Galapagos News

Española tortoises in Good (saddlebacked) shape

(Reuters) - Conservationists said on Tuesday they have brought giant tortoises found on the Galapagos island of Espanola back from the brink of extinction, gaining a foothold strong enough to allow humans to leave the reptiles alone.

Numbering just 15 some five decades ago, the tortoises, which can live as long as two centuries, now number about 1,000 and can sustain themselves, according to a study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

"We saved a species from the brink of extinction and now can step back out of the process. The tortoises can care for themselves," said James Gibbs, a vertebrate conservation biology professor at the State University of New York (SUNY) College of Environmental Science and Forestry who led the study.

Española giant Galapagos tortoises, their scientific name is Chelonoidis hoodensis, measure 3 feet (1 meter) long with a saddle-backed shell.

They live up to 150 or 200 years, eating grasses and leaves during the wet season and cactus during the dry season on an arid, low, rocky island measuring only 23 square miles (60 square km). Gibbs said the population numbered perhaps 5,000 to 10,000 tortoises before the arrival of people.

"The tortoises were hunted by buccaneers, whalers and other sea goers throughout the 18th and 19th centuries," added Linda Cayot, a herpetologist who is science advisor to the Galapagos Conservancy group.

"They collected them live, stacked them in their holds, and had fresh meat on their long voyages. Tortoises can live up to a year without food or water, so a natural source of fresh meat," she said.

Gibbs said the tortoises had been given up as extinct by the time the islands were protected as a national park in 1959.

In the 1960s, only 14 tortoises were found on Espanola, 12 females and two males. They were all taken into captivity and a third male was found in the San Diego Zoo. From those 15 tortoises, the population was rebuilt through a breeding program in captivity before they were reintroduced to the island.

"Nobody knew how to breed tortoises in captivity and the best zoos around the world had failed. The Galapagos National Park figured it out and actually became exceedingly effective at it," Gibbs said. 

The success story of the Espanola subspecies comes in sharp contrast to the closely related tortoise found on the Galapagos island of Pinta. In 2012, a male dubbed Lonesome George died in captivity as conservationists tried in vain to find a way to breed him. He was the last of his subspecies.

Even though the human threat was eliminated by protecting the Espanola tortoise, the reptile still faced a formidable foe in goats that inhabited the island for 90 years before being removed in the 1970s.

Introduced to the island by humans, the goats mowed down just about everything in their path, including most of the cactuses the tortoises thrive on.

Unlike the grassy place it once was, the island now is covered with woody vegetation unsuited for tortoises. Gibbs said it could take hundreds of years for cactuses to reach previous levels.

Charles is back!

(this article is copy pasted from the Charles Darwin Foundaiton news release of yesterday)The Archipelago's must-have selfie! 12 months in development, our Darwin statue has finally arrived to the home of science in Galapagos. We decided it was time to move away from the tired, weathered looking Darwin profile so often connected to Galapagos. Our statue embodies the young man who visited the Islands - full of energy, notebook and magnifying glass close by, ready for the gap year of a lifetime.

The above photo shows the team behind the statue: renowned Galapagos scientist and life-long Darwin scholar, Godfrey Merlen (left -  CNH Tours's note:  Godfrey is one of our oldest Galapagos friends) with Ecuadorian sculptor Patricio Ruales. Godfrey has put together a fabulous article about his involvement on the project. Darwin’s Right Hand Man describes his personal joy, pride and fear (of turning to clay) all for the love of his hero.Check out the complete article below.
 
Click here to read Darwin's Right Hand Man by Godfrey Merlen

 

Darwin Statue

Lonesome George’s Final Resting Place – What do YOU think?

There’s an animated debate going on right now about the final resting place for the icon of Galapagos, and by extension, all island conservation challenges – even all conservation challenges worldwide:  Where should the stuffed and mounted remains of Lonesome George (LG), the Pinta Island Galapagos tortoise so famous for having been the last of his kind for at least 40 years, rest?   LG died in 2012.  His remains were sent to the Museum of Natural History in New York where they were given careful treatment and restored.   He was unveiled a few days ago at the museum, where he is on display until January.   Aftr that, he’s to travel back to Ecuador.   Galapagos residents are of course furious at the idea that the Ecuadorian government’s proposal to have him displayed in Quito, in exchange for a bronze replica to be standing guard in the islands.    A heated discussion is filling social media these days on the matter.

The Guardian newspaper has come up with a novel idea: Lonesome George, already an emissary for conservation work worldwide, should go on a slow (tortoise paced) world tour to help educate and sensitive people on the challenges of species survival in a rapidly changing, globalizing world with fewer and fewer wild spaces in which to seek refuge.  See their article here:

http://www.theguardian.com/science/animal-magic/2014/sep/22/lonesome-george-tortoise-world-tour

Lonesome George’s species was killed off by a combination of hungry whalers and seafarers looking for fresh meat to eat, the accidental introduction of egg and hatchling tortoise eating rats and pigs to Pinta island in the 19th century.    Giant tortoise species on other Galapagos islands managed to survive this pressure.  Those surviving on islands with rats and pigs remain in a precarious state.  Thankfully, conservation efforts by the Galapagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Foundation are helping improve matters.

Below:  LG on display in New York

LG and Linda

Penguin pictures petitioned by profressor

I was just contacted by a member of the leading penguin research team in Galapagos.   They've been studying penguin populations since the 1970s.    Thanks to their work, they've managed to understand some of the leading threats to penguin survival (some include absence of suitable nesting sites) and have taken action to support their conservation.   One the biggest (and most expensive) challenges is carrying out regular population surveys.  YOU CAN NOW HELP.  By taking pictures of penguins, and recording where and when you did so, and sending them to the researchers, you will help them get a lot more valuable information on penguins.  See their website:  http://www.igalapagos.org/

 Penguins

Google's "Street view" project - behind the scenes.

I guess I missed this video, released last year.  It's 7 minutes long, and gives us a good idea of the kinds of things one will see on a Galapagos cruise. It's fun - I even recognize a face or two, and see my old office.  If you're considering a trip to the islands, have a look a this, and it will give you an idea of what you are in for (but don't expecting the fun music track). 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKG2qH8778U

 

 

Sept 18: Lonesome George at the American Museum of Natural History

Poor old lonesome George – he was my neighbour for 2 years in Galapagos (literally, we lived about 100 metres apart) and after many years of unproductive efforts at finding him a mate, he died on the 24 June, 2012, the last of the Pinta island tortoise species.  He was the famous icon for Galapagos conservation – on the logo of the Charles Darwin Research Station, which did some pioneering work on captive breeding of giant tortoises.    But his fame lives on.   His “stuffed” version will be unveiled at the American Museum of Natural History (New York City) on September 18th, and a special event will be held.   CNH Tours is proud to say that we worked side by side with Johannah Barry, and Linda Cayot – two old Galapagos friends and that we have good contacts with Arturo Izurieta – current National Park director.    From the AMNH website:

Charles Darwin’s visit to the Galapagos Islands in 1835 helped him decipher evolution by natural selection, the process responsible for the dizzying abundance of species on the planet. Today, hundreds of species go extinct each year. In honor of the Museum’s special exhibition of Lonesome George, the famed Galapagos tortoise that was the last of his species, join us for an in-depth conversation about biodiversity and conservation. Uncover the issues and current environmental initiatives in the Galapagos, and explore the possibilities and perils that lie ahead. The conversation will feature Johannah Barry and Linda Cayot of the Galapagos Conservancy, James Gibbs of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and Arturo Izurieta, director of the Galapagos National Park. The discussion will be moderated by Dr. Eleanor Sterling, chief conservation scientist of the Museum's Center for Biodiversity and Conservation.

lonesome george

Mild earthquake(s) in Quito area

The U.S. Geological Survey said the moderate quake was only 4.8 miles (7.7 km) deep, with its epicenter located 14 miles northeast of Quito.  Striking at 2:58PM on Tuesday, 12 August, the 5.1 magnitude quake was widely felt, but caused only minor damage.  Two people died, one working in an illegal quarry, and a boy who was killed by falling bags of rice.  The airport was closed for a short time, so that the authorities could be sure the infrastructure was in good working order.  Three other smaller earthquakes struck during the course of the afternoon.  There is no reason for concern on the part of anyone traveling to Ecuador via Quito.

Picture: Dust rising from the hills surrounding Quito following the earthquake.

Earthquake in Quito

Darwin Station Director proposes ambitious infrastructure plan

Sven Lorenz, the young, dynamic director (and CNH Tours friend) of the Charles Darwin Foundation and its Research Station (CDF) announced today his "EXTREMELY ambitious" infrastructure projects for the CDF.  According to Lorenz,  if realised, the plans "will have a transformative effect on the organisation but also on science, conservation and education in Galapagos. Benefits for the bio-diversity of Galapagos, for Ecuador as a nation as well as the local community, and with effects to be felt for the next 50-100 years."

He also explained that as I side-effect, it will would to the CDF becoming financially sustainable, for the first time in its five decades of operation.

To have a look for yourself, please see his 15 page “State of the Union” mid-year letter to the CDF General Assembly: http://tinyurl.com/m6kg2tb (English).   For those who want to know more, you can consult his 46 page Powerpoint presentation just about potential infrastructure projects: http://tinyurl.com/oau43nc.

He is inviting feedback - if anyone out there would like to have their "2 cents' worth", please send your comments to CNH Tours and we'll forward them.

 

 

Grounded ship sunk outside the marine reserve

This is the final chapter of the ill-fated journey of the cargo ship Galapaface - which struck bottom near Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal island in early May.  Against many odds, it was laboriously refloated, environmental damage was reported to be very minor, and it was towed to deep waters earlier this week.   The final solution, to sink it in 2,500 metres of water, took place 32 km (20 miles) outside the boundaries of the Galapagos Marine Reserve yesterday.  About as good as you can expect for the outcome of this accident.

Galapaface sunk

 

Grounded cargo ship is re-floated and towed away

Defying all my expectations, the Ecuadorian authorities succeeded in re-floating the grounded cargo ship "Galapaface" (what a name...??) yesterday.  This ship ran aground off of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno in early May.   Back in 2001, the Jessica, a fuel ship, ran aground at nearly the same place, dumping quite a bit of bunker oil into the sea and eventually falling to pieces due to the constant pounding of waves.  I had anticipated that this would be the fate of the Galapaface - but no, it appears that the national authorities have developed the capacity to salvage such ships.  This is very good news for all (including the ship insurance company I suppose!).   The Galapaface was salvaged with very minor environmental impacts.  Bravo Ecuador!

Galapaface being refloated and taken away, off San Cristobal Island, with the typical "Garua" season low cloud cover over the island. See Kicker Rock - Leon Dormido island in the background, just above the the Galapaface bow.  (courtesy Galapagos National Park Service)

 Galapaface

 

CNH Tours is the first Darwin Foundation "benefactor"

We donated $1,000 today to the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF)  in the framework of its partnership with the International Watch Company (IWC).   The IWC has been an important private sector support of the CDF for a few years now, helping ensure the conservatoin of the marine reserve in particular.   CNH Tours sent over 300 people to the Galapagos in 2013, and is always looking for ways to support the conservation of the place our business depends on.   We are also members of the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association, which provices financial and policy support to Galapagos conservation.    We encourage other tour companies to follow in our footsteps! 

You can also support the CDF through the campaing - see:  http://www.iwc.com/en/help-protect-the-galapagos-islands/

 

 

 

 

Sea Shepherd sniffer dogs on patrol in Galapagos

CNH Tours friend Hugo Echeverria, the legal advisor to the globally active marine conservation NGO "Sea Shepherd", recently informed us of the renewal of his organization's official (via signed agreement with the government of Ecuador) role in support of the Galapagos sniffer dog programme.    The "K9" (acronym for canine) dog team is trained to sniff out wildlife traffickers, and is an important deterrent in keeping people from trafficking in species and animal parts (e.g. live iguanas, shark fins, sea cucumbers, sea horses etc...).  

CNH Tours once had a one-on-one dinner with the Sea Shepherd Society founder, Paul Watson (one of the original founders of Greenpeace).   He is quite a character - and his dogged (no pun intended) determination to see (no pun intended) real conservation action in the marine world is second to none.   Sea Shepherd has been active in Galapagos for nearly 15 years and during this time, it has helped the Galapagos National Park Service achieve many conservation benchmarks.  They deserve our support.   For more information, see:

http://www.seashepherd.org/news-and-media/2014/06/26/k9-wildlife-contraband-detection-unit-will-remain-active-in-galapagos-through-2017-1599

For information on Paul Watson's adventures over the years, see the film made about them:  http://www.screensiren.ca/2011/05/eco-pirate-the-story-of-paul-watson-2/

 

Galapagos K9 Police Unit with sniffer dog (credit:  Cabo Marlon Valle, UPMA)

Sniffer Dog

 

 

 

 

Military inspections at Baltra airport

CNH Tours friend, and director of the Charles Darwin Research Station Swen Lorenz reported on Facebook yesterday:

"Military checks for passengers arriving in Galapagos today. All male passengers were rounded up on a barren stretch of Baltra Island, the women were allowed to stay on the bus. The military was extremely polite and the troop leader spoke fluent English. Quite the experience, but foreign visitors were still a bit puzzled by it all."

No word yet on the why and how long this may go on.  Some have commented that polite nature of the exercise made it more pleasant than passing through Miami or Los Angeles International airports!   This may have been a one off thing - but we thought we'd share the item to reduce any surprises.

Military check point Baltra 

 

In New York on September 18th?

I just came across this posting for an upcoming event at the American Museum of Natural History (I had the chance to visit this most wonderful museum only once, and only for 2 hours - but will be back!).

Charles Darwin’s visit to the Galapagos Islands in 1835 helped him decipher evolution by natural selection, the process responsible for the dizzying abundance of species on the planet. Today, hundreds of species go extinct each year. In honor of the Museum’s special exhibition of Lonesome George, the famed Galapagos tortoise that was the last of his species, join us for an in-depth conversation about biodiversity and conservation. Uncover the issues and current environmental initiatives in the Galapagos, and explore the possibilities and perils that lie ahead. The conversation will feature Johannah Barry and Linda Cayot of the Galapagos Conservancy, James Gibbs of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and Arturo Izurieta, director of the Galapagos National Park. The discussion will be moderated by Dr. Eleanor Sterling, chief conservation scientist of the Museum's Center for Biodiversity and Conservation.

Johannah Barry and Linda Cayot are friends of CNH Tours, while Artura Izurieta is an acquaintance.   I'm sure this will be a most fascinating talk.  

For more info, see:  http://www.amnh.org/calendar/lonesome-george-and-the-galapagos-today-what-the-tortoise-taught-us 

 

 

Virginia opposum intercepted

In a graphic manifestation of the very significant threat posed by the increased movement of people and goods between the mainland and Galapagos, the Galapagos Biosecurity team came across a Virginia opossum yesterday on one of the barges used to transfer goods from mainland supply ships anchored offshore, and Puerto Ayora's docks.  

There are barely any mammals in the islands because they simply could not make the journey from the mainland unassisted.   Only rats and bats ever made it - rats likely surviving on an unsually large mat of of vegetation.  The rats evolved over thousands and thousands of years to become an endemic species found only in the islands.  The absence of mammals allowed for the peculiar ecosystem make up we see today - where reptiles dominate the landscape.  Giant turtles replace herds of grass/shrub eating mammals in this ecosystem!  There are also lizards, marine and land iguanas. 

The arrival and successful implantation of opossums could have devastating effects on native wildlife - typically, it's hard to say until it's too late.  CNH Tours applauds the newly etablished capacity in Galapagos that allows for the interception of such potentially harmful new arrivals.

The threat remains very real though, and the increased population of the islands (driven by natural growth rates, but also from immigration, driven by the availability of jobs - many from the rapidly growing land based tourism) results in more and more opportunities for stowaways like the opossum to hitch a ride in the more frequent shipments of goods to the islands.  That's why it's important to support the biosecurity team and to also try to ensure you use / eat locally produced products and foods.  

Opposum

 

Cargo ship runs aground

Quito (AFP) - An Ecuadoran freighter ran aground in the Galapagos islands yesterday, but "for the moment" does not pose a threat to the Pacific archipelago's unique environment, the Galapagos National Park said.

The vessel, which ran aground off the island of San Cristobal, is carrying 16,000 gallons (more than 60,000 liters) of fuel oil.

But an inspection "confirmed that the part of the vessel that is on the rocks is distant from the fuel tanks," the park said.

"So for the moment it does not represent an environmental risk," it added.

Authorities, however, were drawing up contingency plans in case of a spill, it said.

The ship's cargo also is being offloaded to make it lighter in hopes that a high tide will lift it off the rocks.

The Ecuadoran-owned island chain, which is located 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from the mainland, is famous for unique flora and fauna studied by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle as he developed his theory of evolution.

CNH Tours adds that his is a near exact repeat of the Jessica shipwreck of January 2001.  That ship eventually broke apart, releasing most of its fuel.   60,000 litres would fill a box 5 metres (16 feet) wide, 5 metres deep, and 2.2 metres high - the size of a modest bedroom.  It seems somes lessons have not been learned.

Shipwreck

In San Francisco? Save the date - 12 May

POSTED ON THE CHARLES DARWIN FACEBOOK PAGE YESTERDAY:
Come and rub shoulders with the conservation stars of the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands.

Our anniversary event in San Francisco, May 12th 2014, will host a unique line-up of Galapagos celebrities, spanning the entire 50 year history of the Charles Darwin Research Station from 1964 to today. One special guest will be Margaret Bowman, widow of Bob Bowman, who was one of the people who got the Charles Darwin Foundation going in the 1950s. Also present will be scientists from the successful Mangrove Finch captive breeding program. There will be guests from other organizations that the CDF works with as well as the CDF’s President and board members. All guests will of course be able to hear a presentation by best-selling author, Dr. Frank Sulloway.

50% of the available tickets are sold already. You can secure a $50 discount off the regular price of $125 per person by using discount code “CDRS50” on our Eventbrite platform: http://tinyurl.com/nc7dlc4

This is likely to be our ONLY anniversary event in the USA so reserve your places now!

We've sold out again

Back in 2010, CNH Tours was running only 4 "Active Galapagos" charters a year.  We dared to extend that to 12 charters a year in 2011 and to our surprise, they have been selling very well   We are pleased to announce that our 2014 charters just sold out today, except for the remaining Christmas and New Year's trip.   

Tungurahua volcano on mainlaind still active

On 6 of April, we reported that the Tungurahua volcano had started acting up again.  It's still going strong, as you can see from a very nice picture taken yesterday.   Though no threat to Galapagos, the ash plumes could result in some air tranportation inconveniences into and out of Ecuador, and between the mainland and the Galapagos islands.    A heads up. 

 

Tungurahua 2

Tungurahua volcano on mainland acting up

When flyng into Ecuador - Quito or Guayaquil, there is always a slight risk of flight perturbations due to volcanoes.  The country sits astride the Pacific ring of fire, and volcanic activity is quite common - the tallest volcano is even depicted on the national flag.

This past Friday, Tungurahua volcano, just outside the town of Banos and about 125 km south of Quito, threw up a very high plume of ash and smoke.   These kinds of events may cause some problems with all flights if the winds are blowing in the wrong direction.   

The Galapagos islands are not on the ring of fire, but still are volcanically very active - because they are over a hot spot on the earth's mantle, just like Hawaii.  

I gave birth to my 1st boy in Quito, while the Pichincha volcano, just west of the city, was acting up in ways similar to the Tungurahua (1999).  A few months later, we were flying out of Quito to Canada on holiday, and our flight was delayed by a day or two for the same reason - we still retain the boarding pass that says "Cancelled due to volcano"!

 

 Tunguraha

 

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