Galapagos News

Charles Darwin Foundation Fires Executive Director - no reason given yet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are eager to hear more details.

 

 

El Niño signals.....?

I generally refrain from reporting on the latest American NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) reports on El Niño predictions, as these tend to be misconstrued when applied to Galapagos. But..... between what NOAA is saying now ("far above average water temperatures for June, July, August in the Eastern tropical Pacific"), and what I'm hearing from my friends in the islands ("we could feel it!"), and a scientist friend currently doing research in the Cocos Islands - about 1000km NE of Galapagos, in reaction to a rare spawning aggregation of pelagic crabs, seen during the 1997-98 El Niño - see picture below ("A signal of a strong El Niño developing? Water here in Cocos is crazy hot - diving without wetsuits to below 100 ft.... ") for the first time since 1997-98, I would say that it looks like an El Niño of some intensity is manifesting itself about now. May is the month that water temperatures go down, while during an El Niño, they don't. Let's see what happens in the coming months.

A strong El Niño spells great times for terrestrial ecosystems (more and prolonged rains, warm temperatures) but very harsh conditions for marine ecosystems (very warm waters drive away fish, the food source that keeps all marine animals going, from sea birds, penguins, to sea lions etc...).   Visiting Galapagos during an El Niño provides a rare opportunity to witness ecosystems reacting to drastic changes in the usual conditions.   El Niño events over the millenia have certainly driven evolutionary processes there. 

 

Below: latest NOAA predictions.  Galapagos lies on the Equator, just off the South American coast, where the greatest deviation from normal temperatures are expected.  Cocos Island lies to the North East.Nino

 

Marine biologist Alex Hearn marvels at the rare spawning aggregation of this off shore (pelagic) crab in the abnormally hot waters around Cocos Island (Costa Rica) a few days ago and wonders if this is an indication of an El Niño to come. Picture by Ian Kellett.

 

Crabs

 

 

 

We booked 0.4% of all cruise ship visitors in 2014!

The Galapagos National Park figures confirm our unofficial motto:   "We may not be big, but we're small!".  

Yesterday, the  Park published the 2014 tourism numbers.

According to the analysis, a total of 215,691 visitors came to Galapagos during 2014, up 6% compared to 2013. Of these, 70% (149,997) were from abroad. 

By nationality, the proportions are:

  • Ecuadorians 30%
  • American 26%
  • British 6%
  • Germany, Canada and Australia, 4% each
  • Argentina, 3%;
  • All other nationalities (153 in total!): 23%

The park indicated that 35% embark on a cruise with an average 7 day length while 65% did a land based visit, staying an average of 5 days.  The data is obtained from the Transit Control Card, which must be filled out by all visitors to the island. 

Based on these numbers, CNH Tours can proudly boast that we sent 0.4% of all cruise ship visitors to Galapagos!

Not too long ago, the vast majority of visitors to Galapagos embarked on a cruise.  But over the past 15 years, the rising prices of cruises and the growing popularity of Galapagos has led to a boom in land based visitors on island hopping tours.  There has also been a bit of a boom in visitors from mainland Ecuador over to the island for a quick peak, staying for just 2 or 3 nights.  

We are very pleased that the government of Ecuador has resisted opening up the number and sizes of cruise ships, despite the pressure to do so.  Ten years ago, an experiment was permitted, in which a 500 passenger ship was allowed to transit through the islands and visit.  It was an unmitigated disaster.   As a result, the ship based visitor experience is still very good.  

 

Friend and former colleague appointed governor

Eliecer Cruz, former Galapagos National Park director and former head of World Wildlife Fund operations in Galapagos has just been appointed by the president of Ecuador as governor of the province of Galapagos and president of its governing council.

CNH Tours had the chance to get to know Eliecer when we lived in the Galapagos - he was working at the park director in those days.  We knew him as an intelligent, solid and very personable man.   We kept in touch over the years, and are pleased to see that the president of Ecuador has recognized his skills, personal attributes and credibility in the Galapagos community. 

Eliecer is one of, perhaps up to 12 brothers and sisters born at home in the tiny, isolated community on Florana island.  His siblings include Marylin Cruz, a Galapagos veterinary doctor, Felipe, a Galapagos visionary and conservationist, Lenin, a ship captain, Augusto, owner of the Beagle cruise ship, and another, whose name escapes me, who remained in Floreana tend the family farm.

CNH Tours congratulates Eliecer and wishes all the best to him and to his family.

Eliecer Cruz

Eliecer Cruz2

Small cruise ship runs aground

The 16 passenger Tip Top II ran aground in the early morning of Friday, April 24th.  All 16 passengers and crew were safefly evacuated.  A passenger on the ship reported to CNH Tours that one person suffered a broken arm and another a dislocated shoulder.  It ran aground as it was approaching Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, just near Tortuga Bay beach.  The authorities are now hoping to extract the ship from the shallows to avoid any fuel spills. 

Cruise ships in the Galapagos are required to meet strict standards in terms of on-board technology (GPS, depth monitors etc...) rendering any such accident less likely one of navigational error, and more one of human error - though we have not heard anything on the cause of the accident.

I strongly recommend anyone who is booked to go on the Tip Top II in the next 12 months to contact your travel agent to ensure your interests are taken into consideration, as the Tip Top II's owners seek to re-assign booked clients on other ships.

This is the first cruise ship loss in several years.  Generally, the record has been very good in Galapagos - considering that there are at least 60 ships plying its waters just about 365 days a year, day and night,navigating around an archipelago of over 100 islands and islets.   

The Tip Top II is owned and operated by Rolf Wittmer Tours.  The late Rolf Wittmer  (deceased 2011) was the first person to be born on Floreana Island (1 January 1933), in cave that together with a tent served as the family’s first dwelling.   His parents had emigriated from Germany just 4 months earlier - what pioneers!  I had the pleasure of working with Rolf's children while in Galapagos.  Rolf Wittmer Tours also runs the Tip Top III and IV. 

 

Tip Top II On The Rocks

Galapagos celebrates Earth Day

To commemorate Earth Day in Galapagos, the National Park Service distributed seedlings of native plants to households in the inhabited islands.   In so doing, the Park is continuing in its efforts to sensitize the local population on the threat that non-native, invasive species (plants, insects, animals...) present to the islands' unique biodiversity.

The islands arose out of the ocean starting 6-7 million years ago, and were devoid of life.  Only life forms that succeeded in making the 1,000 km journey from the mainland, over millions of years, and survive, were on the islands when the first recorded visit, in 1535, was made.   Since then, humans have been bringing over species from all over the world, on purpose (dogs, goats, pigs, agricultural plants), or by accident (parasitic flies, rats...).  

These introduced, or "alien" species are recognized as the single biggest threat to Galapagos native plants and animals, as many of them outcompete the locals for food, nesting sites, or cause diseases in them (such as canine distemper - brought to the islands via infected dogs).  

The biggest challenge to the authorities is to control the arrival, establishment and spread of alien species.  As a visitor, you will be screened on your way to the islands and upon arrival.  All cargo sent to the islands is also screened.  But no system is perfect - and Galapagos conservationists have to be constantly vigilant in spotting new introductions so that they may be removed before they spread.

When we lived in Galapagos, my husband was setting up the largest ever such alien species eradication project ever attempted on earth - targeting goats on Isabela island, the largest of the Galapagos islands.  It was ultimately successful - with over 150,000 goats "removed".  

Planing A Seedling

Special Law for Galapagos - 2nd reading tomorrow

The president of Ecuador’s National Assembly convened the Plenary Session No. 323 for Thursday April 23, at 09:30, in order carry out the second reading the draft revised Special Law on Galápagos. 

The first special law was passed in March 1998, and set out far-reaching changes in how the islands had been managed until then.  It officially recognized that Galapagos is a unique place for which conservation and sustainable development must be a priority.  Most dramatically, the 1998 Special Law restricted the movement of people, even Ecuadorians, between the mainland and the islands – establishing a status of “resident” and “non-resident” Galapagueños.  This was in response to the rapid immigration of people from the continent to the islands, overwhelming their environmental carrying capacity (imagine the USA preventing mainlanders from moving to Hawaii!). 

A quick skim of the draft text reveals some points worth noting

  • There is no mention of the "Galapagos National Park Service", but rather, the term "decentralized adminitrative unit in charge of protected areas".  This may or may not be significant - we wonder why "Galapagos National Park Service" is not referred to. 
  • Maritime traffic monitoring will be carried out by the ministry of defence - the Park Service has a control room where it track via satellite, the movement of fishing vessels around the marine reserve - it can easily see when such vessels enter the reserve (they are not allowed to do so).  We are not sure if this represents a significant change - but it appears as though the park will need to depend on another agency for information on possible infractions.  This may make it harder for it to be responsive to illegal fishing in the reserve.
  • Whereas the current law fixes the park entrance fee (for non-Ecuadorians) at $100 (since 1998), the new proposed law does not stipulate a fee, but gives the responsibility for doing so to the governing councile (comprised of representative from different government and Galapagos stakeholders).   It proposes that "at least 50%" ofthe park entrance fee should be assigned to the "National environmental authorit through its decentralized administrative unit in charge of protected areas" (the Park Service, we assume).   This is appears to be a modest increase from the current law, which assigns 45% to the park and marine reserve. 
  • The law recommends that a new park fee will likely vary according to the following criteria:
    • How long you expect to stay (there has been talk of a higher cost for very short (e.g. 3 days) visits
    • What kind of tourism (ship, land)
    • Age range and physical disability
    • Ecuadorian vs non-Ecuadorian

CNH Tours will keep track of this draft law and report on any pertinent developments.

 

 

Sierra Negra volcano showing signs of activity

The Institute of Geophysics (IG) of Ecuador confirmed yesterday the increased activity, increased flow fumaroles and sulfur odor in the Sierra Negra volcano, located on Isabela Island in the Galapagos.  The IG indicated that these signals could lead to an increase volcanic activity, located in one of the most active areas of the world. 

The Galapagos, like the Hawaiian Islands, sit atop a “hot spot” over the Earth’s mantle, and are frequently subjected to volcanic activity. 

According to the IG, the deformation in the walls of the mountain is due to magma rising to the surface. 

From early April, there has been a recorded increased in the daily number of earthquakes around the volcano – which hosts the largest caldera in the islands.  Visitors can walk right up to fumaroles, can see bright yellow sulfur deposits, and take in the sulfur odor when on a hike to the volcano’s rim.  The last major eruption here was in 2005.  Eruptions here are like those of other typical shield volcanoes, such as in Hawaii.  They are generally not violent, emitting jets of lava for a few days, which make their way downhill, before things get quiet again. 

I was very fortunate to have witnessed an eruption shortly after my arrival in Galapagos in 1998. With two others, we chartered a small plane which took us right over the flowing lava – a sight I will never forget. 

A spectacular cloudless view of Sierra Negra volcano - a popular visitor site.  Sierra Negra

 

High spring tides... or rising sea levels?

Spring tides are usually a bit higher than the usual - but this time around, they exaggerate.  Many shoreline properties in the main town of Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island (where the Darwin Station is located) were under a few centimetres of water yesterday morning...  

 

High Tide

Galapagos for Families - website launched

I'm happy to announce that my new website www.galapagosforfamilies.com was launched this week. 

A family vacation in Galapagos is truly a trip of a lifetime - it's a brilliant opportunity for the children to do some independent discoveries and for the parents to re-engage their sense of wonder.

The new website goes over the advantages of a family cruise, and discusses health and safety issues, family dedicated cruises and family charters.  

Family With Iguanas

Darwin Station Director Interview on Tourism

Swen Lorenz is the first non-scientist to have been appointed as director of the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and Research Station.   Though it's important to know about science when you're running a research station, the CDF has learned the value added of also appointing someone who knows how to manage an organization.

CNH Tours is proud to know Swen (and several other previous directors) on a first hand basis.  This interview gives a very good glimpse of the challenges and unique nature of the islands.  If you're considering a trip, we highly recommend it.

Click HERE to read the article. 

 Swen

 

 

Huffington Post uses CNH Tours as Galapagos source

A small thing for some, but a big thing for us.  We were pleased to note that Huffington Post, a well-known on-line media platform, cited CNH Tours in its report on the dismissal of the Galapagos National Park director.  We may not be big, but we're small!   

Click HERE for the story.

 

 

Head of provincial tourism is new Park Director

Well, it looks as though the park directorship has once again reverted to being a political appointment post, and not a civil service job for which people have to compete to get, against a clear set of technical requirements and experience, and training.    This risks taking us back to the disastrous revolving door directorship days of 10 years ago.  Let's hope not.

The new director is Alejandra Ordoñez, former director of tourism for the province of Galapagos.  This sends uncertain signals - does it mean the government wants to open these fragile islands to more tourism?  Already, they are under heavy pressure (one that has mostly been resisted, thankfully) for golf courses (in a water poor environment), sky-diving, sports fishing, massive hotel development...   The Galapagos National Park and Marine Reserve are notoriously challenging to manage - about the same size as Greece, 100 islands with industrial fishermen wanting to have access, tour operators wanting 500 passenger ships etc. etc...   

CNH Tours has no reason to doubt that Alejandra is up to the task - we just hope that her appointment does not signal a caving in to pressures that may undermine what these islands are world famous for - their unique biodivesity, their other worldliness feeling, a place where a moderately trained eye can see graphic manifestations of biological evolution still happening today... and finally, a one of a kind place for a trip of a lifetime.

We wish Alejandra all the best - but we continue ask why this sudden change. 

 

Alejandra

Park press release on change of directors

We've translated this (with some help from Google Translate) from the Spanish version emitted by the Park Service this past Saturday, 11 April:

The Minister of Environment, Lorena Tapia, appointed as the new Director of the Galapagos National Park Alejandra Ordoñez, Ecuadorian young professional specializing in public management and sustainability.

The Ministry of Environment welcomed the work of Dr. Arturo Izurieta for his leadership of the institution during the last period in which significant institutional achievements were made.

The new director of the Galapagos National Park, Alejandra Ordoñez, is challenged to strengthen the management of the entity in the islands and deepen the management of conservation and management of these protected areas.

Ordonez is Master in Public Management, Sustainability and Competitiveness of Tourism and has experience of working in the islands on two charges of high importance.  Throughout her career Alejandra Ordonez has been an adviser to the office of Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Tourism.

In Cuenca, was coordinator of Tourism Research Department of the Central University of Cuenca, professor of masters in tourism and sustainable development of the university.

In Galapagos, he served as Provincial Director of the Ministry of Tourism and Director of Public Use of the Galapagos National Park, among others.

Alejandra Ordoñez becomes the second woman to assume the Galapagos National Park, institution managing the protected areas of the archipelago (note from CNH Tours:  the last one, Raquel Molida, was fired for perhaps being too firm on conservation matters and rigid with established rules, in 2008), which has 335 when rangers who work in the 7 directions that compose it are:

  • Ecosystems, Public Use,
  • Environmental Management,
  • Education and Social Participation,
  • Planning,
  • Legal, and
  • Financial Management in Santa Cruz Island

The park manages 2 decentralized technical units  in San Cristobal and Isabela Islands and a technical office in Floreana Island.

Prize winning testimonial

I have to be watchful in not posting too many self-congratulatory "news" items here - this is the second in just a matter of days - something I have avoided doing ever since I started posting items in the news section of my website, 5 years ago.  I promise I will not post any more for at least 6 months...  But I couldn't resist this one.  I JUST received an email from Carol, clearly, a very happy guest who finished our Active Galapagos trip on April 3rd.  But I must warn prospective travelers - never raise your expectations to unattainable levels, as you will risk disappointment. Be ready for a trip of a lifetime - but be prepared for just a great trip.   Carol does a singular job in raising expectations here - so much so, that even I want to get right back out there!

Hey Heather -

THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH for coordinating a trip of a lifetime - we are SOOOOO IMPRESSED with CNH and the SAMBA! and have told EVERYONE that they MUST tour with you guys - hands down the BEST ! there are SOOOO many reasons - please let anyone know they can chat with us about the trip if they are interested in going...

i was so moved, that i threw some words on paper to share with family and friends when i got home - thought i would send to you.

have a wonderful day! :)
_____

having returned from Ecuador only several days ago...i remain in a dream state, stricken with awe by the otherworldly, magical experience of traveling through these amazing and remote islands!

what a transformational journey! so entranced by the beauty and uniqueness of so many wild creatures living in a delicate and mostly peaceful coexistence...yet some realities violently savage in this unusual natural world were taught to us innocent bystanders, gazing with the curiosity of youngsters.

some outstanding memories:
* our first evening swim along a white sandy beach in the soothing salt waters after a hot and hectic day of travel and passports and papers and people moving devices - feeling at last free to explore and connect with the natural world - such contrast - flamingos feeding in the brackish waters - the day's end announced by the peaceful setting sun

* a great blue heron working tirelessly with its piercing bill to consume the smallest of sea turtle babies fighting for its life with no hope of survival - and then disappear down this bird's long, curved, elegant throat

* marine iguanas matching the black lava, crawling over each other in every possible limb entangled pose with no regard for neighborly niceties and sense of personal space while other creatures join the sprawl - smaller lava lizards, bright orange sally lightfoot crabs, flightless cormorants...a party at the edge of the sea

* the intense equatorial sun that plays a vital role in every creature's survival finally setting with bright orange hues reflecting onto the backs of penguins and a myriad of other creatures along a rocky spine of lava breaking the ocean currents with gentle brilliant colored waves

* the raw excitement and pure joy of jumping into pangas full throttle to join magnificent pilot whales and dolphins in their beautiful, elegant and record speed...joyful liquid motion

* enjoying cervezas, rocking gently among new friends on the spacious, clean wooden deck of the incredible Samba under a most brilliant, cloudless night sky

* landing on remote islands with wild, raw and savage volcanic-inspired landscapes uninhabitable to humans yet yielding a phenomenal array of coexisting wildlife - each playing a significant role in maintaining the delicate ecosystem

* playful, swirling, twirling, circling, rolling, bubble-making, whiskered, big eyed sea lions allowing us to share their wonderful underwater world

* mysteriously effortless other-worldly rays - golden, manta, spotted eagle - gliding, soaring, swimming, floating peacefully in perfect formation with no sense of urgency, gently lifting their appendages as if to wave a greeting of acknowledgement

* sunlight illuminating an incredible array of oceanic life - unimaginable colors, brilliant schools of fish, corals, sea stars, octopus, bright yellow sea horse, spiny lobsters, iguanas feeding on algae...so much to take in as an awkward visitor floating above, breathing through our small tubes, mumbling our delighted exclamations with bulging-eyed excitement behind our giant masks

* ancient sea turtles floating effortlessly all around us, safely keeping their distance with acute knowledge of our presence - and when suddenly suspicious, having an incredible ability to move swiftly beyond us with one powerful stroke of their flippers

* so many birds...nesting on ground, in trees, in cliffs...tropic birds, frigates, blue footed boobies, red footed boobies, nazcka boobies, brown noddys, shearwaters, petrels, galapagos hawks, mockingbirds, finches, galapagos doves, owls, warblers, flycatchers, pelicans, herons - all incredible - witnessing their habitats, their acrobatics, their feeding skills - each with adaptations and abilities and significance

* Juan, Jose and the Samba crew joyously sharing the wonders of their galapagos world with professionalism, enthusiasm and a deep knowledge and appreciation...protecting us, watchful, silently witnessing our discoveries without ever patronizing or limiting our experiences - allowing us to fulfill our dreams, our thirst for knowledge and for adventure - helping us understand the delicate balance of this world and human's insignificance and significance among these ancient creatures...

* starting the day in the gentleness of the early morning light, floating among the mangroves, while recognizing that even here, in these protected waters, there are no shields impenetrable to the onslaught of development of the industrial world's conveniences - plastic bags and bits, fishing line, rope, styrofoam - the roots of the mangroves reach out like a many tentacled octopus to capture these unearthly toxins and remind us that our sphere of impact is global - what we carelessly throw away today can end up in a horrid migration that impacts the incredible diversity of life that is constantly threatened on a planet that can only sustain such abuse for a finite amount of time...

this journey has raised my consciousness, rocked me into a more awakened state, reminded me that our childlike sense of wonder should never leave us!

- carol

   

Park director mysteriously asked to step down

The director of the Galapagos National Park Service, Arturo Izurieta, with whom CNH Tours has had several positive exchanges, was informed by the Minister of the Environment that he would be replaced.   We don't know the story behind this, but will try to find out.   Here is his posting on FaceBook, which appeared today (translated from Spanish):

A year and 8 months ago today, I accepted the challenge of contributing to strengthening the management of the Galapagos National Park and Marine Reserve. I did not ask nor have I sought to stay in the position of Director of one of the world's most famous protected areas. Yesterday I was informed of my removal from the job.   I have no doubt that this was a political decision.  Though I respect it, I do not necessarily agree with it.  However, I leave with the satisfaction of having straightened and improved many internal processes at the Park Service, and having improved transparency and relations with the community. I have managed to complete key planning processes, to initiate zoning processes and to strengthen the human resources at the Park Service.  Management has not been, nor ever can be perfect, but work has been carried out with honesty, integrity and fairness.  When I came here, I found an very well trained Park staff, both men and women, in the field, and in the office, who work hard in the 4 inhabited islands and remote places of our beautiful and unique islands.

As an Ecuadorian and a professional, trained both in Ecuador and overseas, I am pleased to have been able to contribute to the conservation, though not for long, of this most unique and fragile part of Ecuador and possibly the world. Thanks to each and everyone who supported and believed in my leadership. I ask you to continue providing everything within your power to make our islands and protected areas remain a world example. Thanks again.

Arturo Izurieta

CNH Tours is a bit concerned over this development - as we have heard no reason why Arturo would be asked to step down after only 20 months in office.  The Park Director job has in the past been a highly political one - and for a period between 2004 and 2007, 14 directors and interim-directors were cycled through the job, as local and national politicans sought to have their "man" in the job (though after this chaotic period, it was a woman who was given the job).   We of course give the government of Ecuador the benefit of the doubt over this decision, but we will certainly be watchful of how the job is filled, and by who.

Below, a picture of Arturo Izurieta earlier this year, handing out certificates of recognition to two very close friends of CNH Tours:  Wacho Tapia (left): long time director of technical operations of the Galapagos National Park Service, and Felipe Cruz (right), born in Galapagos, brilliant strategist, community leader and dedicated conservationist. 

Arturo

 

CNH Tours Guides Receive 100% Scoring

CNH Tours began systematically surveying its returning “Active Galapagos” guests using an on-line survey tool in December 2014.   We are so happy with the results, we are posting them here.  What you see below the picture of one of our guides (Luis, aka Champi) is no more than a “cut and paste” for all the answers we have received to date on the question:  “Comments for / about your naturalist guide”.  Absolutely no editing has taken place.  This question follows a request to rate the guide from 1 (absolute best) to 5 (the guide ruined our trip!).    Believe it or not, the average of all responses received to date is 1.   We cannot be more pleased. 

Luis Rodriguez

Luis knew EVERYTHING about the islands and their wildlife. He was wonderful!

We loved Fausto. Frankly, so much about the trip depends upon the naturalist on board that I don't know if I could recommend any given "boat" from now on as it had become clear to me that 90 percent of trip satisfaction depends on the naturalist.

Absolutely fantastic! Very knowledgable on such a wide range of topics and SO nice.

Juan is an excellent guide, he goes out of his way to make sure we have an exceptional experience. I have used guides in various tours and never seen such enthusiasm and expertise. He didn't stick to a fixed itinerary but would adapt it according to weather and conditions to deliver the maximum satisfaction to us.

Our family felt that Juan was absolutely great and truly helped make the boat trip an unforgettable experience. He is not only very professional and knowledgeable but full of contagious enthusiasm and an adventurous spirit, often going beyond the call of duty, such as having the captain follow a pair of hunting Orcas for several miles.
We will 100 percent recommend Juan to anybody's!

Very knowledgeable. Excellent communication skills. Very passionate.

Can't imagine a better guide than Luis. However, he provided us with SO much detail, that it was impossible to take it all in, and sometimes I wished we weren't standing out in the sun or in the rain while he was speaking. At those times, less info/more comfort would have been preferred.

Juan is the best guide we have had on twelve active adventure trips in the past ten years. His knowledge, specifically his depth of knowledge and clear explainations were exceptional. His ability to get all of us to sit on the ground, rocks, sand or path and experience the wildlife activity happening around us was a new and very rewarding experience. When going snorkeling he positioned us for the currents and locations so that we saw more species and numbers than on all seven snorkeling experiences combined.

Juan was so knowledgeable about the land, history, wildlife and plants. You can tell Juan loves the islands and he wants to preserve it. Juan is so enthusiastic and wants to share his enthusiam with his clients. We were so fortunate to have Juan as our guide.

Juan was an exceptionally fantastic guide. Knowledgeable, enthusiastic, great sense of humor, able to get a group to cooperate.

Juan was absolutely outstanding in every way .... knowledgeable,
enthusiastic, passionate about the wildlife, natural beauty of the
Galapagos, amazing ability to engage and inspire, exudes the joy he feels,
an incredible person and guide and a delight to travel with!

Juan was absolutely outstanding in every way .... knowledgeable,
enthusiastic, passionate about the wildlife, natural beauty of the
Galapagos, amazing ability to engage and inspire, exudes the joy he feels,
an incredible person and guide and a delight to travel with!

Juan was amazing. His knowledge of and respect for the park was infectious and inspiring.

I am convinced that he is the best guide in the islands. Funny, patient, enthusiastic, informed, professional - he is a superhero naturalist. LOVED him and could never do the islands again with any other guide but Juan.

Juan was an amazing guide. His knowledge of the environment was comprehensive.

Luis was so knowledgeable and enthusiastic. He was an absolute pleasure, and kept a very sharp eye on everyone on our excursions.

Thousands march in Ecuador streets

Ecuadoreans marched in the thousands yesterday, in several mainland cities, protesting what they believe is a growing centralization of power in the office of the president (Rafael Correa), reductions in the freedom of the press, and the president's expressed desire to change the constitution (a constitution that he himself promulgated in 2008) which would allow him to be a candidate for the next presidential elections (e.g. removing the two term limit).

Having observed Ecuadorian politics for the past nearly 20 years, CNH Tours was initially very pleased to see the work of the Correa administration when it first came to power in 2006.  Charismatic and intelligent, he seemed to understand the deep rooted challenges in terms of putting the country on the road to development, and sharing the wealth in so doing.   Though he pays strong lip service to the other populist regimes on the continent (Venezuela, Bolivia), generally, he has navigated a balanced path between investment in infrastructure and people, and social policies.  

It seems however that he increasingly believes that the changes he has set in motion require his continued presence at the helm, while the tools he is increasingly resorting to are criticized by some as being close to authoritarian in nature.  Apparently, as the country saw yesterday, an important number of Ecuadoreans believe that they don't need him at the helm indefinitely to continue on the road to prosperity and social justice.  

Visitors to Ecuador and Galapagos need not be concerned about these developments, but they do offer a good opportunity to learn about politics, social justice issues, development and governance in another country.   CNH Tours recommends you read about these things on-line - and you'll be sure to engage in interesting discussions with the Ecuadorians you'll be meeting during your visit there.

Thanks to our old Darwin Station colleague, Michael Bliemsrieder, for the picture below.  Hotel Gangotena is the nice three story building on the right side  - it is considered among the top hotels in all of Latin America.  In the back ground, Pan de Azucar (Sugarloaf) mountain - with the statue of Virgin Mary on top - a popular visitor site.  Quito

A tiny ray of hope for finches on the brink of extinction

(from the Galapagos National Park press release - with help from Google Translate).

For the second consecutive year, endangered mangrove finches are successfully hatched in captivity. 

The mangrove finch project team, led by the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the Galapagos National Park (GNP), in collaboration with San Diego Zoo ( SDZ) and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, began the process of captive breeding of mangrove finches, with the goal of providing one more chance for one of the most, if not THE most endangered bird species in the world to avoid extinction. 

From February 3 to March 3, 2015, 30 mangrove finch eggs were collected in Playa Tortuga Negra, northwest of Isabela Island. Then the eggs were transported 130 km by boat to the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) incubation lab in Puerto Ayora. 
Mangrove Finch Chick
The mangrove finch is the rarest of "Darwin's finches", with an estimated population of only 80 individuals with less than 20 breeding pairs population. Research shows that the introduced parasitic fly, Philornis downsi is a major cause of the high mortality of this species, with no less than 95% of the chicks dying during the first months of the breeding season under natural conditions.  (note from CNH Tours:  This is one graphic manifestation of how the careless introduction of non-native species to Galapagos can affect the wildlife there - after polynesians arrived in Hawaii, followed by others, nearly 50% of its bird species became extinct - something that is desperately trying to be avoided in Galapagos).  

An intensive conservation management effort to increase the number of chicks produced each year began in 2014 for the first time in the Galapagos Islands.  Eggs were collected from the wild and transferred to Puerto Ayora, where the chicks were hatched and cared for.  Fifteen of them were successfully released into the wild in May 2014. Due to the small size of the population of the mangrove finch, without viable technique today to protect wild nests from the parasitic fly, the collection of eggs and captive breeding chicks is a strategy that has given successful results, which should be replicated.

Mangrove Finch

After last year’s successful results, this season the team of scientists and rangers faced unexpected challenges in the field.  Francesca Cunninghame, an official of the CDF and leader of mangrove finch Project, explained that "it was exceptionally dry in Playa Negra Tortuga and mangrove finches reproduced slower than normal, therefore, only 12 pairs were seen to be nesting . We also had two days of gusty winds which made it dangerous to climb the tall trees to reach the nests"

The incubation equipment and captive breeding, led by San Diego Zoo personnel Global (SDZG) with the support of Ecuadorian fellows, put the eggs in incubators, located within the quarantine facilities in the CDRS. This year’s crop of eggs hatched during the last two weeks. The chicks are fed 15 times a day on a diet of scrambled eggs and papaya and introduced wasp larvae.

Nicole LaGreco, leading expert in wild bird breeding at  the SDZ Wild Bird that "with the success of last season, we were excited and anxious to be invited to participate again this year. Although this year has been more challenging than the previous year, we hope that this will be another successful season. "

Note from CNH Tours:  The mangrove finches exist only on the shores of a very restricted part of Isabela Island at Black Turtle Cove - this site is accessible only with a special permit from the Park.  It is not a visitor site.

CNN piece on successful tortoise conservation

Here's a 2 minute CNN piece on a recent success story - the survival of tortoise hatchlings on Pinta Island, for the first time in over a hundred years, now that the introduced rats have been eradicated (thanks to the work of the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Galapagos National Park Service).  The piece interviews our old friend Linda Cayot, the woman behind this work, and the woman who hired my husband for a job in Galapagos.  

Linda was inadvertently responsible for not only the birth of tortoises on Pinta, but of CNH Tours as well!

Click here to see the video. 

 

news