Galapagos News

2,000 years of El Nino Activity Revealed in Galapagos

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!

Scientific American agrees with CNH Tours

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.





El Nino report: Much ado about nothing?

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.  


CNH Tours joins the Ontario Travel Industry Council

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.

Samba now has "ideal" itinerary

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.  








Motivation by email

We all have to find ways of making a living, of paying the bills.   So, I suppose that securing an income is the most basic of motivations when going to the office in the morning.  But we have the great fortune of finding a very big part of our motivation through emails we receive from guests having just returned from a trip to the islands.  Here are 2 emails I received from guests having just completed our "Dolphin" Active Galapagos trip:

Hi Heather, 

We are in Peru now getting ready to go on our Sacred Valley tour, but I wanted to tell you what a wonderful time we had on our Galapagos tour. We even saw a waved albatross! I was scared to snorkel, but I did it, holding onto Bob, and I'm so glad I did. It was spectacular. I got so excited when we saw an octopus that I forgot and let go of Bob. Luis (the guide) was great, the food was great, and our fellow travelers were great. Boat, captain and crew were wonderful too. We'll write more details when we get home.
Thanks for planning such a fantastic trip for us.
Anne & Bob
Hi Heather,

Just got back from the Galapagos and wanted to let you know what an awesome trip it was.  Right from the beginning, everything went like clockwork, from Israel meeting us in Quito on the 22nd of Jan to Juan Manuel dropping us off at the airport on the 4th.  The only glitch was Diego met us in Quito to drive us back to the Mansion on the 4th when we had mentioned to you that we wouldn't be going back due to our flight time departure at midnight.  But he was not upset so hopefully, neither was the Mansion.

Anyway, it was a fabulous trip.  Awesome boat, awesome crew, awesome guide, awesome nature, awesome other guests.  Can't say enough wonderful things.  Luis was was Juan was Rafael for the
Otavalo trip.  Wow...thank you so much.  Will be singing the praises of the Samba, believe me, to all my friends.  We are even thinking of returning in a couple of years to do the other route.  We'll see.  Can't wait to look at all the pictures we took.

Thanks again.

(Burlington, Ontario)
It's a great way to start your day at the office.  We look forward to receiving YOUR emails in the days/months and years ahead!

Zika virus in Galapagos?

The zika virus is making the news these days.   We're hearing that for 4 out of 5 people, the virus produces no symptoms, and for the remaining unlucky 1 out of 5, the symptoms may include fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes).   Symptoms typically begin 2 to 7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito and may last for a week or so, just like a cold. 

We've also heard that there may be a link between the virus in pregnant women and microcephaly - the underdevelopment of the foetus' brain.   Apparently, this link is not yet proven, only suspected.

The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) has an excellent post on this matter - it does advise caution for pregnant women (e.g. avoid traveling to infected areas if you can) and women who might become pregnant while traveling to an infected area, or very soon afterwards.

The site reports that the virus only lives in our bodies for a week or two, then it is eliminated by our natural defenses, somewhat like how we deal with the common cold and flu viruses - we get them, we get sick, we get better, end of story.  This means that for women who are not pregnant, but may eventually decide to have a baby in the future, there is no risk.  The CDC website includes this Q & A:

If a woman who is not pregnant is bitten by a mosquito and infected with Zika virus, will her future pregnancies be at risk?

We do not know the risk to the baby if a woman is infected with Zika virus while she is pregnant.  However, Zika virus infection does not pose a risk of birth defects for future pregnancies.  Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for only a few days to a week.  The virus will not cause infections in a baby that is conceived after the virus is cleared from the blood.

Ecuador is on the CDC advisory list, and Galapagos is in Ecuador, though I doubt if there is any conclusive evidence that the virus has made it to the islands.  There are quarantine measures in place designed to prevent alien species (such as the mosquito responsible for transmitting the virus) from reaching the islands - though I don't know at this point if this  mosquito is already there or not.  

In conclusion, unless you are pregnant, or likely to get pregnant while in Ecuador and/or Galapagos, or within a couple of weeks after your return, the CDC says there should be nothing to be worried about.  

CNH Tours owner voted Governing Member of Darwin Foundation

We are proud to announce that at its recent Annual General Meeting, Marc Patry, co-owner (with his wife Heather Blenkiron) of CNH Tours was voted in as a governing member of the Charles Darwin Foundation (the CDF) General Assembly.

Marc's previous work at the Charles Darwin Station (operated by the CDF), helping develop and launch the largest ever alien species eradication project in history (the Isabela Project - eradicating goats from Isabela Island) has given him a good understanding of the CDF and how it works.  Of additional value were his 12 years working as the Latin American point person for natural World Heritage (WH) sites at UNESCO's headquarters in Paris.   He was in charge of monitoring the state of conservation of WH sites and maintaining constructive dialogues with site managers and government agencies responsible for their conservation.   The Galapagos Islands were part of his responsibilities, and thanks to that job, he kept a close tab on management issues, strengthening his network of on-the-ground contacts in Galapagos, while developing a new network amongst senior government officials.

As a governing member of the CDF General Assembly, Marc has proposed to act as a communications conduit beween the CDF and the WH Centre back in Paris, where he maintains good contacts, particularly with his replacement there at the Latin America desk, and with the newly appointed director of the Centre, who was a long time colleague of Marc's.   The WH Convention can play a very constructive role in helping / encouraging national governments to deal with conservation challenges.   


New $5 Baltra Airport to ferry transport fee

We just received this from one of our ship owner colleagues and thought we'd just copy paste it here.  This will affect people who land in Baltra and do not immediately embark on their ship, but rather head off to Puerto Ayora.  It will also affect those getting to Baltra airport from Puerto Ayora, but not those being dropped off at Baltra directly from their cruise ship.   

El Nino - conditions report

Cumulus clouds cover the sky. It smells like rain, and so we prepare. Actually, we have been preparing for several months already, since we received the prediction of an El Niño event for the current year.

El Niño isn’t coming, it’s already here, and it is here to stay for a while.  Have we noticed any unusual sightings as yet?

We have encountered thin marine iguanas on Fernandina, and the skinniest along the coast of Puerto Egas, Santiago Island.  Sea temperature has been 2-Celsius degrees higher than the average, and we have had unparalleled underwater visibility.

It rained in Santiago, Santa Cruz, and Bartolome.

However, for those of us who experienced the El Niño of 1997-1998, this is relatively mild - so far. Is the worst yet to come? I remember that by February 1998 I literally walked trails of desolation.

During 1997-1998, we still had a lot to see when visiting the National Park. We did find animals, naïve as always; but compared to normal years, it was death and desolation”, says Antonio Adrian, a naturalist guide since 1994.

Naturalist Greg Aranea snorkels almost every day to take underwater footage and photographs. He noticed that by August this year, in Tagus Cove (Isabela Island), there was a notorious decimation of green algae and sargasum, “In August, water was as warm as it is now. I saw skinny iguanas, and several dead ones along Puerto Egas. By September, October, temperatures dropped a little, and only now, they are rising again”.

At the writing of this article, the most recent update prepared by NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States), confirmed that El Niño conditions were present. Positive equatorial sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies continued across most of the Pacific Ocean.

During the last four weeks, tropical SSTs were above average across most of the Pacific (2.5 Celsius degrees above average).  Carlos Romero, a guide for twenty years, notices more dead sea lions than usual. Several are showing signs of a viral pox that has been observed only during extremely warm years. I saw a young one covered by “pustules”, playing on the Baltra dock at the end of November, and a few have been recorded floating dead in Tagus Cove.

Paul Vergara, naturalist raised on Floreana Island, says, “For me, it was clear that there was something going on. There have been fewer Waved albatrosses nests this year. I have counted three to four juveniles at Punta Suarez, when in normal years one can find dozens. And the adults have left earlier. I believe albatrosses are key indicators of climate change”.

El Niño is the warm face of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), it refers to the cycle of warm and cold temperatures, as measured by sea surface temperature, SST.  The Southern Oscillation is the atmospheric component of El Niño. This component is an oscillation in surface air pressure between the tropical eastern and western Pacific Ocean waters. The southern Oscillation Index (SOI) measures the strength of the SO by computing the difference in the fluctuations in surface air pressure between Tahiti (in the Pacific Ocean) and Darwin (Australia- in the Indian Ocean).

El Niño episodes have negative SOI, meaning there is lower pressure over Tahiti and higher pressure in Darwin.  Every index, temperature and air pressure verifies we are indeed in an El Niño year, there’s no denying it.

So far, it’s not as bad as it was in 1997-1998, though indications are that it could last until June.   According to NOAA if the warming occurs for only seven to nine months, it is classified as El Niño “conditions”. When it occurs for longer it is classified as El Niño “episode”.

Either as “condition” or as “episode” it is having an effect on the Galapagos wildlife. As for a visit to the islands, it will be like every time, an interesting experience.

The logistics would change: rain jackets, umbrellas and mosquito repellent should become a must.  But above all, keen eyes, as we will witness natural selection at work.

Beware the "good" deal...

Yesterday, Andando Tours, the owners of two higher end ships in the Galapagos, sent the message below to the many agents through which it sells its cruises.

Published rate policy

Dear colleagues and friends,

During the past few months we have had several issues with various agencies offering our yachts to passengers at rates below our published retail rates.

In order to avoid variations in the rates, as of today Andando Tours will not honor bookings on our yachts offered to potential passengers at prices lower than our established retail rates.

This is a measure that we are obligated to take to prevent unfair competition among our strategic partners.

Thank you for your understanding and we wish you great success with your sales!

Best regards,

Andando Tours / Angermeyer Cruises
Galapagos & Andes

10 January 2016

CNH Tours has always advertised cruise prices at the rate posted by the ship owners. We have lost some business to unscrupulous competitors, but we have always maintained excellent relations with the ship owners - the people with whom the cruise buck stops at the end of the day.  As a result, we get their full attention and support when needing any type of additional assistance to resolve possible problems or have special requests considered.  

We compete on the basis of our intimate knowledge of the islands (having lived there for 4 years), our great relationships built over the years with the cruise ship community, and on our unmatched personalized service provided to you before, during, and after trip.  We do not compete by engaging in a race to the bottom with questionable travel agencies.   This policy has led to our constantly growing reputation on travelers forums and we believe that this is the reason behind the regular growth of our small business over the past 16 years.  

El Nino - conditions report

This report was just published yesterday by someone who cruised in late December, early January, on TripAdvisor:

En route home from a fantastic 10 days in the Galapagos. A combination of a few days on each of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal, with a 5 day cruise visiting Santiago, Rabida, Bartolomé, and Genovesa. On the whole, no sign of El Niño. Weather mostly sunny, and plenty of wildlife both above and below the water. Saw no dead animals, but one of the guides thought that some (and only some) of the marine iguanas at Puerto Egas were thinner than usual. The water temperature was warm but we still saw plenty of fish, sharks, turtles and a ray while snorkelling, and there were penguins on Bartolomé. Who knows what the next few months will bring, but so far there seems to be little effect from El Niño.

As El Niño conditions taper off by about May, it seems that Galapagos is likely to avoid the worst of this biggest El Niño event since 1997-98.   

National Public Radio goes to Galapagos

The US National Public Radio aired its Year End Special / best podcast of 2015 recently – and it was all about Galapagos – more specifically, the challenges of conservation in the islands with a particular focus on how invasive species are dealt with.

Listen to it here:  (the show starts at the 5 minute, 20 second mark). 

I listened to it over the New Year’s weekend – and was pleased to hear the voices of several old friends and colleagues.   The first was Leopoldo Buchelli (below) – the mayor of the main town of Puerto Ayora – a pragmatic, no-nonsense politician, Leopoldo has managed to keep his mayoral job for many years now.   I last saw him perhaps 8 years ago, in his mayor’s office, while on a business trip working for UNESCO.  

The show then introduces us to the woman who hired me to come to the islands in the first place – Linda Cayot (above).  She had been living there for about 20 years at least by then (1998) and hired me to lead the final preparation for the massive goat eradication project on Isabela Island.  Linda is a giant tortoise expert – and had set the ground for this project – all she needed was someone to put together the pieces for a strong fund-raising proposal.  With some seed money, and with the support of a brilliant local colleague, Felipe Cruz, we succeeded in raising US$8 million for this work. 

The show moves on to Mathias Espinosa (above left) a handsome green eyed German/Ecuadorian man, co-owner of the Scuba Iguana dive centre, and master musician.   Mathias is a fixture in the Galapagos arts crowd.   Karl Campbell (above, right side in right picture) is the next of our friends and former colleagues to appear on the show.  We hired him from Australia to lead the technical side of goat tracking.   Singularly focused on his challenge, after a year on the job, he decided to go back to University in Australia to do a Ph.D. on goat hormones, sterilization and estrus induction – and thanks to the work of this "pit-bull" of goat eradicators, one of the most critical components of the goat eradication project was developed. 

Paul Watson, one of the original Greenpeace founders, and now leader of the Sea Shepherd Society makes a brief appearance.  I had the pleasure of a one on one dinner with him once in the islands.   “Quite a character” are the words I used to describe him.   Disappointed with Greenpeace’s cozy relationship with the corporate sector, he created the Sea Shepherd Society which has a very interesting history – of which the Galapagos chapter has been a great addition to marine conservation. 

A large segment of the show focuses on Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta tortoises.   Pinta island has no terrestrial visitor site, but our Active Galapagos charter is one of the only trips that takes you on a snorkeling outing just offshore.  


We get into alien plant species thanks to Heinke Jaeger, (above left) a soft spoken German scientist who first arrived in Galapagos while Heather and I were there.  We were so proud to share with her our love of German cuisine – sauerkraut! She looked at us in disdain, thinking it was not representative of the best of what her country had to offer.  We still laugh over that episode.  Next, Piedad Licongo (above right) is introduced – working in entomology.  Piedad is a dedicated Ecuadorian scientist – she helped CNH Tours once by putting together a species by visitor site inventory for us. 


Finally, the last of our friends interviewed is Charlotte Causton (above) from England, whose tireless efforts have led to many conservation success stories – including the introduction of a bio-control agent for the alien cottony cushion scale, which was destroying native mangroves in the islands.   We wish Charlotte and Piedad all the best in finding a solution to the very concerning “Philornis Downsi” – introduced fly project – a fly that risks sending several finch species to extinction.   

If you have an hour to spare, we highly recommend the show – it’s a very good introduction to the types of challenges we face in the islands, the efforts in place to address them, and how funds are spent in doing so. 

Disney recognizes our old friend

We are so pleased to learn that Godfrey Merlen, a longtime, relentless, stalwart, behind the scenes conservation champion of Galapagos has been named a Disney Conservation Hero.

Godfrey came to Galapagos over 40 years ago, looking for adventure. Experience seaman, salty mariner, over the years, Godfrey has ingratiated himself not only with important conservation institutions in the islands (Galapagos National Park Service, Charles Darwin Foundation), but also with international NGOs such as World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International and with scientists looking for local help when monitoring whales in Galapagos waters.

We have had the pleasure of knowing Godfrey over the years, and tapping into his wisdom on ship building during the days we worked for the Darwin Foundation.

There are many things Godfrey does, and has done, that deserve a medal - but in this case, Disney recognized his work in encouraging the Galapagos National Park Service to "embrace a conservation project to increase penguin populations and is now helping to create expanded protected areas for the birds. His ability to work across cultures and organizations, and generously share his diverse skills in art, science, sailing, natural history, and conservation problem solving have made him key to the Penguin Project’s success."

Well done Godfrey - we look forward to congratulating you in person during our next visit to the islands.

CNH Tours helps organize a dentist mission to Galapagos

I remember getting a significant chip in one of my molars fixed while I lived in Galapagos. Within 2 years, I needed a root canal intervention in that tooth, and 2 years later, it needed to be extracted altogether.

Recognizing that Galapagos dentists do their best, but that Galapagos is not the location of choice for dentists to set up a strong practice in general, I made the connection when learning that one of my college friends regularly participated in volunteer dental missions to Latin America. "Hey, why not organize something for Galapagos?" I suggested, 3 months ago. Dr. Laurie Houston, with a practice in Ontario's cottage country, put me in touch with Dr. Lun Hangfu, member of the Health Missions Outreach (HMO), a Canadian registered charity.

At the end of March 2016, a group of up to 8 dentists and support volunteers will head to Puerto Ayora, set up in a dedicated space within the community hospital, and expect to treat over 300 people over 5 days. I was able to leverage my good contacts there - notably Eliecer Cruz, the governor of the province of Galapagos, formerly the park director and most importantly, an old friend and colleague.

"We'll need some high level help ensuring that the equipment and supplies we'll bring with us from Canada won't be caught up in customs" explained Dr. Hangfu. Thanks to the governor's support, that should no longer be a problem.

CNH Tours is always pleased to do what it can to give back to the community and to support conservation in Galapagos. We will be donating 15% of the cost of any cruise booked through us by members of the mission back to HMO to help them continue doing their important work.    If you are interested in this mission, see the poster below for contact information. Dr. Hangfu indicated that they welcome certified dental professionals from around the world.

How to get a coveted "Galapagos Naturalist Guide" job (hint - don't even think about it)

“First, one now needs the permanent residency status to obtain a job”, says Alexandra Bahamonde, originally from Quito with a degree in languages (French, Italian, English). “I am very lucky, because I came to Galapagos before they changed the law, that is, before 1998.  Therefore, I could easily get my permanent residency, and so, work as a guide.   It’s much more difficult, if not impossible, for non-Galapagos residents to do that now”.

There are only three possible ways of becoming a permanent resident: being born in the Galapagos, marrying a resident, or proving one already lived in the islands prior to 1998.

In 1998, the government of Ecuador passed a law to reinforce the protection of the Galapagos.  One measure was the introduction of residence controls.  Imagine a country restricting the movement of its own citizens within it borders – that’s what Ecuador has done to limit the population explosion in the islands.  It would be as if the United States prevented mainlanders from moving to Hawaii.    There have been three categories of residency ever since: 

  1. Permanent resident, the only ones allowed to work and perpetually stay,
  2. Temporary residents, permitted to remain on a one-year contract, with the option of renewing it, but only when no permanent residents were found to fill their specific work-positions, and;
  3. Tourists / short term visitors, allowed to stay for no more than 3 months. People falling in this last category must pay $20 to obtain a visitor’s “Transit Card” – the size of a credit card, with your picture on it, before entering the islands. 

The second step to becoming a Galapagos naturalist guide is to take the guide’s course (usually lasting about 8 weeks) organized by the Galapagos National Park Service. Applicants must past various tests dealing with natural history, safety and tourism industry related knowledge.    

The issue here is that courses are only rarely offered.  The last course was held in 2009, as the Park considers that the 520 guides currently licensed and active are sufficient for today’s market.  So, in the past nearly 6 years, no new naturalist guide has entered into service in Galapagos.  

Still, even if you are resident, and you pass the rare Park Service training course, you have to be careful not to lose your naturalist guide status.   For instance, every two years naturalist guides must renew their licenses. This is not just a question of paying a few dollars and getting a new license.  Naturalist guides must attend a one-week workshop held in Galapagos, prove they have worked at least 120 days per year for the past two years (this is verified by the required weekly reports guides must submit to the Park service while working), or, if they have not been working, naturalist guides must have shown to have volunteered an equivalent amount of time for the Park. 

And there’s more!   “The real nightmare is to obtain the sea man’s book in order to work on board a ship”, adds Alexandra.    This is done through the Ecuadorean navy, and is a challenge to patience and endurance. It involves obtaining a number of various bureaucratic papers: 

  1. A health certificate every two years. This can only be done in one place, and it’s not even in Galapagos!  It is done at the navy hospital, in Guayaquil – meaning you have to spend quite a bit of money on flights and possibly hotels and restaurants if you have no family or friends in Guayaquil.  It can take from one to two days, and includes blood tests, X-rays, electrocardiograms and a psychological exam.
  2. A couple of International Maritime Certificates: Safety and Survival at Sea and the “3 in 1” which includes the management of passengers in case of crisis, protection of ships and their people, and safety of cargo and passengers. To obtain each certificate they must attend a one-week course either in Guayaquil or in any of the two largest Galapagos towns. 

So, if one did the calculations, one could easily come up with a cost of over $1,000 / year just to remain a naturalist guide (e.g. flights to the continent, cost of food and accommodation while attending courses, cost of courses / getting licenses and lost time for actually working on a ship). 

Despite all these complications, many guides have gone through it all for more than 20 years.   There are plenty of reasons. 

“I love being a naturalist, not just because of the beauty of Galapagos, but one can witness evolutionary processes, and meet people when they are in their best frame of mind” says Desire Cruz, a guide since 1987, former National Park deputy director, and old friend of CNH Tours owners, Heather Blenkiron and Marc Patry.  

Becoming a naturalist guide indeed means spending time attending to the necessary administration, in photocopy booths, waiting in lines etc.. this is a source of frustration for many guides, and understandably so.   Though the system has actually improved over the years, especially in the quality of the guides’ course and the simplification of paperwork through online applications, most guides feel there is still plenty of room for further improvement.  But being a naturalist guide also means having plenty of opportunities for encountering the unexpected along the island trails and sharing them with visitors, enjoying every day as if it was the first one through their fresh eyes – making this one of the best jobs in the world, according to most of us.


Juan Manuel Salcedo, an enthusiastic and passionate Galapagos native, and main naturalist guide on the Samba

National Geographic goes to Galapagos

This information is provided by Prensa Latina, and was published on November 30th in Quito.


The National Geographic Society will explore the Galapagos Islands'' sea in Ecuador in order to register its biodiversity in a documentary, the marine ecologist Enric Sala announced today.

According to Sala, the National Geographic's Pristine Seas Project will be launched December 2-23 with the approval of the Ecuadorian ministries of Environment and Tourism.

We have remote cameras that can go down thousands of meters deep to explore submarine mountains where nobody has ever been before and we hope to find new species there, he said.

According to Salas, National Geographic works with some of the best submarine filmmakers in the world and will fund entirely this expedition.

The documentary will be finished by the middle of next year and the National Geographic Society would like to make it available to all educational organizations in Ecuador.

The expedition aim at contributing to the excellent scientific research carried out by the Galapagos National Park and spreading worldwide through the documentary an extraordinary submarine richness still unknown, he said.

Sharks Win Appeal in Ecuadorian Court

(CNH Tours has taken this story directly from the Sea Shepherd Society's website.  Our editorial comments appear at the end of the article.)

Earlier this month, on November 6, 2015, an appeal hearing took place in the notorious Fer Mary case.

This case dates back to 2011 , when the Ecuadorian Navy and rangers of the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR) apprehended the industrial longline-fishing vessel, Fer Mary, some 20 nautical miles inside the protected GMR. A staggering 357 sharks were found onboard this Ecuadorian vessel.

In July 2015, an Ecuadorian Penal Tribunal found the captain and crew of the fishing vessel guilty of poaching sharks in Galapagos, a protected area and a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site. It was the first judicial conviction of its kind in 17 years, since the taking effect of legislation adopted to protect the Galapagos archipelago. The captain and crew filed their appeal in August.

According to the website of the National Judicial Authority of Ecuador, upon appeal the case was re-examined and it was determined that both the infraction and the responsibility of the defendants had been duly proven at trial. Hence, on November 6, 2015, the Appeal Chamber unanimously denied the appeal and subsequently confirmed the guilty verdict and prison sentences of two years for the captain, and one year for the crew. The verdict also ordered the destruction of the Fer Mary, which has already occurred.

According to the law, the appeal decision may yet be challenged through an extraordinary judicial recourse at the Supreme Court of Justice. Nevertheless, this outcome is an important step in concluding the second phase of litigation.

Sea Shepherd congratulates the Prosecutors Office of Ecuador and the Galapagos National Park for their efforts that have reached this historic verdict and granted justice to the sharks. Sea Shepherd also salutes the civil society of Galapagos and the local community for their long-standing and valid concerns in this important case.

CNH Tours adds:  We have been following this case closely.  Marc Patry at CNH Tours since June, was formerly with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and monitored the application of environmental laws in the islands.   It has not been easy to convince local judges to prosecute their countrymen for fishing sharks - a species that does not attract much sympathy from the courts.  After several years of sensitizing the judiciary in Ecuador on the importance of these laws, including training sessions, the Sea Sheperd Society has shown that sharks CAN be protected in Galapagos waters by fully applying the law.  It's nice to see that all the effort put into patrolling the waters by the Galapagos National Park Service, with national government funding, funds from the tourist entry fees, and from international donors, are having an effect.  Congratulations to all, and to Hugo Echeverria Ilegal advisor in Galapagos) and Alex Cornelissen (captain and CEO) - our friends at the Sea Shepherd Society.  Well done - and let's keep Galapagos waters free from industrial and sports fishing.


Picture:  Fer Mary's shark catch when she was apprehended in 2011 (credit Sea Shepherd Society)

Fer Mary I shark catch

Teetering on the edge of a massive El Nino

The latest sea surface temperature (SST) readings in the Eastern tropical Pacific show a dramatic El Niño (e.g. SSTs much higher than usual) along the equator in the central Pacific (the horizontal centre line of the figure below - sorry for the poor resolution!), but somehow, the warm temperatures show up further north as you approach the South American coast. Southern Mexico and Central America are witnessing very warm coastal waters, but not Ecuador, nor lands further south.  The recent SSTs corroborate similar observations made by our friend Geert Jan van Oldenborgh of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (see CNH Tours news, 29 October 2015).  

The figure below (Galapagos is circled), showing SSTs into the 30C range (orange-red) in much of the Pacific, reveal that the Galapagos waters are in the 22-24C range - just a bit warmer than normal for this time of year (green) - but just on the cusp of being bathed in the much warmer waters further north.   

Unusually warm waters are the death knell for ocean dependent species in Galapagos - from marine iguanas, to penguins to sea lions, to flightless cormorants and other sea birds.   With warmer waters, algae disappear and so do much of the food fish on which other animals depend.  Though many visitors are reluctant to visit during an el Niño, we would argue that it's a very interesting time to witness how climate changes serve to "force" biological evolution.  

So far, Galapagos has avoided strong El Niño effects.   The cold Humboldt current, coming in from the south (blue), along the South American coastline, appears to be holding back the warm waters furhter north.  

Those interested in a scuba diving expedition to Wolf and Darwin islands, apx. 250km north of the main Galapagos island group, would be entering the very warm waters.  Recent reports from divers having been there indicate the relative absence of the iconic whale sharks there - usually a guaranteed encounter.  

El Nino Nov 15 

Alien reptile found

(based on a report from El Colono, the Galapagos daily newspaper)

Yesterday, near the Puerto Ayora gas station, someone spotted a reptile.  This is not unusual in Galapagos – the land of the reptiles – but this was a non native reptile.  The 1 metre long snake (a little over 3 feet) was captured by the biosecurity agency in Galapagos and identified as a boa constrictor, a mainland native.   Most likely illegally brought in as a pet, it either escaped or was released.  The biosecurity agency carried out an extensive search in the vicinity of where this snake was found, in case others might also have escaped or been released. 

Marilyn Cruz – my former colleague at the Charles Darwin Research Station, and now the director of the biosecurity agency noted:  “these kinds of events are a constant risk in Galapagos, and that’s why it’s important for the community to be on guard and to report any strange animals in the islands”.  

Introduced species are a massive threat to Galapagos wildlife.  Brought over by cargo ships, or in planes, accidentally, or furtively, they can easily disrupt ecosystems and drive native species to extinction.   The brown tree snake, native of mainland Asia, was accidentally introduced on the island of Guam in the Pacific, and it has nearly wiped out all the birds there.    We don’t want this happening in Galapagos.