Andrés Mejía, an Ecuadorean political scientist at King’s College in London. Instead there are what he calls “ghost coalitions” operating in the shadows, with parties refusing to support austerity publicly but quietly facilitating it. “They do enough to get the country past emergencies but not enough for long-term development.”

Muddle-through may be running out of road. With an approval rating of 19%, Mr Moreno has said he will not stand again. Perhaps sensing the difficulties ahead, Jaime Nebot, a powerful former mayor of Guayaquil, ruled himself out as a candidate on June 25th. Having received a jail sentence in absentia for corruption, Mr Correa, who lives in Belgium, is looking for a proxy candidate. With voters likely to be in an angry mood, unless a credible reformist candidate emerges the stage may be set for a return of populism—but a penniless version this time.

Massive industrial fishing fleet hugs Marine Reserve boundaries...

The following is adapted from an article that appeared in the El Universo newspaper on 16 July 2020.

The Ecuadorian Navy was alerted this morning to the presence of a fishing fleet made up of 260 foreign vessels near the limit of Ecuador’s Exclusive Insular Economic Zone (ZEEI).

Image of the waters around the west coast of South America and Galapagos.  Lines indicate exclusive economic zones.  White areas indicate presence of industrial fishing ships.

At the moment, the Naval Operations Command maintains continuous surveillance with Naval Aviation aircraft and also with the missile corvette “Loja”, which relieved the “Manabí” in these tasks in the continental sea.

The fleet would be made up of fishing, supply and warehouse vessels, the Navy said.

Part of the industrial fishing fleet photographed near the Galapagos Marine Reserve

At the same time, the personnel of the Maritime Analysis Division of the Operational Command sent information to the units located on the edge of the continental sea so that they corroborate that these foreign vessels do not enter the ZEEI and carry out some type of illegal fishing activities that threaten the Galapagos Marine Reserve (Ed. A World Heritage Site).

In 2017, naval teams intercepted the ship Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 while sailing illegally within the Galapagos Marine Reserve. The crew members were sentenced. Some 300 tonnes of fish mostly sharks, were found in the holds of this Chinese vessel.

 

Editor:  The Galapagos Marine Reserve has among the strictest fishing regulations among all the marine reserves along the entire western shores of both North and South America.   Only a limited number of local Galapagos fishermen can fish there, and they are restricted to small ships and low impact fishing practices.   The waters within the reserve, and those extending to the coastal area are very rich in nutrients, as they are bathed by a variety of currents, including the cold Humboldt coming from the south, and the upwelling of the Cromwell current, coming from the west.    These rich waters attract industrial fishing fleets – and keeping them out of the Marine Reserve is a constant challenge.   

While strictly legal, the fact that the seas can be vacuumed out of their fish with little or no oversight highlights the on-going need to establish some type of international waters fishing regulation / monitoring system.   Moreover, it has been reported that these fleets will send small boats out at night into the reserve, bringing back their haul to the factory ships by daybreak.   

The Galapagos Marine Reserves cover the same area as the entire landmass of Greece.  It’s hugely expensive to monitor effectively, particularly when its boundaries are being tested by so many fishing ships. 

 

Low in cash, Galapagos residents turn to bartering

The following is adapted from an article that appeared in the El Universo newspaper today

 

The economy in the Galapagos archipelago has been affected by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Tourism, the Islands’ main economic activity came to a screeching halt nearly 4 months ago.

"Women's clothing for groceries, meat, chicken, fruit" or "Exchange a plastic blender container for a 2-kilos of sugar, or a juice extractor for a chicken" are two of the messages that are read in groups that was created through Facebook, where residents offer their products.

The desperation to get food has led several people to exchange and even sell their goods. This is how an ancient practice of bartering has become popular in the islands.

One of the groups where this practice is promoted is the “trueque official Galapagos” (Official Galapagos Barter), created two months ago by Isabela Bucheli and Milton Sevillano on the island of Santa Cruz. There, those who search for food or wish to exchange other objects publish their ads and within a few minutes receive a response from those interested in the transaction.

Sevillano has a boat hull cleaning company, while Bucheli is a naturalist guide although due to the health emergency she also ventured into a restaurant business with other partners.

Bucheli says that at the beginning of the pandemic, a neighbor placed a wooden box on the street so that food or other objects could be placed for others who needed could take them. This encouraged them to create the barter page.

The pandemic caused families to be affected. "There are homes where mom and dad are without a job and there are three to five children in the house. So zero income since the pandemic started in March," says Bucheli.

The Facebook page managers see bartering as a way of showing support for the community, because it is not about money or what a product costs, but rather to help someone with what they need, being able to get a product that they require.

"(We want to) adapt it to a daily lifestyle, so that people who are accustomed to bartering can do it all year long whenever they want, whenever they have something to barter ... We have tried to make people understand that it is also a matter of community solidarity and not just strict business dealing", they point out.

Among the rules that have been established within this community of more than 4,000 members is that sales are not allowed or money is not talked about, only exchange.  Advertisements cannot be disseminated and the most important thing is that there be seriousness between the two people for the exchange. For each transaction that is made, a photograph of the barter made is uploaded.

Video Interview: What's the situation in Galapagos and with CNH Tours?

For those who might be interested, here's a video interview posted on YouTube.  A friend who was formerly a Montreal morning television show host and a former curling partner of mine started doing his own thing, setting up interviews of people around him with stories to tell.   He interviewed me several weeks ago, a good month into the COVID-19 disruptions to travel.    

It's 18 minutes long - maybe too long for most of you.  In it, I recount a little bit of the history of CNH Tours, how COVID-19 has affected the local economy, and CNH Tours business.    

Click here to see it on the YouTube platform.   Thanks for leaving any (great) comments on the page! 

NEW Book Alert! – Tui de Roy Has Released Another Stunning Oeuvre

The incredible wildlife photographer, conservationist, and writer, Tui de Roy, has just released a new book, titled “A Lifetime in Galapagos”.

 

This new oeuvre of hers comprises not just her astounding images but also some of the stories of the moments behind the photos, as well as detailed insights into her childhood in Galapagos. We would of course highly recommend getting yourself a copy not just to gaze in wonder at the photos, but perhaps also to help you either reminisce or dream about Galapagos.

Photo: Galapagos hawk, by Tui de Roy

 

Tui and her family moved to Santa Cruz Island in Galapagos, from Belgium, when she was just a toddler. Living first in the highlands of Santa Cruz then by the sea shore on Angermeyer Point, Tui is as “Galapagueña” as the tortoises themselves. She was always fascinated by the natural environment that surrounded her in Galapagos and was introduced to photography at 16 – she quickly became a top guide and wildlife photographer in the islands.

As a teenager she was even hired by visitors to lead expeditions and by visiting scientists to help guide them during fieldwork. She gained the majority of her knowledge of the very nooks and crannies of the Islands from self-led expeditions with her family, as they often explored the islands (this was, of course, before strict restrictions were put in place by the Galapagos National Park).

Sea lions with a tuna, photo by Tui de Roy

 

 "Star trails", an incredible piece created by Tui de Roy, of the stars zooming over the Opuntia Cacti of Galapagos 

 

I had the incredible honour and privilege of spending three weeks in the field with Tui, on Alcedo Volcano on Isabela Island. We were volunteers as part of a small research crew, joining an ornithologist from the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) and a park ranger from the Galapagos National Park. We were on Alcedo to observe the feeding patterns of Vermillion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus nanus) parents, as part of the CDRS Landbird Project. Below, two photos of Tui on the edge of the crater during one of our observation set-ups, with a rare male Vermillion Flycatcher in the foreground (spotted by its red head).

 

Tui de Roy on the inner rim of Alcedo Volcano, with a rare male Vermillion Flycatcher in the foreground. Photo by Kelsey Bradley (CDF 2017)

Getting the shot... Photo by Kelsey Bradley (CDF 2017)

 

Below a few other shots of mine, capturing Tui in action on Alcedo, in between Vermillion Flycatcher observations. The time doing field work on Alcedo was one of the best experience of my life and I truly appreciated every little bit of wisdom received from Tui there – I would certainly return to that isolated volcanic rim in a heartbeat! Her new book might be the next best thing to that.

 

With a juvenile Galapagos hawk. Photo credit Kelsey Bradley (CDF 2017)

 

 

Early morning near the fumaroles with the tortoises of Alcedo, (sulfur, not as great a smell as coffee in the early morning). Photo credit Kelsey Bradley (CDF 2017)

 

After a day of observations, finding a juvenile tortoise in the (very warm) fumaroles. Photo credit Kelsey Bradley (CDF 2017). 

 

 

Scuffling in front of the Governing Council offices as conditions worsen

Faced with an ongoing economic crisis in the islands, some citizens groups have come together to propose solutions, many of which are contentious.  These include opening up the islands to long-line fishing, a practice considered very harmful to non-targeted marine species.   Also, there is a proposal to send away all people living in Galapagos who don’t have the full resident status, but are only there on temporary visas, thus allowing for more jobs to go to Galapagos residents. An effect of this request would result in the loss of many of the health care workers in Galapagos.  AGIPA, the Association of Naturalist Guides of Galapagos, published an open letter yesterday raising concerns over such measures.

In response to these mounting pressures, the Governor of Galapagos – who also has the status of Minister in the national government, had called a meeting with community groups to discuss these proposals on 7 July.   However, due to the recent resignation of the vice-president of Ecuador, the president called a last-minute emergency meeting on that day, and for that reason, the 7 July meeting had been postponed to the 10th of July.

Community groups gathered and marched on the offices of the Regional Council in frustration.  A peaceful march degraded into chaos, with the Governing Council’s Technical Chief, Monica Ramos, rough -handled by the crowd.

 

Frustrated protesters storming the offices of the Regional Governing Council

In an open letter addressed to community groups and distributed through social media, the Governor, Norman Wray explained why the meeting had been postponed, further indicating that the health and security of all people had been put at risk by the demonstrators gathering in such close quarters since the COVID-19 virus remains active on the island.  The Governor called for maintaining responsibility, respect and tolerance at this moment given that tensions are inflamed by the "electoral interests of some citizens" (the pre-electoral period in Ecuador can be agitated).   The open letter further notes that all the work that has been done to make Galapagos a safe travel destination should not be put at risk.

Galapagos governor Norman Wray addresses the protesters

The community groups responded that while the 7 July meeting had been clearly communicated, they were not informed of its postponement, prompting them to organize the march.

Things are heating up in the islands.  The Galapagos economy is very dependent on tourist dollars.  Tourism has been completely shut down since mid-March (some of our guests were among the last to have had the privilege of visiting the islands).  The government of Ecuador is heavily indebted and has very few options when it comes to helping its citizens in these difficult times.  Under these circumstances, it's easy to understand the mounting frustration, and perhaps panic, felt by Galapagos residents - it's not clear at all when tourism will start up again.   While the continental economy has also suffered, it is much more diversified and there are more alternatives to income derived from tourism.  

World Albatross Day

World Albatross Day was celebrated for the first time this Friday, June 19, 2020 with the purpose of reinforcing the conservation of this species that inhabits the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador and is in danger of extinction.

 

 

"This date has been chosen by the Albatross and Petrels Conservation Agreement (ACAP), to honor these magnificent birds and highlight the current conservation crisis that threatens them," the agency said in a statement.

 

In the Archipelago you can find the Galapagos Albatross (Phoebastria irrorata), also known as the Waved Albatross, which unfortunately is in critical danger of extinction. According to the Charles Darwin Foundation, this bird is threatened by invasive species such as mice, rats, cats, and pigs. Also, fishing nets and hooks put albatrosses at risk, resulting in thousands of albatrosses and petrels killed each year.

 

The Waved Albatross gets its name from the form of waves when drawn, that depict the wings of the adult specimens. This species has a characteristic yellow or cream neck, a long bright yellow beak and blue legs.

 

Some interesting facts about the Galapagos Albatrosses is that they begin reproductive activity at six years of age and lay only one egg a year. This species can live up to 40 years. They live mainly on the Española Island and in the non-reproductive season, they fly to the coasts of Peru and Ecuador.

 

 

According to the Ministry of Environment of Ecuador, in Galapagos there are about 10,000 pairs of albatrosses.

The best time to see the Waved Albatross in Galapagos is during late April and May. In April, you are able to see their arrival to the Archipelago from Ecuador’s mainland coasts, and the wonderful courtships begin; while in May, they start laying their eggs. They are present on Española Island until December of each year, before they head back out to sea.

 

The Waved Albatross will be waiting for you!

 

 

All images have been generously provided by our friend, Peter Norvig. To access his incredible online gallery, please visit through this link.

New worldwide day of celebration -- all for the Albatross!

The Casanova of Galapagos Returns Home

The true Casanova of Galapagos, Diego, a giant tortoise, has been returned back to his home island of Española. This return has been many years in the making and was only done now as he has retired from being the primary re-generator of his entire species (Chelonoidis hoodensis). In truth, Casanova didn’t actually have a leg to stand on compared to Diego.

Hitching a lift (Photo courtesy of the Galapagos National Park Directorate) 

 

The Galapagos giant tortoise breeding program, originally created on Santa Cruz Island in the 60s as a joint effort between the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Research Station, has been an enormous success. Upon initiating this program, the Española species specifically had only slightly more than a dozen individuals. Thanks to all those involved, especially Diego and his various partners, his particular species now has nearly 2,000 individuals. Diego made his way from the San Diego Zoo in the U.S., to the Research Station on Santa Cruz Island in Galapagos, and now to Española.

Yesterday, park rangers from the Galapagos National Park (GNP) and a lead scientist, moved Diego (and some of his offspring) from the Research Station on Santa Cruz Island back to Española Island.

How did Diego travel home? Well, it’s not like he checked his luggage, grabbed his boarding pass, then waited in the departure lounge for a flight to Española. The rangers and scientist first placed him (and others) in a GNP pick-up truck, for the short drive to the pier. From there they were loaded into dingys (also referred to as Zodiacs), to be brought to the ship that made the traverse to Española.

 

 

Out for a ride (Photo credit - Galapagos National Park Directorate)

 

Once unloaded onto Española Island, they then had to carry them up to the correct vegetation zone and area of the island. (Grown males can weight more than 400lbs/227kg -- luckily Diego is about 175lbs/80kg.) How exactly did they carry them? The GNP kindly shared photos of that brilliance…

 

 

Above Photos - courtesy of the Galapagos National Park 

For most of the CNH Tours group (Heather, Marc, and Kelsey), we all at one point or another had Diego as our neighbour at the Research Station. It was a pleasure to see him often just down our local path, but we are all certainly glad he’s now back home.

 

 Lead scientist and park ranger, after the long trek -  Photo courtesy of the Galapagos National Park 

 

 

Local Authorities Request Declaration of Economic Disaster

Published in the El Telegrafo newspaper of Ecuador on 12 June 2020 (translated by Google Translate and slightly edited by CNH Tours)

 

Delaying and exempting taxes and other tourism incentive measures are proposals to revive the economy, paralyzed due to the pandemic. The local authorities of the Galapagos Islands are working tirelessly to revive their economy, severely affected by the total stoppage of tourist and commercial activities for three months, due to the health emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a manifesto delivered to the authorities of the Governing Council of the Provice of Galapagos, the Provincial Citizen's Board made a series of requests that, as they consider, would help in this purpose. Among the requests are to declare the archipelago as an economic disaster zone for the next two years. With this, they aspire to suspend the collection of loans, credit card debts, operating permits, renewals and other fees for a period of 12 months. The operators also ask for the refinancing of existing debts in the public and private entities of the National Financial System to be facilitated, without charging additional interest and with a one-year grace period.

Henry Cobos, Mayor of San Cristóbal, explained that one of the most urgent needs -at the administrative and financial level- is the payment of the delayed budgetary allocations (4 months), since these resources are vital to pay wages and serve the sectors most vulnerable and affected, such as fishing and tourism. It is precisely tourism, the main source of income for the islanders, the item most affected by the closure of (national and internal) borders. To reactivate it, the councils propose - among other measures - the creation of a digital platform to promote its attractions, with direct payment, without intermediaries. Likewise, operators have been committed to maintaining the values ​​of the services and activities they offer; In addition, the Provincial Board urged the authorities of the Galapagos National Park to enable new places of visit, closer to the populations, to encourage both internal and external tourism.

The mayor of Isabela Island, Bolívar Tupiza, considered that it is also necessary to shield the economy from local governments through ordinances. One of its proposals is that tourists visiting this island must stay overnight on it (ed:  Many tourists just visit Isabela Island on a day trip), to boost commerce and hospitality. He also assured that it is time to think about an airport to receive commercial flights (ed. a commercial airport has not been allowed on Isabela island in part to reduce the risk of introduction of alien species).

Robert Andrade, economist and owner of the Galapagos Sunset Hotel (San Cristóbal), defends the requests made to the Government. He explained that on the islands all activities are closely linked to tourism and that with the fall of this sector, the rest were automatically affected. "If there are no tourists, the hotels do not have clients or must close, so they do not need to buy from the fisherman either, who ultimately runs out of livelihood." He recalled that the crisis in the Insular region did not start in March but in October, with protests at the national level. “In November, fewer tourists came because it must be remembered that many come from China, where the pandemic began. Tourists are very susceptible to the situation in the country where they intend to travel, so it is expected that the situation will not normalize in at least another 18 or 24 months. " He added that the dimensions of the injury cannot yet be calculated. He gave as an example that in his hotel so far he has lost around $ 300,000, but that travelers continue to cancel reservations, so he projects a loss of at least $ 400,000.  

Residents Bet on Local Food Prodcution

Due to the paralysis of tourism in the Galapagos Islands, the inhabitants are looking to agricultural production to support the adverse economic situation they face. Priscila Bastidas, a resident of Santa Cruz Island, explained that due to the total absence of travelers she has lost her source of income, for this reason she chose to start an orchard and with the trade in her crops (grains, fruits, vegetables) she has been able to generate a bit of money. She explained that it has been the local production that has allowed for the maintenance of the food supply during the emergency, since the arrival of aircraft with supplies and supplies occurs periodically and the logistics to carry the merchandise have a significant impact on the final price.

One of the proposals of the Provincial Citizen Board to reduce the cost of products is that the Government Council be the intermediary in charge of logistics; in addition, that a lower price of $ 0.40 per kilo of cargo sent.

Main populated Islands in Galapagos declared free of COVID-19

(Translated and adapted from an article appearing on Ecuavisa.com on 30 May)

The islands Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal, in the Galapagos archipelago, are the first cantons of Ecuador free of COVID-19, according to the vice president of the Republic, Otto Sonnenholzner.

During his visit, Sonnenholzner evaluated the health system and promoted actions for the productive revival of the town. He was at the Oskar Jandl General Hospital in San Cristóbal, where he found that the service is adequately provided to citizens and that the staff has what it takes to continue facing the pandemic. “We have inspected the hospital and we have noted improvements.”

President of Galapagos Governing Council, Norman Wray (left) and national vice-president, Otto Sonnenholzner (2nd from left). 

The vice-president also provided rapid tests, protective equipment, masks, and medications. He stressed that “the health emergency has been adequately managed. San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz are already free of the virus”. Norman Wray, president of the Galapagos Governing Council, for his part, confirmed that "the decisions taken have allowed there to be no community contagion."

Meanwhile, Juan Carlos Zevallos, Minister of Health congratulated the work carried out by doctors and nurses "it is time to think ahead with long-term investment and trained personnel residing in this area, we are going to continue working on this issue."

However, the vice-president explained that "although the impact of the disease is not as great as in other provinces, it does not mean that the emergency is over." In Santa Cruz, they visited the appropriate “El Camote” Isolation Center with 10 beds for outpatients and 6 in ICU. Here, a donation of a biosafety chamber for air and sea transfers was made.

CNH TOURS ADDS:

The community in Galapagos has been torn over the conflicting desires to i) control COVID-19 in this very remote part of the world with poor access to medical services and ii) get back to hosting tourists, the very foundation of the islands' economy.  The success in having controlled COVID-19 is worth celebrating, and will go a long way in reassuring potential tourists that Galapagos is a COVID-19 safe destination.... but what of the tourists themselves?  How can Galapagos residents be sure that the virus will not be re-introduced through infected visitors?  If COVID-19 re-emerges in the islands, all the work done to date may have been wasted.  

It's a tough situation that has no easy answer.  Some are proposing the opening of island airports to international flights (currently only domestic flights serve Galapagos) as a way to avoid exposing incoming visitors to COVID-19 on the continent.   But that does not address the risk of having COVID-19 infected visitors arriving in the islands.    Recent announcements by the national government indicated that any foreign visitor to Ecuador will have to take a specific test for COVID-19 no more than 3 days prior to their arrival in Ecuador, and that the test will need to be negative, for them to be allowed in the country.   Though technically sound (notwithstanding the risk of these people getting COVID-19 after the test and before flying to Ecuador) this may prove to be impossible for most people, given that few have access to such testing facilities with such rapid turn-around in results.   

Clearly, a practical and effective solution to this problem still needs to be found.  For the time bgeing, at the very least, the residents of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal Islands are under less pressure from the disease itself.   

Former guests come together to help the Samba team

JOIN US ON OUR GOFUNDME CAMPAIGN: LEARN MORE HERE

 

COVID-19 has not been good to Galapagos residents. Most of them depend directly or indirectly on tourism for their livelihoods. As of the 17th of March, tourism in Galapagos, like elsewhere, has been non-existent. Though no one knows for sure, and while the tourism businesses and employees cross their collective fingers and hope and prepare for the best case scenario, there is a chance that things will not return to normal for a long time yet.


While the islands have managed to keep the virus under control fairly well with rigorous quarantine and social distancing measures (approximately 100 cases ported, nearly half of which among the crew of the 100 passenger Celebrity Flora), residents face very difficult times ahead. Further compounding their difficulties is the high cost of food in Galapagos. Most of it is imported from the continent. Under these circumstances, people, young and old, will be losing weight in Galapagos in the coming months – that’s how dire things are.


There is an emerging effort to redirect resources to growing food locally, but this is only a partial solution. It will take time and not everyone has access to land. To make matters worse, COVID-19 struck just at the end of the rainy season, too late to seriously consider starting planting anything on a significant enough scale to make a difference for now.

 

Meanwhile, the national government is extremely cash-strapped. Its financial position is among the worst in South America – so much so that civil servant salaries are being slashed, the postal service shut down and embassies closed. Under these circumstances, people cannot rely on government support during hard times.


The Samba operations support 16 families in Galapagos. Those of the 9 crew members, of the 3 principal guides and of the 4 land-based support staff. Those who have embarked on the Samba in the past few years will have met 6 of the crew and a guide (crew members rotate of course, with 6 on board and 3 on leave at any given time). The crew (and guides) all receive nearly perfect reviews from our returning guests (see: Ship’s Crew Receives Near Perfect Score for more information). The 4 land-based support staff, dealing with logistics, administration and purchasing ensure that the operation sails along smoothly. The Samba has been officially recognized by the Galapagos National Park Service for its social responsibility (see this article which illustrates the rationale: NAVEDUCATION: Local Kids go on an Expedition Cruise).


Laura Sebastianelli and her husband Mike Sieracki travelled on the Samba in late 2019. Like just about all Samba guests, they had a trip of a lifetime. They had been very impressed by the dedication and professionalism of the crew and guide. When COVID-19 swept the world, their thoughts turned to the Samba team approached CNH Tours to explore options on how they could help. Together, we created a fund-raising campaign designed to support the 16 Samba team families food costs for up to 1 year.  Mike and Laura made the inaugural contribution of $500.   


That campaign was launched today. We hope to raise $96,000 ($6,000 per family) by June 20th.  We are reaching out to over 1,000 Samba alumni.  If you are a Samba alumnus and are interested in helping out, you can go to the dedicated GoFundMe page here.   Even if you're not, and you're keen on helping Galapagos residents get over this hump - do feel free to join in.  Helping any Galapagos family will help the community as a whole.

On behalf of the Samba team members and their families - thank you so much for your consideration.

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