Galapagos News

Another Step Closer to Environmental Justice in the Galapagos

By Captain Alex Cornelisson, Director of Sea Shepherd Galapagos

Last week, the National Judicial Authority of Ecuador invited the conservation sector of Galapagos to attend a meeting to analyze the need to create a specialized judicial system in Galapagos for environmental matters. As one of its members and the initiator of the judicial reform in Galapagos, Sea Shepherd's legal advisor attended the meeting held in Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

The main subject of this meeting was to discuss the creation of an environmental judiciary in Galapagos. For Sea Shepherd, it was an important opportunity to explain the need to have a specialized judge ruling over environmental cases being prosecuted in the Galapagos Islands.

Since 2010, Sea Shepherd Galapagos has been advocating for the creation of the first-in-the-world judiciary specializing in nature rights. In time, this initiative has received the support of many other conservation activists. This idea is strongly supported by the Constitution of Ecuador (the first-in-the-world recognizing rights to nature) and also by a new law that calls for the actual establishment of such specialized judiciaries ¨at any time and in compliance with the constitutional mandate."

After years of work in the Galapagos Islands, Sea Shepherd has witnessed just how challenging law enforcement can be in areas such as the Galapagos Marine Reserve. We believe that a specialized judiciary will be a huge improvement when it comes to addressing such challenges. We believe that the local judicial system not only could be, but also should be, an entity that can really make the difference in effectively enforcing marine environmental law.

For this reason Sea Shepherd congratulates the National Judicial Authority for having made such an important step towards addressing environmental issues, not only in Galapagos, but also in other regions of the country.

Sulidae sinks - no tourists on board

The Galapagos National Park Service reports that this very old 16 passenger backpacker special sank early this morning, in the middle of the night, while sailing from San Cristobal and Santa Fe. Three crew members were on board and are out of danger - there were no tourists on board.

If you had bookings for this ship, I recommend you contact your agent ASAP to ensure alternative plans are made.

Sulidae

Beagle's masts come down - ship temporarily out of service

Due to unfavorable weather conditions that occurred in the archipelago early on Wednesday, 4th of April, the Beagle yacht, a ship highly recommended by CNH Tours, suffered minor damage as its masts fell over.  Nobody was hurt and the passengers were quickly removed from the ship and taken to Puerto Ayora.   

The accident happened at 05h30 on Wednesday 4 April, 3 miles (5 km) offshore from Floreana Island.

Though CNH Tours has no direct information yet, it is likely that the ship will be out of service for a short while.   If you had booked a cruise on the Beagle over the next 2 or 3 weeks, please contact your agent as soon as possible for more details.

As is the case for many ships in the Galapagos, the Beagle's masts were not part of the original ship design, but were added to give it a "prettier silhouette".   They are purely decorative - and not used for sailing.   Very few ships in Galapagos ever raise any sails.   Winds are typically light in Galapagos (Charles Darwin spent nearly half of his 5 weeks in Galapagos on board the original Beagle, trying to sail between islands), and itineraries cannot accommodate the slower and unreliable wind powered ships.

Not the kind of cruise you should consider...

Adrian Vazquez, an 18 year old Panamanian teenager, survived 28 days on a boat adrift in the Pacific Ocean was rescued a few days ago just off the Galapagos islands, appoximately 800 miles, or 1,250 km away.

Vazquez drifted on the Panamanian current, which flows from Central America southwards, looping towards the Galapagos islands.   It's likely that his path was even longer than the 800 miles.   This same current is also responsible for bringing over marine species to the islands - many fish and marine invertebrates are common to both Galapagos and the west coast of Central America.

Dozens of people welcomed Adrian Vasquez, 18, in Panama City's airport on Tuesday.

The teenager and two friends left on a fishing trip on February 24 and were heading back to Rio Hato when the boat's motor failed.

Vasquez indicated that his friends died within three weeks. He was rescued on Friday by fishermen who found his boat off the Galapagos Islands.

Polynesian invasion?

No, but it might seem like that if you were able to look out over Academy Bay today.   A half dozen traditional Polynesian boats sailed into the bay over the weekend, as part of a "round the Pacific" journey designed to highlight the pan-Pacific travels of earlier Polynesians.  In their words: "we are doing this to strengthen our ties with the sea, renew our commitment to healthy ecosystems for future generations, and to honour our ancestors who have sailed before us."

Reed ship

This brings back memories of 1953, when Thor Hyerdhal, the famous Norewegian explorer (known for his Kon-Tiki Polynesian reed ship that he sailed in the Pacific in 1947) visited Galapagos looking for evidence of Polynesian settlements.   The locals on Floreana island decided to play a trick on him.   They had carved a face in a volcanic rock before hand, and proceeded to show it to him as evidence that the Polynesians had been to the island.  It seems he was bright enough to realize that it was a fake, and doesn't refer to it in the report of his expedition.

The sculpture has become part of local lore - if you're itinerary takes you to Floreana, ask your guide to take you to the Easter Island head scultpure!

polynesian head sculpture

CNH guests enjoy extremely rare swim with whales

The Samba's new itinerary takes it past Marchena Island for a snorkeling stop.  There are no land based visitor sites, and it's a bit out of the way - so it's an odd place to include on a cruise itinerary… unless you're wise to the ways of Galapagos.  Juan Manuel Salcedo, one of the principle guides on the 14 passenger Samba was instrumental in designing its new itinerary, and he was keen on ensuring a stop here, because he knows the place could come up with pleasant surprises.

It turns out that this very rarely visited snorkeling spot is very rich in underwater life.   Last month (Feb 2012), during their scheduled stop here, CNH Tours guests had the extremely rare pleasure of swimming with a pod of false killer whales.   "The guide told us we were very lucky - it was only the 2nd time in guiding career that he had ever seen this species".   Norm Vexler, an underwater photographer from Amherst, Massachusetts, did not hesitate and he jumped into the sea to take some wonderful shots, a sample which is presented with this story.   For more of Norm's pictures, see:  www.faroutphotos.com

false killer whale

Anti-dengue fever campaing

The Galapagos National Park Service reported today that it had participated in an anti-Dengue fever community clean-up effort last week on the island of San Cristobal.  The effort had been organized by the Ministry of Health, in reaction to the presence of the Aedes aegypti mosquito on the island, which led to some cases of Dengue fever there last year.

Park service staff collaborated with bags, gloves, a vehicle and 15 rangers, who were part of several cleaning crews distributed by the city during the 5 hour effort that took place in the main town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.

According to Wikipedia, Dengue fever is an infectious tropical disease caused by the dengue virus. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, and a characteristic skin rash that is similar to measles.  Most people with dengue recover without any ongoing problems.

Typically, the risk of contracting Dengue fever is much higher in areas where other people already have it, because the mosquito can more likely transmit the virus as it bites more than one person in the course of its life cycle.   There is very little, if none at all, of contracting Dengue fever on uninhabited islands in Galapagos.   However, if you will be spending time in the town, the best strategy to reduce the risk is the use of long sleeve shirts and long pants and socks, along with the application of mosquito repellent.

Sharks linked to satellites help conservation efforts

From the Galapagos National Park Service

During a recent 12-day trip to Darwin and Wolf Islands in the north of the archipelago (only visited by dedicated scuba diving cruises - no land visits are possible here), technicians of the Galapagos National Park Service, with support from scientists of the Charles Darwin Foundation and the University of California Davis, managed to capture and mark eleven sharks of different species, as part of a shark monitoring program.  The idea is to understand the movement patterns of sharks within and outside the protected area.

To tag the shark, one must first capture it, put it on a stretcher where it is secured and taken onto the research vessel.  Once there, it is measured and satellite tags are fixed to the dorsal fin. During this process, seawater is supplied to the shark through a hose that runs it over their gills.

Tags have so far been placed in 5 silky sharks, 2 hammerhead sharks, 2 Galapagos sharks, and 2 black tip sharks.   The tags include a small antenna - so when the shark's dorsal fin pokes out of the water (as it does when they are swimming at the surface), the device sends a satellite signal which is then relayed back to the Park's monitoring.  Earlier such studies have demonstrated that some sharks move between Cocos Island (Costa Rica) and Galapagos.

Shark tagging

CNH Tours notes that this kind of information helps develop effective shark conservation policies.  For example, if the scientists discover that the sharks migrate regularly to other places, it will be clear that their long term conservation will require cooperation with the fisheries management authorities in these places as well.

The large schools of hammerhead sharks are one of diving wonders of Galapagos - divers come from around the world to witness this phenomenon.   But sharks have been aggressively fished over the past several years, mostly to feed the growing Chinese market for "shark fin soup".    Even in the Galapagos marine reserves, sharks are often illegally fished for their fins and all efforts must be made to stop this practice, both by controlling illegal fishing, and by encouraging the main consumers of shark fins that the practice is not sustainable.

How to avoid pirate hotels and service providers

The number of visitors to Galapagos has been increasing rapidly over the past 20 years.   Soon, over 200,000 visitors a year will be arriving.    While the cruise ship visit is the classic way to see the islands, due to strict limits on the total number of ships and berths allowed to sail in the islands (thus helping conserve the islands and the visitor experience), more and more people are visiting Galapagos by land, on island hopping trips.

OK Galapagos Logo

To respond to the growing demand for land based services (hotels, restaurants, taxis, day tripping boats etc.) local entrepreneurs have been getting into the tourism business in a large way.  Unfortunately, they've often done so outside of the law or by ignoring regulations.  As a result, today in Galapagos, those that have invested in ensuring their business respects regulations and safety standards are at times competing with those that haven't.   And those that haven't are undermining good business practices.

Though the authorities are trying to clamp down on these uncertified businesses, it's always a bit of a cat and mouse game.   In an effort to help discerning visitors (like you) choose only authorized service providers, the Ministry of Tourism has recently launched its "OK Galapagos!" campaing.

OK Galapagos is a Ministry of Tourism (Ecuador) public awareness campaign designed to encourage both visitors and members of the national and international tourism communities to support legal service providers in Galapagos.  Initiated in September 2011, this campaign aims to strengthen and give recognition to members of the formal tourist service sector in Galapagos versus informal (non-legalized) service providers.

In 2012, visitors to Galapagos can expect to encounter information about the campaign on their flight from the continent as well as in the air terminals of Galapagos.  Educational material will be presented in Spanish, English, French and German (subtitles only) with the objective of raising awareness among passengers and/or potential visitors to use, prefer and search for legal or formal service operators during their stay in the islands.

OK Galapagos is good for everyone.

The Ministry of Tourism encourages members of the national and international tourism communities to ensure that they have full knowledge of whom they are hiring.  Placing precedence on working with legal service providers in Galapagos is encouraged by the government for safety.  Professionals who have any questions or concerns about OK Galapagos are encouraged to contact:  okgalapagos@turismo.gob.ec

When considering services in Galapagos, look for the OK Galapagos logo.  At present, 60% of legal service providers have been provided with the OK Galapagos sticker to display in a prominent place in their establishment.  Be sure to ask your service provider if they are a recognized by OK Galapagos.

For more information about the campaign and a complete list of Certified Touristic Service Providers in Galapagos, please see:  http://www.emediasys.com/okgalapagos/

With your support, OK Galapagos will optimize tourism in the region as well as help ensure a pleasant, memorable experience for all visitors to Galapagos.

Happy 203rd Birthday Mr. Darwin!

CNH TCharles Darwin as a young manours is pleased to mark Charles Darwin's 203rd birthday on February 12th.  We don't intend on getting into the details, but in brief, if you're reading this, you should know that his very short time in Galapagos (5 weeks in 1835 out of a nearly 5 year journey on the Beagle) contributed significantly to advancing his thoughts on how different species came about, in different places.   It was his time in Galapagos that inspired his famous, goose-bump inducing line, which took him to the gaping precipice of a radical revelation:

"Hence, both in space and time, we seem to be brought somewhat near to that great fact - that mystery of mysteries - the first appearance of new beings on this earth." (Voyage of the Beagle, 1839)

We are also titillated to report that a CNH Tours ancestor, William Blenkiron Junior (Heather's Great-great-great- grandfather) corresponded with Mr. Darwin.  William's father, William Sr, was a famous breeder of race horses in Eltham (formerly in Kent, but now a London Borough).   William Jr. informs Mr. Darwin in a letter dated 1868:

"From what little experience I have had amongst horses I should say the mane of the stallion is as a rule thicker & stronger than that of the mare, when both are allowed to live in as near a state of nature as is possible- In the case of horses fighting, they invariably endeavour to seize one another by the neck, & I do not fancy the mane is there to act as a sort of protection any more than the forelock."

In Mr. Darwin's book "The Decent of Man" (1874), Chapter 17 entitled:  Secondary Sexual Characters of Mammals, Mr. Darwin writes:

"In regard to horses, Mr. Blenkiron, the greatest breeder of race-horses in the world, informs me that stallions are so frequently capricious in their choice, rejecting one mare and without any apparent cause taking to another, that various artifices have to be habitually used."

CNH Tours notes that for an unknown reason, this branch of the family is no longer associated with globally recognized race horse breeding outfits, and that we now have to make a living selling Galapagos cruises.   We may come across fewer members of the royalty, but we certainly can still feel the passion in those with whom we do business!

 

Happy birthday Mr. Darwin!

Alien, bird killing fly under the microscope this week

(from the Galapagos National Park Service news service)

This fly is a serious threat to bird species endemic to the Galapagos Islands. From 31 January to 3 February, experts from different countries are meeting in Galapagos to participate in a workshop organized by the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation, which seeks to find ways to control Philornis downsi, a parasitic fly attacking at least 17 bird species in the archipelago, including some endangered species.

This event will be attended by scholars from countries such as USA, France, Spain, Australia, Trinidad, Austria, Argentina and Ecuador.  Participants will develop a research and management plan to control this fly introduced and will talk to guides, college students and the general public.


The first part of the workshop will identify the information that is not available and prevents development of effective control of the insect. Then the feasibility of different control methods such as traps attractive, introduction of sterile insects and biological control will be analyzed.  Finally, the participants will develop an action plan for research and management of this introduced species over the next 5 years and identify possible sources of financing.


The parasitic fly's larvae cause high mortality in young birds, including endangered species such as the mangrove finch, finch medium and Floreana mockingbird.  Implementing a plan to control this fly is extremely important. In addition to direct mortality, studies have confirmed that the chicks that survive often have deformed beaks, reduced growth rates and anemia.

As former staff of the Charles Darwin Research Station and of the Charles Darwin Research Station, CNH Tours is very aware of the perils linked to introduced species in Galapagos.   One little fly like this one can lead to the extincction of several species found only in Galapagos.   Once they are established in the islands, it can be very difficult or impossible to eradicate them, resulting in the need to establish permanent and expensive programmes to ensure they don't end up destroying what Galapagos is famous for.   So, when you're being checked at the airport for transporting unauthorized foodstuffs, remember this fly.

 

Fly

Chief Criminal Justice suspended over Shark Fishing decision

The Galapagos National Park Service reported this weekend that the National Judicial Council has suspended the Chief Criminal Justice for Galapagos for 90 days as a result of the lawsuit filed by the Galapagos National Park Service, for release FER MARY I boat, caught last year while fishing illegally in the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

On July 18, 2011, the National Park speedboat Sea Ranger 2, captured the fishing boat FER MARY I and six small accompanying outboard skiffs, while it was completing fishing operations within the protected 20 miles of the Galapagos Marine Reserve.   In its holds, the Park Service personnel encountered a total of 379 sharks, a protected species in Galapagos.

The Park Service had initiated the appropriate administrative and criminal actions to sanction this infraction.  During the judicial process, the Chief Criminal Justice for Galapagos, Jorge Cabrera, decided to declare invalid the criminal process, resulting in the release of the arrested crew of the FER MARY I.

This was the second time that Mr. Cabrera had made this kind of ruling.  An earlier case involved the REINA DEL CISNE, also captured with 65 sharks in the Galapagos Marine Reserve.  Such decisions completely undermine the very heavy investment in patrolling the Galapagos Marine Reserve, and send the wrong messages to the large industrial fishing interests that there are few repercussions for fishing illegally in the reserve. 

Since these decisions affected the natural rights to conservation of biodiversity in the Galapagos Islands and its Marine Reserve, explicitly enshrined in the Ecuadorian Constitution, the Galapagos National Park Service decided to file a complaint with the National Judiciary Council, requesting that this body take action.

The Galapagos National Park Service was very pleased to learn of the decision of the National Judiciary Council - and so is CNH Tours.   Though only a first step, CNH Tours hopes that the judiciary in Galapagos will begin to take environmental infractions more seriously.  It's only by sending a clear, firm message to those considering contravening the law will they think twice before doing so.

The Galapagos Marine Reserve is one of the few remaining places in the oceans where one can see large schools of hammerhead sharks, and where sharks in general fully occupy their ecological niche.   The global appetite for shark fin soup (mostly by the Asian communities, largely Chinese) has led to a huge reduction in shark numbers worldwide, often illegally, as unscrupulous fishermen do what they can to harvest this illegal catch.    Fortunately, there are signs of an increasing awareness in the shark fin consumer community that things should change - though the road ahead is still long!

2012 increases in air tickets to Galapagos

CNH Tours has been trying to get the final word on the increases in flight costs from continental Ecuador to Galapagos over the past few weeks.   On December 16th, the government of Ecuador suddenly announced that it would stop subsidizing fuel costs for air traffic as of January 1st, 2012 - quite a short notice!  In the intervening days, there was plenty of confusion as to what that would mean for actual ticket costs, and if those who had already payed these in advance would be exempted.

As far as we know, prices will increase by the amounts listed below.   For TAME and Aerogal, the price increase was described in their respective websites.  LAN only posts the current prices, which are about $60-$70 higher than what they were in 2011.   We don't know why the prices are slightly different… one would expect that the removal of the subsidy would have the same effect on price increases - but we'll leave that one for the airlines to reveal.

Travelers having already paid for a 2012 cruise in full may or may not be required to pay the extra cost.  Most likely they will, as this is a significant increase and is a lot to swallow for travel agents.   We recommend simply that you be prepared to pay the difference when asked to do so.

Currently the new 2012 return air fare to Galapagos from Quito (adult) is:  $538 and from Guayaquil:  $428, as advertised on the LAN website.  Unless you are traveling independently to Galapagos, you will likely not have much choice in airlines, as the ship owners typically have standing reservations on specific planes for their clients.

 

Route

Fuel Surcharge (in US Dollars) for each way, by airline

 

LAN

TAME

AEROGAL

Guayaquil-Galapagos

Apx. 60

70

50

Quito-Galapagos

Apx. 70

70

50

Illegal hotel construction finally halted for good

The Galapagos National Park Service reported today that it had decided to permanently halt the construction of a hotel in Punta Estrada sector of Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz island, in Galapagos.   The construction was deemed illegal and punishable by a fine of $ 52,800.  Mauricio Ponce, the company's legal representative PONCA SA, owner of such construction, was successfully charged with not previously obtaining the environmental license for a hotel construction, and for having caused environmental damage.   CNH Tours has reported previously on this on-going issue.   

Additionally, the judicial decision requested that the company through its legal representative must submit a remediation plan including full emergency assessment of environmental damage and compensation for affected people and communities.

The company began construction of a building in Punta Estrada, Santa Cruz Island, after having obtained municipal permits for the construction of a single family dwelling, which does not require the same type of environmental permit.  It soon became apparent however that the dimensions and characteristics of the building being constructed, consisting of 26 rooms, was equivalent to a hotel, for which more detailed environmental impact analysis and permits must be obtained.    The building was already being marketed on the Internet under the name "Palo Santo Spa".

CNH Tours has long noted how land based tourism in Galapagos, which has grown significantly in the past 5-10 years, was poorly regulated and as a result, the far west / cowboy attitude in this sector was leading to chaotic development, and compromising of safety standards.   The government authorities have been working had at getting a handle on this sector and this story very clearly illustrates how things are starting to improve.   Unscrupulous people will find it increasingly difficult to build anything anywhere, trying to avoid existing regulations.  Similarly, day trip operators are increasingly under the spotlight, ensuring that only those with permits are allowed to handle tourism.   The permit systems ensures a better respect of safety regulations and of environmental limitations.    When considering a land based activity in Galapagos, be sure you ask the operator if they have the legal right to carry out the activity.

Quito celebrations in full swing

Residents of Quito celebrate the 477th anniversary of its founding (in 1534) on December 6th by holding the "Fiestas de Quito".

People enter the street, dance and have fun, huge display of fireworks is put on show and all the squares and venues of Quito are packed with shows organised in remembrance of the event. There are dancers, musicians and merriment all around and the festivities are no less than a carnival.  The celebrations typically start as much as a week before the 6th.

Quito fiesta

The Marathon de Ultimas Noticias, a 10km race, is staged each year and the full speed go-cart competition down the notoriously steep Olmedo Street continues to ignite friendly rivalry amongst kids in the city.
Many businesses are likely to be closed on Monday, December 5th, and Tuesday December 6th.
For more info (in Spanish) see:  www.fiestaquito.com
Thanks to volunteeringecuador.info, and wikipedia for this information.

Jet Fuel Subsidy to End - Air tickets prices to increase

CNH Tours has just learned that the government of Ecuador announced the end of jet fuel subsidies last Saturday, 26th November.  This is to be applied as of January 1st, 2012 and will result in a US$90 million savings for the government.   Information is not yet complete, but the news we are receiving is that flight tickets to Galapagos may go up by as much as 20% in the new year.    This would result in an increase of approximately US$80.     Those people who have already paid for their Galapagos vacation may be required to cover this difference - it all depends on how the increase will be applied (e.g. new bookings only, or to all new and existing bookings).  CNH Tours imagines (and hopes!)  that given the relatively high administrative overhead involved in trying to get an additional $80 from existing paid bookings, that this increase would hopefully only apply to new ones.

The two main airlines flying into Galapagos, TAME and Aerogal, have not posted any information in this regard on their websites.

CNH Tours lived in Galapagos from 1998-2002 - and during that time, air tickets from Quito cost a little over US$400 return.  Today, they cost about $440.  A 20% increase would lead to a ticket costing as much as $528.

More info will be posted here as details come available.

 

Aerogal Plane

La Nina conditions affecting Galapagos

The U.S.  National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration - NOAA - (U.S. tax dollars at work - thank you) is predicting peak "La Niña" conditions in December 2011 / January 2012, after which they are expected to taper off.  What does that mean for Galapagos bound adventurers?  Typically, La Niña in Galapagos is characterized by cooler than usual water temperatures, and a drier climate.   Normally we expect water temperatures to be at their warmest from about January to April - though these should still be the warmest of the year, they will likely be a little cooler.   Those of you already inclined to use a wetsuit might want to go ahead with it.

January - April is also considered the wet season, for the occasional tropical downpours.  These rains trigger the "Galapagos spring" in the plant community, resulting in the sprouting of leaves in the trees.   During a "La Niña", if the rains fail, the leaves don't come out so well, resulting in a winter like landscape of leafless trees in some parts.

The picture below (credit to NOAA) reflects surface water temperatures in the Pacific.  It indicates that water temperatures in Galapagos are between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 5.4 degrees Farenheit) below normal for this time of year.  As November waters are usually at their chilliest, anyone contemplating a swim in the islands in the next few weeks will likely appreciate a wetsuit.

 

La Niño

Cruise itineraries move to 14 night loops as of Feb 2012

As of the 1st of February 2012, all cruise ships in Galapagos will have to had to move to the new 14 night itineraries as per new regulations of the Galapagos National Park Service.  Until then, the typical cruise ship would repeat its itinerary on a weekly basis - looping back to the same visitor sites every 7 days.   The 14 night itinerary will force the 75 or so cruise ships operating in Galapagos waters to spread out more thinly amongst the 70 terrestrial and 75 marine official visitor sites in the islands.  This will result in less wear and tear on each site, and reduced visitor congestion.  Gone will be the days, we hope, where you risked sharing your intimate wildlife encounters with 50 or more people on a particular visitor site.

Ship owners now have the option of offering cruises of varying lengths.  Whereas before, the 7 night itineraries were offered as either a full 7 night, or a choice between the rather short 3 or 4 nights, they can now offer 4, 6, 8, 11 and 14 night trips, giving clients the chance to make the best of their available holiday time.  CNH Tours strongly recommends taking at least a 5 night trip - but only if you are very hard pressed for time of budget.   The overhead for a Galapagos trip is already very high - just getting yourself to the islands is costly in time and money - so you might as well go for broke and make the best out of it while there.   The truly adventurous can now do a complete 14 night itinerary, giving them the chance to see Galapagos in a way that would make even Charles Darwin green with envy!

Of course, some tour companies have complained - as this forces them to change advertising materials, and re-think how they can sell their trips.   But in the end, this is good for Galapagos, and good for sustainable tourism.

CNH Tours has been chartering the Samba for  its "Active Galapagos" trips in the past few years.  We are proud to note that the Samba owners were among the first to voluntarily adopt the new 14 night itinerary in recognition of the positive implications for the visitor experience.  It has been doing so since early 2011, well ahead of the deadline.   In doing so, the Samba was able to design what it considers are idealy itineraries - whereas the latecomers in this process will have had less say.   The Samba now offers a choice between 2 distinct 7 night itineraries.   Of course, some are hard pressed to choose between one or another - leading to some "choice anxiety" - but everyone should rest assured that both choices offer excellent wildlife viewing, landscape admiring, and snorkeling opportunities.

PS:  Tour companies typically measure a cruise length in days.   This leads to confusing situation whereby a 1 week itinerary is called an 8 day cruise, and not a 14 day cruise.   One embarks on a Sunday, and disembarks on the following Sunday - so the Sundays are counted twice, even though you spend very little time on board on your last Sunday, and only get going in the early afternoon on your first Sunday.  This can be leading - hence our propensity to consider a one week tour as a 7 night tour.  You'll get 6 full cruise days, and fractions of 2 other days.

 

Hotel or House ? What do you think ?

house or hotel

 

The Galapagos National Park Service is in the middle of a legal battle to halt the construction of this building, on the grounds that it is a hotel, and not a private residence.   The owner filled out the paperwork for a construction permit with the municipal government of Puerto Ayora last year, indicating he was building a house.   Houses do not need to meet strict environmental standards, and do not need ministry of tourism approval.    The owner started building his house, and soon, witnesses were reporting to the park that a hotel was under construction.   After investigating the site, the Park, which is in charge of certifying that environmental standards have been respected when a hotel is built, requested and obtained a stop work order from the local judge.    A few months later, the Park was notified that the owner had ignored the stop work order and had started up construction again.   The Park obtained another stop work order which has been in place since.   But the owner turned around and charged, before the courts, that the Park did not have the authority to interfere in the construction of his "house".      This week, the court responded in support of the park, indicating that the electrical works in the building is not compatible with that of a house and concluded that the owner was in fact building a hotel.   This information, along with pictures of the building, led to the court's decision.

This decision is a positive step in the application of the law in Galapagos.   Such situations in the past often resulted in the courts deciding in favour of those trying to circumvent environmental laws.   Over recent years, much effort has been invested in strengthening the judicial processes in Galapagos, particularly those related to environmental issues.    CNH Tours applauds the efforts of the Galapagos National Park Service, along with those of the judges involved in this case.    While cruise ship tourism was finally tamed in Galapagos after many years of lax regulation (no additional capacity has been granted to the cruise ship fleet for the last 10 years), land based tourism is still in the "wild west" phase, as exemplified by this case.    The government of Ecuador has been working at regulating land based tourism over the past few years - though some progress has been made, more needs to be done.    CNH Tours is keen on seeing a well ordered tourism industry in the islands - one that focuses on the respect of the law, the application of safety standards and the removal of tourism pirates - those who operate non-authorized services and undermine legitimate, law abiding businesses.   All visitors to Galapagos should double check on the legitimacy of the businesses with whom they are considering entering into a transaction.

National Park system of awarding tourism concessions upheld by Supreme Court

Last week, in its decision over a challenge by Alfredo Ortiz (member of legislative assembly for Galapagos) on the legitimacy of the Galapagos National Park tourism concession process, the Ecuadorian Supreme Court came down in favour of the Galapagos National Park.  This is a huge success for orderly and transparent tourism management in Galapagos.

In an effort to clean up the tourism concessions process in Galapagos, new regulations had been adopted with the intention of giving everybody a fair chance at obtaining the right to operate tourism activities in the islands, with a particular focus on ship based tourism.   This includes cruise ships, but also the operation of inter-island transport, day trips and bay tours.    One provision of the regulations was designed to reduce the accumulation of concessions within one family, in an effort to spread the tourism wealth, so to speak.  Another provision gave a cut-off date of 1998 as the last year new ships operating in Galapagos would be formally recognized as being legitimate.   In 1998, the Galapagos Special Law was passed, regulating the introduction of new tourism ships in Galapagos.

Mr. Ortiz introduced the King Marine, a tourist class ship designed for day tours, to the Galapagos in 1999 - after the 1998 cut-off date.   He failed to obtain a permit to operate his ship based on this fact.  He took the Park to court on its decisions.   The first court hearing reversed the Park's decision, but subsequent appeals, all the way to the Supreme Court, finally vindicated the Park.     The King Marine has also been involved in thinly veiled sports fishing activities in Galapagos, a practice that is not explicitly permitted.

CNH Tours is very pleased to see that the law in Ecuador was upheld to the very end.   Mr. Ortiz, known for his populism and strong man tactics, was attempting to sow chaos and uncertainty into a well designed and implemented tourism management policy, and in so doing, intended on acquiring the right to operate his ship.     Such tactics are precisely those that have led to set-backs in the government's attempts at ensuring good tourism management in the islands.   The Supreme Court's decision should put this issue to rest once and for all.

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