Galapagos News

Great media attention

I helped Diana Wegner book a trip on the Samba earlier this year, along with her friends and family.   She wrote this short article for the Vancouver sun - it appeared on Thursday this past week.  After a careful analysis of the new law  to which Diana refer, passed a few months ago, CNH Tours believes the "easing of protections" is actually not the case.  

Vancouver Sun, 4 September 2015 (click here to see original story on the newspaper's website)

Galapagos: A paradise lost in time

UNESCO World Heritage Site in danger as government eases protections

Prickly pear, the spiky backs of iguanas, lava mosaics, sleek sea snakes, patrolling frigate birds, mating boobies looking like dancing clowns, water cities of sea stars, the Southern Cross with its upside-down Big Dipper, a showy Milky Way, the red glow of a volcano. The magic of the Galapagos.

And I had seven days of it, aboard a 78-foot motor-yacht called the Samba, which sailed us through the “southern” Galapagos, visiting 10 islands.

We were seven couples and our guide Nicolas, each with our own tiny cabin below deck, with a crew of six who slept in a cabin in the bow of the boat. They fed us well, helped us in and out of wetsuits and kayaks, and snorkelled with us through schools of myriad fish species, manta rays, and sea turtles gliding like birds. They invited us to join in the play of sea lions, led us into the quiet world of sharks, and sent us off over a metropolis of starfish of every colour and design thick on the ocean floor. We floated through grottos and tunnels filled with both light and darkness.

We woke at five each morning to be ready for Nicolas’ muster bell that meant we should be dinghy-ready. We sat in the wood-panelled dining room drinking coffee and waiting for the signal, having been prepped the night before for either a wet or dry landing. At six we lowered ourselves into dinghies and set out for a walk on one of the beaches that permitted a landing, each island featuring its own unique Galapagos ecology.

Eerie walks over painterly patterns of lava-flow from a century ago, through colonies of albatrosses, blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, pelicans, flamingos, lava lizards, iguanas, Galapagos sea lions — and the ever-present Galapagos mockingbird.

We were back on the Samba for breakfast at eight, then into a dinghy at 9:30 a.m. for a snorkelling experience. We splashed into the water with Go-Pro cameras at hand, Nicolas leading the way with his camera attached to a selfie stick. For over an hour we swam, silently mesmerized by the exotic life under the sea, returning reluctantly to the world above for lunch, quiet and spellbound.

By two in the afternoon we were in our kayaks for a shoreline tour of sea lions, boobies, marine iguanas, and maybe a glimpse of the endangered Galapagos penguin.

On board by five, we could opt to rest aboard ship or, as most of us chose, a sunset hike up a beach or over the hump of a small island.

Dinner at 6:30 p.m. was spent recounting the day’s wonders, then drifting out onto the deck under darkening skies.

Overnight the captain would steer us to another island or reef.

We weren’t alone. Other boats were also anchored here, some much larger than the Samba. Huge tour ships hung back just outside tiny harbours, spawning dinghy after dinghy of tourists off to a reef or an island.

A National Geographic tour boat twice anchored beside the Samba, its occupants laden with cameras and diving equipment.

The harbour at Puerto Ayora was swarming with visitors who, like us, loaded up on wine and beer at the general store before embarking. So it shouldn’t have surprised us to see so many of them out in the pristine, protected wilderness of the Galapagos — though, once out there, it did.

It made us acutely aware how embedded the fragile Galapagos archipelago is in a busy tourist industry.

Nicolas, who was born and raised on San Cristobal, the most populous island, structured the tour and provided detailed accounts of how each island developed its own ecology and species of life over successive volcanic eruptions. He answered our endless questions, but also shared his anxieties about the rapid pace of tourism and the new disturbing legislation passed in June that could cancel some of the protections of the Galapagos and its diverse, unique species of life.

The legislation eases regulations and leaves it up to local authorities whether or not to apply said regulations, which could lead to the construction of new highrise hotels, the creation of berths for cruise ships, granting oil tankers passage through the islands, fostering undersea oil exploration, and building new airports.

As an oil-rich country, Ecuador has thrived in recent decades. As the price of oil has plummeted, the government is casting about for alternatives to buoy the economy. Now it has set its eyes on the Galapagos.

The islands are on the UNESCO World Heritage in Danger list. Visitors have left more than footprints — there are about 900 introduced plant species in the Galapagos. Oil barons and developers are lurking in the wings, and the river of tourism is turning into a deluge. In 1980 there was 17,445 visitors to the Galapagos; in 2014 there were 214,691.

We pondered these developments just as we thrilled to our experience of the islands. Then, after seven nights on the Samba, we were spirited away, back to the ferry and the Island of Baltra, where the airport resides.

Still wanting to linger under the spell of the Galapagos, we spent a few days in the capital city of Quito. Our Quito visit gave us a chance to decompress from the heady otherworldliness of the Galapagos. Yet every now and then we would sway on our feet, still partly in thrall to the rocking Samba, and, for a moment, we would wait to hear the muster bell.

An app for identifying Galapagos birds

From the Charles Darwin Foundation Facebook page this week:

Have you downloaded the new free app for Galapagos? Did you know you can use it without an internet connection? "BirdsEye Galápagos" has been developed for Apple and Android. This app aids in the monitoring, identification and study of birds in the Galapagos Islands. "BirdsEye Galápagos" gives users interesting facts about the unique avifauna of the archipelago and its conservation efforts. "BirdsEye Galápagos" was developed by Birds in the Hand, LLC along with the CDF and the Galapagos National Park with the support of Galapagos Conservancy. 
Read more: http://bit.ly/1K9y2dk

Mainland Cotopaxi volcano erupts - in a minor sort of way

Snow covered Cotopaxi, one of the tallest volcanoes on earth (5,897 m, or 19,347 ft) and the 2nd highest mountain in Ecuador, blew off some steam and ashes this morning, reporst the Ecuadorian Geophysical Institute.   A fine layer of ash fell over surrounding communities - the pictures at the bottom of this ost showing ash on plants and a car were taken early on Thursday AM, 14th August (thanks to Lenin Vilatuña Moya for these).

CNH Tours reported on Cotopaxi's rumblings last month.  It last erupted in the 1940's and has not had a major eruption since 1905.  There are no reasons to believe, at this time, that the eruption will be a source of inconvenience to travellers on their way to Galapagos.   Any trips around Cotopaxi might be affected of course.

UPDATE:  The volcanic ash is causing some inconveniences to airport traffic in Quito.  The airport is not closed, but flights may be delayed.   See picture below for a wonderful view of Cotopaxi today (photo credit:  Roberto Lema Cruz).

Cotopaxi Ash

 AshesAshes 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaping lizards? Mainland iguana in Galapagos

Though it was likely some of the ancestors of this green iguana that ended up stranded on a floating mat of vegetation after some floods, many thousands, perhaps over a million years ago, to make it all the way to Galapagos, but chances are this particulary critter came over the easy way, either on a ship, or by plane.   

It's good that the authorities and the Galapagos people are keyed in enough now to i) recognize non-native species and to ii) do something about it.   The discovery of this lovely green iguana is an indicator of a heightened awareness of the dangers these non-native species present to the ecosystems that Galapagos is so famous for.   

The increasing number of ships / planes / people moving  back and forth between the continent and the archipelago, and between the islands of the archipelago, are removing the "ecological isolation" of the islands.  It is this ecological isolation that was responsible for the development of new species through natural selection over tens and hundreds of thousands of years.   Boats and planes can turn a remote archipelago into amost a piece of the mainland - allowing all kinds of new species to appear on the islands, upsetting the evolutionary processes in place.  

The authorities, with plenty of help from the Charles Darwin Foundation, have been working hard at dealing with this iusse. Visitors to the islands are screened for plants and animals that could harm native ecosystems. So remember, when you are boarding your flight to the islands, leave the green iguana behind. 

Green Iguana

 

 

Samba and its guide get wonderful reviews

We're proud and happy - this just posted on TripAdvisor bulletin board for the Galapagos Islands (click here to see it for yourself):

6. Re: TipTop III vs Samba

Samba, Samba, Samba with Juan Manuel Salcedo as your guide. He made our second trip to these islands spectacular and magical. This is where he grew up and he shares his passion for wildlife, conservation, and the ocean. Every island is special and the snorkeling with Juan was out of this world. You won't go wrong with any itinerary in the islands, but you will not know what your trip could have been unless you visit again and experience the difference. I already said this was our second trip here. We were happy with our initial visit and all aspects of it. But, in comparison and looking back....it would maybe be a 5 to the Samba's 10. There is no way, I would consider any other boat or guide in the islands unless Juan is on it. It's that simple, he's the best guide we've had anywhere.
CNH Tours discovered the Samba in 2004 and has been using it ever since for its ACTIVE GALAPAGOS charters, going from 4 charters a year to 16 charters a year - which all sell out.   Word of mouth from previous guests (such as the one who made the comment above), great reviews on the internet is all it takes to fill the Samba on its ACTIVE GALAPAGOS depatures.  Juan Manuel Salcedo (whose family owns the Samba) keeps on pushing us to charter more and more weeks on the Samba - he tells us our "ACTIVE" guests are the most fun of all.  My son, Emile, got back last week from a 14 day cruise aboard the Samba with Juan Manuel - ostensibly as a deckhand!
In the same TripAdvisor thread, another former guest voted (back in 2014) for the ACTIVE GALAPAGOS trip on the Samba:
4. Re: TipTop III vs Samba
We just returned from 8 days on the Samba and had a wonderful experience. We booked through CNH Tours and they reserve the Samba 12-14 weeks per year.

About our Samba experience...The cabins are small, but very comfortable, and we were only in them to change and sleep. The crew was helpful, friendly and welcoming. We went to all of the islands you mentioned, hiking and snorkeling at least once a day, sometimes twice. The food was excellent. We even had fresh caught lobster one night. The chef buys all of the food locally and fishermen bring their fresh catch to the boat while on the tour. 

We saw the Tip Top III on a couple of occasions. It seems like the Samba, at least through CNH, is more active, out earlier and more often. The Samba is an older boat. 

You can't go wrong with the Samba.

Historic sentence imposed on shark fishermen

Translated from “El Universo”, and Ecuadorian newspaper (story from 29 July 2015)

“The captain and 12 crewmen of the vessel Fer Mary I will go to prison for illegal fishing within the Galapagos Marine Reserve, the Galapagos National Park (GNP) announced on Wednesday.

The fishing boat Fer Mary I was captured on July 19, 2011, while conducting fishing operations 20 miles inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve.  Park personnel found 286 thresher sharks, 22 blue sharks, 40 Galapagos sharks and 6 hammerhead sharks in their holds, among other protected species.

The captain was sentenced to two years in prison and each of the crew for one year.  In addition, the ship and attendant skiffs were seized and will later be auctioned.

According to the GNP, this is an historical decision, as it is the in which all violators have been sentenced.” 

CNH Tours friend, Hugo Echeverria, a Galapagos based environmental law expert – states “the decision is the culmination of 4 years of hard work, with support from many people in Galapagos”.

CNH Tours is extremely pleased at the outcome of this effort.   So much money is spent in protecting the marine reserve – outfitting and managing ships is a very costly affair – and previous decisions had been weak, and not very effective as disincentives to illegal fishing.  This decision will raise the stakes in the risky game carried out by unscrupulous captains of fishing vessels, and their crews.  Bravo!

 

Fer Mary

 

Mainland volcano spewing clouds of gas

Cotopaxi volcano, the tallest of the many volcanos running up and down the Andean mountains of Ecuador, has been emitting large clouds of gas over the past several days.  Located only 80 km (50 miles) south of Quito, it is the second highest summit in the country, reaching a height of 5,897 m (19,347 ft) and considered one of the highest volcanoes in the world.   On a clear day, it is easily visible from many downtown Quito vantage points.   Seismologists consider the activity level as “low to moderate”. 

This active volcano has erupted many times in recorded history, with an average of 1 eruption every 20 years, though the last major eruption was over 110 years ago.   CNH Tours has found no report on previous eruptions significantly affecting Quito – so it would appear that risks to eventual trip to Galapagos, transiting via Quito, are quite low.  

Cotopaxi National Park is a popular day trip from Quito – with many visitors hiking in the high altitude plains and foothills.   It is likely that any such trips in the near future may be cancelled. 

Cotopaxi Volcano

Cotopaxi

Protests in Ecuador last night

(from Euronews)

Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets across Ecuador. This is the third week of protests; people are angry about new tax legislation tabled by the government of President Rafael Correa.

Bills have been introduced to raise taxes on inheritance and capital gains. This has hit hard in Ecuador, where 95 percent of businesses are family-owned.

The reform is currently being debated in Ecuador’s National Assembly.

In Guayaquil, the city’s mayor told the crowd that Ecuador is going through a difficult time, both politically and ideologically. Describing the situation as a “class war”, Jaime Nebot accused the government of dividing the country, following the same path as the government of Venezuela.

After eight years in power, Rafael Correa says the protests are aimed at destabilising his government. With an economy based on high oil prices, the Ecuadorian government has had to introduce a series of measures to counter a 50% decline in revenue.

The president says the new laws will create greater equality.

(from CNH Tours)

The protests in Quito caused delays to those wishing to move around the city, as reported by our travel agent friend there.   The protests have been facilitated by a growing opposition to the president's desire for a constitutional changed which would allow him to sit for a third term.  

We have heard of no significant impact on visitors to Ecuador. 

For more interesting background on Ecuador, its economy, dollarization, and where things are thought to be headed, see this:  http://news.investors.com/ibd-editorials/062415-758828-ecuador-weakens-us-dollar-as-its-official-currency.htm 

 

Meeting with UK Galapagos Conservation Trust CEO

CNH Tours has been on the road recently, passing through London earlier this month.  We took advantage of our visit to invite Ian Dunn, CEO of the Galapagos Conservation Trust (GCT), for lunch at a Spanish tapas restaurant on Great Portland Street.  It was a sunny day, and Ian joined us with his colleague, Leah Jones for a light meal and a great conversation.

The GCT has been around for many years, certainly well before we first arrived in Galapagos, back in 1998.   It helps raise funds for conservation work in the islands, focusing on science, education and culture.    The GCT is quite a dynamic organization, also organizing events in the UK and fund-raising cruises in the islands.  

Our lunch meeting was very interesting - and we are following-up with some mutual cooperation on improvements to information sharing with each other, and with CNH Tours guests.  

GCT runs a monthly newsletter - no better way than to keep informed about what's going on in the islands.  For more information, see:  http://galapagosconservation.org.uk/get-involved/newsletter/ 

Petition against hotel development in park lands

Galapagos residents have been growing increasingly alarmed by plans for luxury hotels and golf courses in the islands - expressing concern over the transformation of Galapagos into another Hawaii.   CNH Tours notes that 50% of all Hawaiian bird species became extinct since the first arrival of humans about 1,500 years ago, and agrees that the same fate awaits Galapagos species unless strict measures are applied.

Click here to see the petition requesting that the site be placed on the UNESCO World Heritage in Danger list - this would raise the profile of the issue with national and international governments.

 

 

Social rumblings in the islands

Over the past 2 years, the government of Ecuador has been reviewing the Special Law for Galapagos (SLG) - a law originally passed in 1998, which gives the islands and its residents special status, and providing a legal framework that overrides the national constitution, in an effort to better control development there.   It has been considered a major achievement even at the international level.

The revised law, passed earlier this week, loosens some of these controls, making large investments in high end hotels easier, as well as making easier the changing of the boundaries of the National Park.    Moreover, the "remote" status of the islands, which translated into a type of salary bonus for public employees there, is being revised in such a way as to reduce the isolation bonus they have been enjoying for nearly 20 years now.  

As a result of these and other changes, people in Galapagos have been demonstrating against the Quito government in recent days.  Sure, a good number are simply concerned over the risk to their pay scales - but others are concerned about the erosion of environmental protection guarantees.  

The government, in response, has sent in more police to the islands, protecting gas stations and the like.   There have been some public demonstrations and some stand-offs with police forces - but no violence has been reported.  

CNH Tours is of course very concerned that increased development in the islands (largely driven by land based tourism - as ship based tourism has been remarkably capped for 15-20 years) will contribute to the erosion of the values for which they are internationally recognized.  

For those of you visiting the islands in the coming days (perhaps weeks), if you are taking "just the cruise" with no land component, you will likely not even notice any of this.   For those of you planning on spending time in town (particularly in San Cristobal), you may get to witness interesting moments.   While you may want to stay out of the thick of things, these are interesting moments when society seeks to get a message across to a government based in a far away capital. 

 

History is made - shark fishermen found guilty!

This may sound banal to some, but in Galapagos, it is a landmark legal decision announced by the Galapagos National Park Service yesterday.   For the first in history, despite the existence of a legal framework allowing it, the captain and the crew of the fishing vessel Fer Mary I were found criminally guilty of conducting illegal fishing of protected species inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve – a World Heritage site. 

It took 4 years of intense criminal proceedings by the Galapagos National Park, the Ministry of Environment to reach this judgment.   The 10 hour trial resulted in convictions against the defendants, creating very important judicial precedents under criminal law. 

The fishing boat Fer Mary I was captured on July 19, 2011, while conducting fishing operations 20 miles inside the Galapagos Marine Reserve.  When captured, their holds contained more than 357 sharks, more specifically: 286 thresher sharks, 22 blue sharks,  40 Galapagos sharks, 6 hammerhead sharks, 2 tiger sharks and 1 mako shark.

CNH Tours is extremely pleased at this outcome.  For too long, the judicial system would dismiss such cases, mostly out of a lack of importance attached to environmental crimes.    This really does mark a change in the way Ecuador handles such crimes, and we expect illegal fisherman will take note.    It is a good day for shark in Galapagos waters.

Sharks are illegally fished all over the world to feed the large shark Asian (mostly Chinese) shark fin market.  Shark fins are used to make “shark fin soup”.   What a tragedy that these magnificent animals are being annihilated so that we may have some soup. 

 

Fer Mary

My husband joins the CNH Tours team!

I’m very pleased to announce that as of today, my dear husband, Marc Patry, will be joining me at CNH Tours.   After over 12 years working with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and seeing how I’m getting too busy to cope with all the work,  he decided to make the switch.  

 

Marc was actually the one who started CNH Tours, having organized trips to the Yucatan, Patagonia and to the Monarch Butterfly reserves of Mexico while working for an international community forestry NGO.   When we moved to the Galapagos, he decided to strike out on his own, and as a side activity, he organized a first cruise there for friends, and another for those who had joined him on earlier trips.  His main job was with the Charles Darwin Research Station, where he helped develop and start up the largest ever conservation project in the islands - the eradication of goats from Isabela Island. He worked closely with the Galapagos National Park Service as well.   Marc was also involved in managing several other conservation projects, and helped with the management of the Research Station.

 

We left Galapagos for Paris (UNESCO headquarters) where Marc was given the responsibility for natural World Heritage sites in Latin America and the Caribbean - which included the Galapagos Islands.  At that point, he had to hand over CNH Tours to me.  For over 10 years, Marc closely monitored the conservation status of the islands, and engaged with senior government officials, conservation organizations, the tourism industry, local politicians and other stakeholders in so doing. He has had several meetings with various ministers of the environment, and he once even had a private meeting with the president of Ecuador to discuss World Heritage issues.

 

Marc’s position allowed him to travel to Galapagos on several occasions and to be taken around the islands as the United Nations representative for monitoring the islands’ state of conservation.  He was also responsible for reporting in person to the intergovernmental World Heritage Committee on what he saw.

This has given Marc a unique perspective and access to a wide variety of sources regarding the on-going efforts at addressing conservation challenges.  He has frequently been asked to speak to the media, from The Economist, to Al Jazeera, on matters relating to Galapagos. 

Update:  As of 2019, Marc sits on the following boards of directors:

  • The International Galapagos Tour Operators' Association
  • The Travel Industry Council of Ontario
  • The Charles Darwin Foundation (as a governing member of the General Assembly)


With Marc at my side, I’ll be able to breathe a bit easier, and we hope to provide even better service than we have so far. 

Spectacular eruption on Wolf Volcano

We've just received news of a volcanic eruption at Wolf Volcano, the northernmost volcano on Isabela Island (the largest island).

Wolf is also the highest peak in the Galapagos archipelago, at 1,707 meters (5,600 feet).   A rare pink land iguana lives there - surely they will be affected, as will the Wolf Volcano tortoises.  But that's part of the equation in Galapagos - these islands were born of fire and continue to grow by fire. 

Isabela Island and its neighbour to the west, Fernandina island, remain volcanically active, and such eruptions happen every 5-6 years.  They generally are quite impressive for the first few days, then taper off quickly, and ending 7-10 days later.   For those happening to be on a ship nearby, it is a spectacle you'll remember for the rest of your life. 

The picture below (by naturalist guide Diego Paredes) was just posted on Facebook - it could be just a few hours old - the time remains to be confirmed. 

Wolf Volcano Eruption

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

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