CNH Tours - Cultural and Natural Heritage Tours Galapagos
Tuesday June 14, 2016
(Paris) UNESCO's World Heritage Centre published its "State of Conservation" report on Galapagos yesterday, in advance of the July meeting of the intergovernmental World Heritage Committee meeting.
This report represents the global community's word on the current conservation concerns in Galapagos, as expressed via formal United Nations channels. The report is based on information gathered directly through site visits, provided by various observers and NGOs, and also obtained from the government of Ecuador's self-assessment, sent to UNESCO back in February this year. The report also includes specific recommendations for action directed to the Government of Ecuador, to ensure that this World Heritage site maintains the values for which it was originally allowed onto the World Heritage List, back in 1978.
The report raises concerns over the following points:
1) Alien species: "alien invasive species remain a threat to the property and biosecurity management and control continue to require consolidation"
2) Rapid tourism growth: "Annual visitor numbers have been exceeding 200,000 since 2013, compared to around only 40,000 in the early 1990s, and the State Party reports 215,691 visitors in 2014 and 113,613 visitors in only the first semester of 2015. Such rapid growth in a fragile island setting raises concerns that are further exacerbated by the limited enforcement of the existing regulatory framework... A clear tourism strategy ... to discourage rapid and uncontrolled growth... is still lacking".
CNH Tours notes that the increase in tourism numbers is almost exclusively linked to land based tourism model, as the ship based tourism remains relatively capped. In its report on 2015 tourism numbers, the government noted a 3% drop in ship based tourism, compared to an 8% increase in land based tourism. To see the full report (in Spanish), click here. In the 1990's, the vast majority of visitors to Galapagos embarked on a cruise. According to the report, only 32% of visitors took a cruise in 2015. This trend is driven in large part by the increasing popular appeal of a Galapagos vacation on the part of lower end travellers, combined with the increasing prices of a cruise based visit, making that kind of visit out of reach for many.
3) Confusing / inefficient institutional context: "The complex institutional landscape and limited funding continue to compromise effective and coordinated efforts to address both biosecurity and tourism".
The report goes on to note: "Six years after the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger, ...several ... challenges still remain unresolved, including the development of a clear tourism strategy".
I used to work for the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and can attest to the critical importance attributed to a very rigorous biosecurity capacity for the islands. This means i) keeping alien species out in the first place; ii) being able to detect their arrival rapidly as a 2nd component and iii) having the capacity to eradicate or control existing alien species.
The only real threat is that which comes from the arrival of new species, which can lead to the extinction of unique Galapagos species. Just last week, we reported on the extinction of one of the Galapagos Vermilion flycatcher sub-species. As I write, the Darwin Finches are in their fight for survival faced with the devastating onslaught brought about by the Philornis downsii fly, which lays eggs in the finches' nests, and whose larvae can kill the finch chicks before they fledge. It is not a coincidence that, after surviving in the islands for hundreds of thousands, even millions of years, the Darwin Finch might become extinct little more than 200 years or so following the first human settlements there. Which species is next?
The arrival of new species is inextricably linked to the presence of humans. The challenge is to break that link. One way to do so is to minimize the movement of people and goods between the islands and the continent, and between the islands themselves. The rapid growth of tourism is working against that effort. Hence, UNESCO's call for a clear tourism strategy. This strategy should focus on a high value low numbers tourism model that contributes most to the economic needs of the local population while reducing the dependency on mass tourism model that exacerbates efforts at controlling the arrival and dispersal of invasive species.
The full UNESCO report can be consulted here
Ground nesting Galapagos Petrels, found only in Galapagos, lose chicks to alien ant species.
Friday June 10, 2016
CNH Tours gave a presentation last night to interested neighbours, along with future and past visitors to the Galapagos islands. The presentation focused on setting the geological and biological context of the islands, followed by a review of conservation challenges, and a discussion on the latest conservation action priorities as recommended by the UNESCO intergovernmental World Heritage Committee. The embassy of Ecuador was represented by its attaché for tourism and communications. It was fun, and we were given the impression that the participants very much enjoyed themselves.
Friday June 10, 2016
The first bird extinction in Galapagos
(thank you to the UK based Durell Wildlife Conservation Trust who published this story yesterday. CNH Tours adds that there have certainly been earlier extinctions, but this would be the first recorded one since the arrival of humans in the islands).
The vermilion flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus) is a widespread songbird found in North and South America and in the Galápagos Islands. This beautiful and distinctive bird has traditionally had several recognized subspecies including two in the Galápagos. A recent study, however, has now confirmed that these two Galápagos forms should be elevated to two full, distinct, species P. nanus (throughout Galápagos) and P. dubius (only on the island of San Cristóbal). The excitement of the presence of two ‘new’ species in the islands is reduced by the fact that it appears that the San Cristóbal flycatcher has become extinct. This would represent the first documented extinction of a Galápagos-endemic bird species.
The vermilion flycatcher has been declining before our eyes throughout most of the Galápagos islands in recent years. Birgit Fessl (a former Durrell field programme member) reports it has disappeared from San Cristóbal and from Floreana while in Santa Cruz its status is critical with a population estimated at only 50-60 individuals. In Santiago few were found recently and in Isabela numbers are not clear with healthy populations in some places but none in others. In 2012, Durrell and Galápagos Conservation Trust chose the vermilion flycatcher as the focus of a joint Christmas appeal to raise funds for landbird conservation in the islands.
So, why is the vermillion flycatcher in such obvious peril? It is not yet clear but many landbirds are badly impacted by two invasive threats; black and brown rats and the parasitic fly Philornis downsi. Rats climb into the nests and eat the eggs and if any chicks do hatch the parasitic flies kill the growing chicks.
Durrell has worked in partnership with the Galápagos National Park Service and Charles Darwin Foundation since 2006 to save what were thought to be the rarest birds in the islands, the mangrove finch and Floreana mockingbird. Both these birds have been pushed to the verge of extinction by invasive rats and flies. Sadly other songbirds have declined too including the flycatcher. The new study has shown that, with the loss of a species that hadn’t even been fully identified, this is a fight we need to win soon or the biodiversity of these magnificent islands will be lost for ever.
Thursday June 9, 2016
The Charles Darwin Foundation announced today that its exhibition hall / interpretation centre has re-opened. It had been closed for many months, disappointing many visitors keen on knowing more about one of the most iconic research stations of the world.
We worked at the Station for 4 years a while back - it is populated by (mostly) young staff, many Ecuadorian scientists and budding scientists, with a handful of international colleagues as well. It has always been a bit of a challenge to keep the Station running - as overhead costs for such a place, located on a remote rocky, tropical archipelago can be very high. But so far, the succession of station managers, with the support of their evolving boards, have managed. The Station does not come across as a glimmering / shiny modern establishment - but rather a robust and functional institution. Its rag tag collection of buildings, built over the years, illustrate a change in accessibility of building materials, or in the fortunes of the Darwin Foundation (which operates the station) at a particular time.
Here is the text of the announcement:
CDF is very excited to officially open the doors of the brand new 'Charles Darwin' Exhibition Hall at our Research Station in Puerto Ayora. The inauguration took part of the recently renovated space, which makes it possible for us to tell the story behind our conservation projects of the unique ecosystems in the Galapagos Islands, as well as making the visitors experience to our grounds unforgettable.
Opening hours: 8:00am to 12:30pm and 2:30pm to 5:30pm (Monday to Sunday)
We have a great exhibit and a sample of the collections we take care off at the Research Station. You can visit the new look out, rest in the shade in the new exterior terrace, visit the statue of Darwin, learn about our projects and enjoy the peace of our grounds were our staff is always busy at work.
Monday May 23, 2016
On Friday last week, the Government of Ecuador named 30 year old naturalist guide Africa Berdonces as the new Park director, replacing the current interim director who himself replaced a director who had been in place for barely a year. That's 4 directors in about 18 months. Back in the early to mid-2000's, the park went through over a dozen directors and interim directors over a 3-4 year period. The post is a politically sensitive one, as the director reports to the Minister of the Environment - a political appointee. It's a difficult situation, when conservation priorities may not always fall in line neatly with political ones. Back in 2008, then director Raquel Molina was fired in 2008 over such conflicts.
Africa, the second woman Galapagos director is taking on a challenging job. Not only will she need to oversee the management of a large government agency, having to deal with a large staff and all kinds of infrastructure and equipment, but she'll be constantly under the watchful eyes of international conservation organizations forever monitoring events in the islands. She will also need to deal with the increasing local population, most of which has little direct interest in conservation matters, yet who feel that the National Park may be limiting economic development opportunities.
The New York Times published an article on Berdonce today - in it, they mention her father, a scuba dive shop owner an acquaintance of ours when we were living in the islands. They also interview Susanna Schiess, mother-in-law of CNH Tours main partner in the islands, and top guide, Samba co-owner and principal guide, Juan Salcedo. Susanna owns the Garrapata restaurant, one of the main town's landmarks, and often the site of our CNH Tours Active Galapagos "farewell dinner". For the full article, click here.
CNH Tours is pleased that the new director is someone with an intimate knowledge of the islands, having been raised there and having spent years navigating the archipelago. Recent appointments of career government technocrats did not inspire confidence. Ms. Berdonce is young - and running a complicated organization such as the Galapagos National Park Service will certainly present her with challenges she's not confronted before - but we do wish her all the best.
Picture credit: Thomas Rodriguez, University of Miami
Wednesday May 18, 2016
The Northwestern coastal area of Ecuador yet again felt the earth tremble early this morning with a 6.7 magnitude tremor at 2:57 A.M. local time that the US Geological Service categorized as probably being a strong aftershock from the massive earthquake that occurred one month ago. The tremor, which registered at 32 km deep, could be felt in Quito but not in Cuenca or Galapagos. There is no tsunami warning in effect.
There are no reports of any effects in Quito, Guayaquil or the Galapagos. All tourism operations continue normally there.
CNH Tours has donated $1000 to the earthquake relief fund established by the Ecuadorian embassy in Ottawa, and is currently organizing a non profit fundraising cruise (see our Active Galapagos "Origin" trip, in late August 2016) where the ship owner (Samba) and CNH Tours will be handing over all proceeds to earthquake relief.
Wednesday May 18, 2016
Finally, after three years, the new Quito airport is becoming better served by nearby hotels. The new Tababela airport is a wonderful improvement on the old airport in almost all respects, except for a significant increase in the distance from downtown Quito. While a taxi from the old airport to town could take little more than 15 minutes on a decent day, it takes 45 minutes from the new airport. And if there's traffic - let's not talk about it. Thankfully, most flights to Galapagos, and to and from North America and Europe arrive and depart outside the rush hour.
Still, for those passing through Quito and just wanting to spend one night (e.g. flying from Galapagos to catch a flight the next day), until recently, the selection of hotels nearby was very poor - more like backpacker specials. It was only a matter of time before the big guns established themselves. In a an interview with Gabriela Sommerfeld, of the Quito tourism office, given to Travel Pulse, an on-line travel news website, she states:
"The new airport has been an anchor for the development of the “Tababela” area, where it is located, managing to attract hotel investments around the project, such as the Wyndham "Great Condor" Hotel that just opened last month, the Holiday Inn Quito Airport Hotel with 130 rooms, Hilton San Patricio Hotel with 130 rooms, the Eurobuilding Hotel with 130 rooms and the Royal Green Apartments and Hotel."
For those wanting something a bit more small scale with plenty of local flavour, there are some interesting options also - such as the Rincon de Puembo, or the Hacienda Jimenita.
To spend more time in the city, a hotel by the airport may not be the best option - but for those just flying "in and out", this is a wonderful new development.
Hotel Wyndham Quito Airport (note from author: Somehow, I don't think the beautiful view of undisturbed pasture and hills will last for very long)
Rincon de Puembo
Wednesday May 11, 2016
This review of the Samba by a seasoned wildlife adventure traveller, posted on TripAdvisor last September, slipped by us originally, but we spotted it recently. We thought it was well written and realistic. So much so that we copy/paste it here below. It can be seen in the context of the full TripAdvisor discussion by clicking here.
The "Tourist Superior" class rating of the Samba is accurate. A well-maintained ship, excellent crew, very knowledgeable guide, well-prepared food, extremely clean and good quality accomodations, but not a super-spacious boat. You spend almost no time in the cabins, so a clean and comfortable bed is really what you need, and Samba provides that amenity. Our guide, Nic, was spectacular. He was very knowledgeable and spoke excellent English. We were very happy with Nic, even though he is not the everyday Samba guide (the regular guide is part-owner, and has a good reputation too, but had the week off when we traveled). The trip has a heavy dose of both snorkeling and easy hikes, and some kayaking. If you do not like snorkling, you should pick a different boat, as half of the excursions are snorkeling excursions. The marine wildlife is just as amazing as the land creatures, so we thoroughly enjoyed both activities.
I am 6'4", so I can speak to the bunk-size question asked by one of the forum participants. The boat has 6 double-cabins, and one larger suite with a queen bed. I stayed in a cabin alone (my boys shared a cabin). All cabins (except the suite) are bunk beds. The lower bunk bed of the cabins is quite comfortable for a taller person, if you sleep slightly diagonal (the lower bunk is much wider thant the upper bunk). The suite is on the top floor of the boat , and sounds great, at first, since the bed is very large, and you have a relatively private balcony. However, since the suite is at the top of the boat, the movement from the waves is substantially higher. If you are prone to sea-sickness, you will have a problem, so avoid the suite if you don't like ship movement (almost everyone had seasickness at some point during the trip, since the waters are rough, especially on the overnight journeys). The six standard cabins on the boat are "at the water-line", with port-hole window, so movement is much less than the suite.
The Samba is a single hull boat , so expect the vehicle to sway. The northwestern itinerary has some long overnight legs, which sounds good because you can sleep during these times. However, do not expect a restful sleep during the long journeys because the seas are fairly rough. The rough seas dynamic is a part of cruising in the Galapagos, so all boats face the same challenge. We did speak to many people about the single-hull versus catamaran debate: catamarans may sway less due to the double-hull, but the banging of the waves on that double-hull of the catamarans are just as big a challenge for sleeping as the movement on the single-hull. Pick your poison, I guess.
The boat carries 14 passengers, plus the crew. We found this size to be very convenient, as we could get to the land and sea excursions very quickly (the Samba has two zodiac-style inflatable boats). Apparently, getting on and off of boats with more passengers can be a time-consuming event. We never had a problem with the Samba. Everyone eats in a common dining area, which is also quite comfortable. The boat is large enough to have some good private areas too, for those times you want to be alone.
We really enjoyed the Samba, and would travel with them again.
Friday April 22, 2016
The owner of the Samba approached us yesterday and asked us to join him in organizing an fundraising cruise for the victims of last Saturday's massive earthquake on the NW coast of Ecuador (Galapagos was not affected). We immediately decided to accept his offer - the cruise is already posted on our website under the "Active Galapagos / dates and details" page. All proceeds, both ours, and those of the ship owner, will be donated to earthquake relief work.
The trip (August 28 - Sept 7) will consist of 2 nights in Quito (pre-cruise), a Quito City day tour (the nicest capital city in all of South America), flight to Galapagos, 7 nights on the highly acclaimed Samba (SE itinerary - see the waved albatross nestlings stretching their wings...), and the services of one of the most highly rated guides in Galapagos, Juan Manuel Salcedo.
Contact us for more information.
Thursday April 21, 2016
We were contacted by the Ecuadorian embassy yesterday, informing us that a special earthquake relief account had been opened, and asking us to spread the news. The damage has been severe and extensive in the northwest part of the country (Quito, Guayaquil and the Galapagos have been spared). While Ecuador has benefited very much from the high oil prices in the past years, the current low price has put the squeeze on government budgets under normal circumstances. The urgent need for cash following the earthquake has made things doubly difficult.
Today, we contributed $1,000 to the fund, and we challenge other Galapagos tour operators to do the same. We contacted the International Galapagos Tour Operators' Association, and suggested they contact their members.
We also encourage our guests to do the same. Ecuador is a small country, but one that has been trying hard to improve the standard of living for its people. It deserves our support.
Below, please find the details on the Embassy bank account set up to receive donations for earthquake relief (USA / Canada accounts).
Sunday April 17, 2016
Yesterday's magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the northwest part of the country, along the coast. Heavy damage was reported in towns of that area, with large buildings up to six stories high having crumbled. The latest death toll is skirting 300.
The effect of the earthquake was felt as far away as Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city and main commercial port. Some houses were damaged, and some road infrastructure also. Quito also felt the quake, but with little effect there.
For visitors to Ecuador, unless you are traveling to that part of the county (cities of Esmeraldas, Manabi and Guayas), your travel plans should proceed without any interruption.
Thursday April 14, 2016
No, sadly, we didn't have that privilege (though I did once have a private meeting in the presidential palace with a former president... but that's another story). Yesterday, PBS aired a 15 minute interview with Rafael Correa, in English. It's very rare to hear Mr. Correa respond to a journalist in English - and I thought it would be interesting to those of you who may have a wider interest over things Ecuadorean.
Mr. Correa did his Ph.D. in the USA - though his English remains heavily accented. I have seen him perform in Spanish and tongue tied he is not! It must be frustrating for someone so loquacious in his native tongue to have to interview in a 2nd language.
It's worth the 15 minutes to watch this PBS interview - if only to get a better idea on what's going on at the national government level in Ecuador. Mr. Correa is very much a populist. Every Saturday morning, he hosts a 2-3 hour television show in a different city or town (the "sabatinas"), further cementing his connections to the people. He has huge support in the country, but also a large opposition. You can't please everybody all of the time it seems.
Click here to see the video.
Saturday April 9, 2016
... not likely - we don't want to be accused of rumour mongering.... but.... Harrison Ford was spotted in Galapagos yesterday, shopping for a nice Panama hat (ironically, Panama hats have always been made in.... Ecuador). We certainly would like to boast of the fact that he booked through CNH Tours - but sadly, that was not the case. Our most famous guest perhaps was the admiral of the British fleet in the Falklands war, Sir John Forster "Sandy" Woodward GBE KCB.
While in the islands, we did bump into a couple of well known film personalities - Alan Alda (a bit aloof) and John Malkovich with his wife (very earnest), and spotted Susan Sarandon as well.
Thursday March 24, 2016
The government of Ecuador has recently launched its "Observatorio Turistico" for Galapagos. The program intends to provide all kinds of official data on tourism in Galapagos, from arrival numbers, hotels, ships and other related information. It also includes reports on the industry in the islands. A review of the live-aboard cruise ships contained in the database provides us with the first reliable complete (we assume...) list of ships in the islands, by ship size and category. We've started many comments in our TripAdvisor replies with "Of the approximately 65 ships that ply Galapagos waters...." - well, now we have some harder numbers to help us. Here they are:
74 live-aboard cruise ships, of which:
- 5 are for scuba diving trips only (all 16 passengers)
- 7 (fewer than 16 passengers)
- 44 (16 passengers)
- 7 (17 - 22 passengers)
- 5 (23-48 passengers)
- 6 (49 - 100 passengers)
So, excluding the scuba ships, we can now say that 69 ships are licensed for live-aboard tourism cruises in the islands. Of these:
- 64% of which are 16 passenger ships
- 17% carry fewer than 16 passengers
- 19% carry more than 16 passengers.
Assuming they were all sailing at the same time, and at full capacity, visitors to the Galapagos islands would be distributed on ships as follows:
- fewer than 16 passengers: 78 (4%)
- 16 passengers ships: 784 (45%)
- 17 - 22 passengers ships: 138 (8%)
- 23-48 passengers ships: 204 (12%)
- 49 - 100 passengers ships: 556 (31%)
Wednesday March 23, 2016
The last time the World Heritage (WH) Committee discussed Galapagos (July 2014), it asked the government of Ecuador (GoE) to send it a detailed report on this WH Site's state of conservation by December 2015. That report was sent at the end of February, and just now published on the UNESCO WH Centre website.
In 2007, the WH Committee (made up of representatives from 21 countries, and in charge of listing new WH sites, putting them on the "Danger List" or removing WH sites from the list if they have lost their conservation values) decided to place Galapagos on their "Danger List" in response to a variety of threats, mostly linked to increased concerns about the introduction and dispersal of alien species linked with a rapid rise in uncontrolled development in the islands. The GoE took this issue seriously, and based on its reaction, the WH Committee was satisfied that appropriate measures had been taken, and removed the site from the Danger List in 2010.
The latest report (63 pages with some tables and pictures) is a wonderful read for those who care to understand more about the challenges of conservation in Galapagos. The document can be found on UNESCO's website by clicking here.
It is divided into 4 sections:
1) Biosecurity: Concerning the management of alien species, the current state of affairs.
2) Tourism: How it is monitored, controlled.
3) Governance: How various institutions are involved in managing Galapagos
4) Solid Waste: (linked to point 1 above).
As a former staff person at UNESCO's WH Centre in Paris, I have seen many such reports. They contain plenty of interesting information under one cover, and hard to find anywhere else. Of course, governments all have a tendency to paint a rosy picture when reporting on how they're doing at managing their WH sites!
The WH Committee will be reviewing this report, along with other information gathered in the meantime, during its annual meeting in July. Based on its findings, the WH Committee will likely request that the GoE undertake specific actions to ensure those values for which Galapagos is globally recognized are conserved.
Friday March 18, 2016
The University of Washington reported (March 17) on the results of Galapagos lake sediment analysis. In summary:
"Results show that from the beginning of the record 2,000 years ago, until the year 1400, most rainfall changes on the island were indeed related to El Niño.
The record also shows long-term shifts. Heavier rainfall at the study sites from the year 0 to 400, and again during Europe’s Medieval Warm Period, just before the Little Ice Age from about the year 800 to 1300, was probably caused by a centuries-long strengthening of El Niño.
“This record shows that there have been quite large changes in El Niño precipitation in this area in the past, and that we might expect large changes in the future,” Nelson said.
But during the Little Ice Age, a period from roughly 1400 to 1850 when temperatures in Europe were cooler and many of Earth’s glaciers expanded, the biggest changes came from the Intertropical Convergence Zone shifting to the south.
Recent research has shown that the position of the Intertropical Convergence Zone, and the associated rainfall and drought, is tied to the temperature balance between the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
“It’s consistent with what we understand about the changes in the ITCZ that it might have been positioned further south when the Northern Hemisphere was cooler,” Nelson said."
Click here for the full article.
The lake at Tagus cove, on the western shores of Isabela Island - with a larger cruise ship anchored at the cove. On the horizon, the gentle rising slope of Fernandina Island appears, across the Bolivar Channel. These waters are cooler, and nutrient rich, attracting sea birds, marine mammals and .... tourists!
Wednesday March 16, 2016
The April 2016 edition of the well respected journal "Scientific American" has a well-written, succinct article which corroborates exactly the way CNH Tours feels about tourism in Galapagos. The article discusses the rise of "land based" tourism, which remains very much uncontrolled, despite some government efforts at establishing a regulatory framework. The article links the growth in land based tourism to the growth in overall risks to the archipelago's biodiversity - through the connection between increased numbers of people in the islands with the increase probability of the arrival and dispersal of harfmul alien species.
In contrast, ship based tourism, which does not require the construction of hotels, restaurants and other land based services and infrastructure, has remained pretty much capped for nearly 20 years in the islands. Though it is impossible to have zero impact, one can argue that the impact from ship based tourism has not changed in 20 years, whereas incremental impacts from tourism since then have largely come from the massive growth in the land based version.
We are pleased to note, once again, that most of the people cited in article are past colleagues and old friends of ours. Eliecer Cruz, the governor of Galapagos, was my "co-boss" when I was working at the Darwin Station (he was the park director). His brother Felipe was my colleague in the Isabela Island goat eradication project. Mathias Espinosa is the owner of scuba-iguana and a great local musician. Swen Lorenz, with whom I pursue other projects these days, was the Darwin Station director for a while. I've had the chance to meet Arturo Izurieta, former park director and now Darwin Station Director, on a couple of occasions.
In conclusion, next to not going at all, a ship base visit to the islands is the best way to ensure minimal environmental impact to the archipelago's biodiversity.
The article can be seen by clicking here.
Friday March 4, 2016
My Dutch climatologist friend, Geert Jan van Oldenborgh (GJ), has forwarded to me the latest European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) map, showing February 2016 global average temperatures (see figure 1 below). The map shows deviations from 1980-2010 average temperatures, with darkest red showing much warmer than average, and dark blue much colder.
Figure 1: Galapagos is located in a white zone - indicating very close to average temperatures. The warmer temperatures (but not extreme) are found west of the archipelago.
The Eastern Tropical Pacific shows just a bit warmer than average temperatures - leading me to conclude that the El Niño event is dissipating. A review of the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA -a very good government agency) corroborates this situation. Based on the evolution of the phenomenon over the past several months, it seems that this El Niño affected ocean waters to the north and west of Galapagos, and largely by-passed the islands. It also seems that the worst of it is behind us, as the predictions are for El Niño to dissipate in the next several weeks.
Our local sources indicate the same - that the waters warmed up just a little more than in a usual year, and that the rains were not any worse (in fact, some are noting a distinct absence of rain recently). Figure 2 below shows the average temperatures for February 1998, the last time a severe El Niño hit the Galapagos. I was there in April, and can attest to the "steam room" conditions of the islands at that time. Our principal guide and partner, Juan Manuel Salcedo, sent us a note from the islands a few days ago:
The strong El Niño forcast for this year has failed to arrive. It is early yet to know if El Niño will strike and how strong is impossible to know. Unfortunately a lot of the news are sensationalist about it and have influenced travellers' choices. So far the only affected species in Galápagos have been marine iguanas, and they are coming back well after the water has cooled down again.
Figure 2: El Niño February 1998 average temperatures - very much warmer around the Galapagos archipelago!
Based on all of this, and based on nearly 20 years of personal observation, I'm predicting that this El Niño event is over, and that it did not affect Galapagos significantly, as was feared just a few months ago.
Tuesday March 1, 2016
We are pleased to report that the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO), a provincial government travel business regulator, accredited CNH Tours yesterday. Our guests are now covered under the industry financed compensation fund, which covers reimbursements under certain circumstances, to a maximum of $5,000 (Canadian). More specifically, in TICO's words:
When you purchase your travel services from a TICO registered travel agency you are protected by an industry financed Travel Compensation Fund. Subject to the Regulation, the Compensation Fund reimburses consumers when they do not receive the travel services purchased due to the bankruptcy or insolvency of either an Ontario travel retailer, Ontario travel wholesaler or due to the failure of an airline or cruise line.
After working from France and Kenya since 2003, our return to our native province of Ontario triggered the obligation to be registered under TICO. We look forward to working with TICO in the years ahead.
Sunday February 21, 2016
Samba owner and principal guide, Juan Manuel Salcedo, has finally done it. Back in 2010 or so, the National Park imposed new itinerary regulations for cruise ships. Whereas they had been previously following 7 night / 8 day loops, returning to the same visitor sites ever week, they now had to adopt a 14 night / 15 day loop, returning to the same visitor site only once every 14 days.
Many ships balked at this new requirement. Their supply schedules and marketing plans were all based on the 7 night/8 day loop. They hoped that with enough resistance, the park would relent. But it didn't. The park wanted to reduce the visitor load at the visitor sites - as the ships tended to go to those sites that offered a combination of appeal and navigational practicality.
Juan Manuel Salcedo, instead of balking, saw an opportunity. He quickly drew up a 15 day itinerary he considered ideal. Because he was one of the first to have done so, the park readily approved his plan, with minor modifications - the most important of which was switching his request for a snorkeling visit at Devil's Crown, with "the Loberia", at Floreana, a beach visit with swimming and some relatively unexciting snorkeling.
Tina, a former CNH Tours guest (she's been to Galapagos twice now), and very frequent supplier of practical information on TripAdsivor, frequently commenting on the relative merits of various itineraries, recently posted:
"The NW itinerary on the Samba is, as I have often said here, my absolute favorite one to date... I agree that not going to Devil's Crown is probably the only disappointment on the Samba's NW itinerary."
But after a few years of efforts on the part of Juan Manuel Salcedo, he was finally granted what he had originally requested, and starting in 2016, the "Loberia" visitor site is now replaced with a snorkel at Devil's Crown.
Devil's Crown is a submerged volcanic cone, with only partial remains of rim emerging from the sea. A combination of vertical submerged walls, varying sea depths, areas of protected waters, and areas subjected to marine currents have made for a diverse marine environment here, where many fish can be spotted, rays and sharks are not uncommon, and sea birds dive for prey. We're glad that we can now earn Tina's full endorsement for the NW itinerary!
Devil's Crown - thanks to Google Earth. Located off the northern shore of Floreana Island.
Devil's Crown - a close up.