Galapagos News

Tsunami causes some damage to coastal properties in Galapagos

Yesterday's Japanese earthquake raised concern over a potential tsunami striking the Galapagos islands.  There was plenty of warning, and necessary precautions were taken.   Ships were instructed to sail to deep waters away from coastlines, and residents were asked to move to higher ground.  The Galapagos National Park Service even moved Lonesome George to high ground (though apparently, in the past, events such as tsunamis are thought to have played in important role in dispersing giant tortoises amongst different islands in the Galapagos - they float quite well and can survive long periods in the sea!).

Lonesome George being moved

 

The tsunami was expected in late afternoon at came to pass a about 5:30 PM local time (about an hour before nightfall).   Flights to the islands were cancelled, stranding some tourists.   Flights are resuming today and beyond a bit of a backlog to deal with, people should be able to get out, or get in.    Reports from Galapagos indicate significant damage, mainly to the contents of buildings located along the main seaside road in Puerto Ayora.  One restaurant, Las Ninfas, in business for a long time, was severely damanged, with parts of the building completely destroyed.  The main supermarket, Pro-insular, was flooded resulting in the loss of food and equipment.   Hotels such as the Red Mangrove were also flooded, destrying ground floor furniture and equipment.   The Finch Bay Hotel was also flooded on the ground floor, though most guest rooms were untouched.   Though tourism has since returned to "business as usual", to be on the safe side, if you are to be spending a night in a Puerto Ayora or Puerto Baquerizo Moreno hotel in the next few days, it would be advisable to get in touch with them, or your agent, to get an update.

 

A similar tsunami warning was made last February, after the large Chile earthquake struck.   Similar precautions were taken, and in the end, only what appeared to be a very high tide was felt in Galapagos then, with no repercussions.

Lobster season comes to and end

When CNH Tours was living in Galapagos, the fishing wars were in full swing.  On more than one occasion we were technically held hostage at the Charles Darwin Research Station / Galapagos National Park Services by mobs of angry fishermen, demanding greater freedoms to fish as much as they wanted.   As well, tourists were kept from disembarking by fishermen blockading docking facilities.

These struggles started in the early 1990's when the fishing gold rush started in Galapagos, and really didn't finish until the 2004 of thereabout, essentially after the gold rush of plentiful lobster and sea cucumbers (the most valuable marine resources in Galapagos) had exhausted itself.    But all was not in vain, as a pretty good system of fisheries management, including monitoring, was eventually put into place, and is now essentially accepted by the mainstream fishing community.   The fly-by-nighters who came just while the pickings were good have left, leaving the real, dedicated fishing types to live off the leftovers, whose numbers we hope are gradually picking up again.

So the press release from the Galapagos National Park this week is really a success story:

In its press release, the Galapagos National Park reported that after five months of operation,  Jan. 31 formally marked the end of the red and green spiny lobster fishery .   The  Director of fisheries management at the park reported that 21.7 tons of red lobster tail and 9.2 green lobster tail had been captured during this season for a total of 30.9 tons.    The permitted quota for this season had been set at 30 tons for red lobster, and no limit for the more prolific green lobster.    Isabela islanders brought in 50% of this catch, Santa Cruz 30% and San Cristobal 20%.

Only 313 pounds of lobster tails were decommissioned for being too small, or for holding eggs.

23 tons of lobster were exported to the continent and 7 tons remained in Galapagos for local consumption - so relax, the lobster you're eating is legally caught (e.g. and frozen if you're eating it out of season).

As they say in statistics, "It doesn't count unless it can be counted" - and in this case, the Park, by counting lobsters, is able to better manage this important resource.

 

Lobster Counting


Shark fishermen in Galapagos apprehended

CNH Tours is pleased to report that the Galapagos National Park Service, with the support of 2 naval officials, captured three boats containing recently caught sharks, an illegal practice in Galapgos - fishing, transport and marketing of sharks is illegal in the islands.  The vessels were brought to the main town of Puerto Ayora yesterday week.

Between 23 and 24 February, the marine patrol unit the Galapagos National Park Service planned an operation to patrol the southern sector of the archipelago, aboard their speedboats Sea Ranger 2 and Sea Ranger 3.

During the early morning (03h45) on February 24, the vessel the vessel F / M Virgen de Monserrate, registration B-06-04782, was sighted and captured, registered in the home port of Anconcito, on the mainland.  Non-Galapagos fishermen are not permitted to fish in Galapagos waters (they have the entire ocean to fish in already!).   They were carrying 3 crew and had were fishing with long lines (one line stretching out hundreds of meters, with hundreds of hooks attached). At the time of capture, the boat was looking for the main line of the fishing gear that had been cut, so f was not found on board.

Then, at about 0500 and again at 0830 that morning 2 other boats from the same mainland port were captured, this time with long lining being carried out, and with the carcasses of 8 and 17 sharks respectively, and a swordfish.  One shark was still alive and returned to the sea.    

A fourth ship was sighted, but it was just outside the marine reserve limits and no action was taken, though there is reason to believe it had been operating within the reserve.     The smaller, captured boats typically are associated with a larger ship from which they get their supplies (food, fuel).  

Once a Puerto Ayora, legal proceedings were begin and the crew was handed over to the National Police.    

Fishing activities within the Galapagos Marine Reserve are allowed only for residents of the islands fishing, so fishermen boats and detainees are not allowed to carry out fishing activities in it. The use of so-called longline fishing gear is prohibited within the Galapagos Marine Reserve as well as fishing, transport and marketing of sharks.

Shark fishermen

Park director presents annual report to community

On January 31st, Edwin Naula, the director of the Galapagos National Park Service,  old friend and former colleague of CNH Tours founders, presented the 2010 National Park management report to the people of Galapagos. 

In his report, Naula described the most important achievements of his administration, set in each of the lines of action: conservation, social and economic development.

Edwin Naula explained that Galapagos National Park Service ensures that the most effective use is made of the financial resources available to it to implement the activities of its annual operating plan.  He explained that the park focuses on actions that contribute effectively to solving the park's conservation management challenges, ensuring the rational use environmental goods and services in a manner conducive to sustainable livelihoods for the local community.

The report included Park expense reports for each of the actions implemented in 2010, and a presentation of financial balance at the close of the fiscal year.  It also highlighted how the National Park entrance fee paid by tourists was used.

The event was attended by Chairman of the Governing Council, the mayors of the towns of  Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Isabela, delegates from the Ministries of Environment, Tourism, Natural Heritage Adviser, among other important authorities.

At the end of his presentation, Edwin Naula thanked the rangers who are the engine of the GNPS, cooperating organizations and other governmental institutions in the archipelago, but especially to the Galapagos community, stressing that the mission of preserving the islands in the best condition, is for the benefit of all.

Edwin Naula presents report

Illegal Fishermen Seized by Park the Released by Navy!

Navy brass prevents park from charging illegal fishermen

CNH Tours has just learned that Ecuador's Navy was responsible for preventing the application of the law in Galapagos, regarding the charging of fishermen caught carrying out illegal fishing practices, with a crew that had no fishing permits.

 

During a usual patrol in waters off northern Isabela island on Thursday last week, the park rangers on board the speedboat Sea Ranger 2, inspected two ships, the Atacames and the Lady, for a routine inspection.

The inspection revealed that these two boats had longline fishing gear, which is banned from use within the Galapagos Marine Reserve.   Moreover, the first boat was manned by people who did not hold a valid fishing permit for Galapagos waters.    

Based on these two confirmed violations, the park rangers, accompanied by a member of the Navy, escorted the two ships back to port.   The Park reported that during the trip, these two boats sought for a way to evade the park rangers, unsuccessfully.

Once at port in Puerto Ayora, the Park staff contacted the local attorney general's representative to confirm the illegality of the act - it was confirmed by the official government representative responsible for doing so.   The fishing boats and their crew were met at the docks by the attorney general's representative, to take them into custody.    

At the same time, a small group of people arrived and started accusing the park of making mistakes, claiming that long line fishing was legal in Galapagos (it is not) - sowing confusion.   The  local Port Captain of the Navy, Lieutenant Luis Martinez, was called in to handle the situation.   After consulations with his superiors by phone, the port captain decided to release the apprehended fishermen and their boats, and dismissed the Park's action.

CNH Tours is extremely concerned over this issue.   Ecuador has been criticized in the very recent past for not ensuring the proper application of the law in Galapagos, resulting in the impunity for people carrying out activities harmful to the integrity of the National Park and its Marine Reserve.  CNH Tours has sent a note to the Galapagos Chamber of Tourism expressing its concern over this issue and recommends others to do the same by sending your message here:  infocptg@capturgal.org.ec and asking that the Galapagos Chamber of Tourism also express its concerns to government authorities.

Lonesome George gets 2 new mates

Everybody has heard of Lonesome George, the last surviving giant tortoise of his kind, found on Pinta Island over 25 years ago.   Despite many efforts, no other Pinta island tortoise has ever been found.  And George is not getting any younger.   Efforts to have him mate with the most tortoises previously thought to be the most closely related species of Galapagos giant tortoise have not amounted to much - he has been sharing his pen with the 2 females since 1991 -  and not one little tortoise has come of it.

So this week, the Park has shuffled things around a little.  It has removed those females and replaced them with two fresh ones from Española island.  Recent studies carried out at Yale university demonstrated that Española island tortoises are in fact the most closely related to Pinta island tortoises - thus increasing the likelihood of successful reproduction.

Most people visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station will take the walk through the tortoise pens and should chance upon Lonesome George in his pen.  He's a bit shy - and CNH Tours admits to having actually very rarely seen him, despite having lived at the Charles Darwin Research Station, within a stone's throw of his pen, for 2 full years.    George seems to prefer to stay out of site, behind bushes, or around the corner of his pen.     If you go, good luck!

Lonesome George

Largest rat eradication in South America - ever!

(from the Galapagos National Park News service)

The Galapagos National Park Service, with the support of the organization Island Conservation, Charles Darwin Foundation, The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, Durell Wildlife Trust and Bell Laboratories, began implementing a massive ecological restoration project by removing introduced rodents.

This ambitious plan, developed for the first time in South America, in a first phase, focuses on the total eradication of introduced rats and mice on small and medium-sized islands of the Galapagos.   In a pilot project in 2008, all rodents were successfully eradicated from the 184 ha North Seymour island, a popular visitor site where frigates can be seen nesting, and large land iguana's roam.    

Next on the Park's target list are Rabida, Bartolome, Sombrero Chino, North Plaza islands (all visitors sites). 

Successfully getting at every last rat and mouse on a large island is not easy.   Poisoned baits will be distributed aerially via a helicopter mounted mechanical bait dispersal mechanism.  Lessons learned in the pilot project will be applied - such as distributing baits at 7 day intervals, to ensure that rats too young to consume them in the first dispersal, are old enough to do so at the second dispersal. 

The helicopter is equipped with a high precision GPS, allowing the pilot adequate control of the flight and therefore ensuring that no square metre of an island is left out.

Rat eradication helicopter

Before applying the product, as part of this plan, risk analysis was performed on non-target species such as hawks, finches and mockingbirds, to determine possible effect on these species.   The Park learned that the species at highest risk was the hawk, as it may capture and feed on rodents that have consumed the bait.   Adequate measures to avoid this eventuality were needed.   These consisted of live capturing hawks, and keeping them in cages specifically designed to hold them under optimal conditions, during the rat baiting periods.  

Rodents in Galapagos

  • In the Galapagos there are 3 types of introduced rodents: the black rat, Norway rat and house mouse.
  • Rodents have caused adverse effects on reproduction of tortoises, iguanas, land and sea birds, especially on the Galapagos petrel, which nests in the wetlands of the larger islands.
  • Unless rodents are completely exterminated, their negative effects can never be sufficiently controlled, and vulnerable Galapagos wildlife will remain at risk.

Because native animals of Galapagos arrived only by successfully crossing 1,000 km of open ocean, very few mammals are native to the islands.  Only 2 bat species and one native "rice rat" .

Satellite tracking of rare bird begins

(from the Galapagos National Park Service)

The Galapagos National Park Service in collaboration with the Charles Darwin Foundation and scientists David Anderson, Sebastian Cruz and Proaño Carolina, recently fixed satellite tracked geo-locator devices to 19 adults waved albatrosses, with the aim of collecting information related to the distribution and movements of these birds during the non-breeding season.

The albatrosses in general are long distance ocean travelers.   The movements of the Waved Albatross, which breeds almost exclusively in Galapagos, on Española island, are well known while they are in the islands.    The can be seen there from late April to December.   However, it is unclear where the spend the months while they are absent from Galapagos - January to March.   Evidence indicates that they spend time off the coast of Peru, where they are vulnerable to being killed by long line fishermen -  a practice whereby very long fishing lines, sometimes more than 1 mile (1.6 km) are let out behind ships, baited with thousands of hooks.  The Waved Albatross has often been reported as "incidental" catches - killing them most of the time.  Also, fishermen have been known to actually shoot them and eat them.

Studies such as this one will help provide the necessary information to better manage and protect this very rare species.


The work placement geo-locator devices was conducted in Punta Cevallos, on Española island.  In May, work will be initiated to recover monitoring devices and obtain information from them.

waved albatross

To see the Waved Albatross:

The Waved Albatross is a "must see" Galapagos bird for avid birders.  Arriving mostly later in April (though the early birds may arrive as soon as March), they engage in their hallmark courtship displays (sword fighting with their beaks…) and start nesting soon thereafter.   The only way to see one is to be sure your cruise includes Punta Suarez on Española island on its itinerary.

Galapagos trip is Google's prize for its global kids science fair

 

(From AFP)

WASHINGTON - Google on Tuesday launched its first ever global science fair for young people aged 13 to 18, with the grand prize being a trip to the Galapagos Islands and a 50,000-dollar scholarship.

"Google is looking for the brightest young scientists from around the world to submit interesting, creative projects that are relevant to the world today," the Internet search engine said.

Students may enter on their own or in groups of two or three. Projects must be submitted by April 4.

As part of the entry, young scientists must create "either a two-minute video or 20-slide presentation giving an overview of your project and embed it on the summary page of your project submission," Google said.

All materials must be written in English, it said, noting that Google Translate is available for those who need it.

Judging of all submissions is to be done by a panel of teachers, Google said.

Then, in early May, "60 global semifinalists will be announced and their projects will be posted online and open to public voting for a 'People?s Choice Award.'"

Later in May, Google will announce 15 global finalists who will be flown to Google headquarters in California for a science fair event and judging before "a panel of acclaimed scientists including Nobel Laureates, tech visionaries and household names."

One finalist will be selected from each of three age groups: 13-14, 15-15, and 17-18.

Finalists win a 25,000 scholarship, and the grand prize winner gets a 50,000 dollar scholarship plus a 10-day trip with a parent or guardian to the Galapagos Islands with National Geographic Expeditions.

Contest details are availalble here:  http://www.google.com/events/sciencefair/

Whale shark project launched

Jonathan Green, a long time naturalist guide in Galapagos, and accomplished photographer, has launched the Galapagos Whale Shark Project in cooperation with the Galapagos National Park Service, the University of Davis, California, Conservation International and the Charles Darwin Research Station.


As a diving guide, Green regularly spends time in the northeast islands of Wolf and Darwin, an 18 hour boat ride from the main town of Puerto Ayora.   These islands are only visited by live aboard scuba diving boats.  Over the years, Green has learned to recognize individual whale sharks and has noted that only females frequent the area.  He has supposed that it might be a calving area for whale sharks (they give birth to live young thought to be up to 1 meter in length) - but he has never seen any young.   He has also noticed that numbers fluctuate during the full moon, that though they can be seen any time of year, they are more common between May and November.   He also noted that individuals are rarely seen on more than just a few occasions.

whaleshark

Picture credit:  http://www.whale-shark.org/

All these questions have perplexed him and have prompted him to work on developing this project.  The project will use satellite tracked devices fixed to whale sharks, permitting them to be followed over time.  These mysterious creatures, locally called "pez gato"  (cat fish) by fishermen frequenting those waters, is very large and covered with white polka dots.

SEEING A WHALE SHARK: Though whale sharks have occasionally be spotted by snorkelers on a regular Galapagos cruise, this is not too common.   To have better chances of seeing them, one has to join a scuba diving live-aboard cruise - the only cruise ships that visit the remote Darwin and Wolf islands.

For more information on Jonathan Green's project, see: http://www.galapagoswhaleshark.com

US Moves to Protect Sharks

(from Morgan Erickson-Davis, MONGABAY.COM)

Last week the US Senate passed the Shark Conservation Act, which bolsters the prohibition of shark-finning in US waters and puts the US at the forefront of shark conservation.

Finning involves catching a live shark, cutting off its fins, then dumping it back into the water where it suffers a slow death of asphyxiation on the ocean floor. The fins are frozen or dried and then most are shipped to Asia where shark fin soup, a thin and gelatinous concoction, is a delicacy.Shark Finning

Globally, an estimated 73 million sharks are killed every year, primarily to support the shark fin trade. With 30 percent of all shark species threatened with extinction, the practice of finning is leading to crashes in many populations. For instance, scalloped hammerheads and dusky sharks off the eastern US coast have dropped by 80 percent since 1970. Even under strict regulations, it will take centuries for dusky shark populations to rebound to normal numbers.

Sharks are one of the oldest groups of vertebrates and have persisted through many extinction events, including the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction which killed off the dinosaurs and the earlier Permian Extinction which resulted in the loss of 90-95% of life on earth. The fact that many species are dwindling points to the fact that humans are changing the world in magnitudes that haven't been experienced for millions of years. For example, the great white shark which has been in existence for at least 16 million years is today listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature - an intergovernmental and NGO body). Many shark species inhabit small areas and are extremely prone to overfishing. One of these is the smoothtooth blacktip shark which exists only in the Gulf of Aden, near Yemen and is caught as bycatch by local fisheries.

The Shark Conservation Act was introduced by Reps. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, Eni Faleomavaega, D-American Samoa, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, and creates a comprehensive fins-attached policy for all shark catches in US waters by amending flaws in previous legislation and working to elicit similar measures in other countries.

CNH TOURS ADDS:

In a 2006 report, the UNITED NATIONS estimates that up to 400,000 sharks per year were caught in Galapagos waters to feed the shark fin market, despite this being an illegal activity.   The sight of a vast school of hammerhead sharks is part of what attracts divers from around the world to Galapagos - supporting a strong scuba diving industry there.   The Galapagos National Park tries hard to monitor its vast marine reserve, but it can only do so much with its limited fleet of patrol vessels.   When in Galapagos, ask your naturalist guide about the latest developments in the control of shark finning there.  The picture below is of the Tiburon Martillo - a non-motorized monitoring platform usually anchored at Darwin and Wolf Islands, located far to the north-east of the main Galapagos archipelago.   These diver paradise islands are very rich in sharks, but given their distance, also the target of illegal shark fishermen from Ecuador and other countries.

Tiburon Martillo

Hong Kong Diplomat Charged

Galapagos National Park Service files criminal charges for environmental violations

(translated from Spanish using Google Translate - and edited by CNH Tours)

The event involves a diplomat from Hong Kong who visited the Galapagos.  The diplomat was caught transporting dried sea horses, an endangered species, alongside another, as yet unidentified species.  He was preparing to leave the islands carrying these species in his luggage.   The sale of sea horses is strictly prohibited.

Sea horses

 

According to the police report, while performing routine inspections of luggage at the Baltra Island airport in Galapagos, Kipper, a National Police sniffer dog, raised the alarm when it sniffed a black suitcase owned by Li Ping Yan, Hong Kong citizen carrying a diplomatic passport.

The police asked Mr. Yan to open up his suitcase, and subsequently found
20 dried seahorses and 37 pieces of a marine species not yet determined, possibly coming from sharks.

When Li Ping Yan informed that the product carrying was illegal, he said he had purchased them freely.

Environmental Police gave evidence of this crime to the Galapagos National Park Service for their care and actions.

The Park Service submitted a formal criminal complaint for this environmental crime, and followed up with a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, requesting that necessary arrangements are made, given the fact that the person apprehended with the illegal products was a diplomat.

 

CNH Tours is very pleased to see the National Police doing its job, and also happy to note the follow-up by the Galapagos National Park Service.  Environmental crimes are too often treated as unimportant by the judiciary, and people breaking environmental laws are not often prosecuted severely, if at all, despite provisions for doing so in the law.

The Chinese appetite for sea products is well known and has led to the devastation of shark populations worldwide as unscrupulous fishermen seek to supply the black market in shark fins, the main ingredient for Shark Fin Soup.    Shark fining continues to be practiced illegally in Galapagos, despite efforts to control it.   A United Nations report in 2006 estimated the total number of sharks illegally fished in Galapagos at 300,000 - 400,000.    The same can be said for sea cucumbers - whose numbers have plunged in the Galapagos since the 1980's.    It is worrisome to see interest now turning to the delicate sea horse.

High Level Workshop on Sustainable Development

(adapted from a press release emitted by the Galapagos National Park Service - translated from Spanish in part thanks to Google Translator)


From 29 November to 3 December, the main authorities of the islands, along with NGOs, the United Nations and the private sector, worked at establishing a joint vision focusing on sustainable development and quality of life in the islands.


The Minister of Environment (Marcela Angiñaga) and the Minister of Heritage (Fernanda Espinosa ) both known personally by CNH Tours, led the workshop, with support from  the Galapagos National Park Service, the Charles Darwin Foundation, Eliecer Cruz of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Scott Henderson of Conservation International (CI) - both also CNH Tours friends, the Helmsley Trust Foundation and Linblad Expedition.   The workshop was entitled "Joint Vision on quality of life and sustainability of the Galapagos Islands".  The workshop took place aboard the National Geographic Endeavour cruise ship.

Participating in this workshop are the main stakeholders involved in Galapagos, Central government authorities, the National Planning Administration, local governments, NGOs, etc. who all sought to promote a shared vision for the Galapagos.

Fernanda Espinoza, the Heritage Minister said: "It was an opportunity to establish agreements on the strategic agenda for Galapagos and participatory budget for the year 2011 along with a plan that guides us for 2011-2014. These initiatives were discussed and agreed to with the mayors, government agencies and local municipal councils - a first for Galapagos. "

"Having created this common agenda is a great achievement and we have take part in a different kind of politics. I am very optimistic given the dedication manifested by the local stakheholders.  It was a joint effort and hopefully could be replicated in other parts of the country, "said Environment Minister, Marcela Aguiñaga, who along with her technical team of the Galapagos National Park Service, made important contributions.

The Galapagos has known many conflicts in recent years, over fishing, tourism modalities and more.  It's good to see the most senior government officials directly involved in multi-stakeholder processes designed to find consensus based solutions to these challenges.   It's also important to note that the workshop was led by the ministries of Environment and of Heritage.  CNH Tours would have been concerned had it been led by the Ministry of Economic Development / Tourism, for whom Galapagos biodiversity conservation is not a top priority.

Near extinct mockingbird to be re-introduced

The Charles Darwin Research Station recently announced its efforts to re-introduce the nearly extinct Floreana Mockingbird back to... Floreana island!   This very rare bird (about 100 individuals only!) survives only on two tiny islands just off the coast of Floreana, in small numbers.  With the help of a Mexican scientist experienced in this kind of work (he successfully re-introduced the kakariki, a species of parrot,  to its native habitat in New Zealand).

Floreana Mockingbird

 

 

Though it is popularly believed that the finches of Galapagos contributed mostly to Charles Darwin's thinking on evolution, in fact, his writings clearly indicate that the Galapagos mockingbirds were more important in this regard.   Darwin took the time to note the differences in the mockingbirds he collected in Galapagos, and to note the islands from which he had collected them.   He didn't do this for the finches.

Galapagos mockingbirds are wonderful to observe.  They are inquisitive and very alert.   When CNH Tours lived in Galapagos, on hot days, we'd leave the door to our house open, and a mockingbird would come in and look around for any stray spiders or insects in various nooks and crannies (it was never disappointed!).    Española mockingbirds are the most brazen - they will peck at your shoe laces if you let them.

The Floreana mockingbird was extirpated (e.g. disappeared from this particular place, but existed elsewhere) from Floreana likely as a result of the arrival of introduced species such as cats, rats, and perhaps chickens (which may have introduced diseases).  Scientists believe that recent cat and rat control efforts on Floreana island will allow for the successful re-introduction of the mockingbird there.

Charles Darwin Research Station Makes Weather Data Available

CNH Tours was born at the Charles Darwin Research Station.  We were working (and living!) there when we organized our first "friends" cruise in 2000.

The Station has been carrying out practical scientific research since 1964.  One thing it has been doing non-stop since then is tracking the weather.

In a press release, the Station has recently announced its "on-line Galapagos Climate Database".  The website goes on to give a very nice explanation of Galapagos weather, and what to expect there at different times of year.   It also gives us an idea of the impacts of the "La Niña" which is currently being experienced there.

According to Mandy Trueman (Mandy and her scientist husband Mark are old colleagues of ours!), climate researcher and CDF collaborating scientist: "At this stage it is uncertain how strong the La Niña event will be or whether significant effects will be felt in Galapagos. However, climate records illustrate that cooler temperatures during January to May mean less rainfall, so there is a risk of drought from January until the garúa (mist and drizzle) returns in June or July."  Advance preparation for drier conditions may include storing water, repairing leaky pipes, safeguarding against wildfire, reducing livestock herds, postponing cultivation, and prioritizing irrigation regimes.

Temperatures have been cooler than normal over the past several months, and Galapagos residents are reported to be wearing warm jackets and scarves!  Th

 

We recommend you have a look at the following links if you're interested in Galapagos weather.

Click here for the PRESS RELEASE for detailed information on current conditions and how these impact wildlife.

Click here for the CLIMATE DATA over the years.

Climate research station

November 28 is Census Day in Ecuador - be prepared

CNH Tours has learned that Sunday, November 28, will be the national census day in Ecuador.  An army of 360,000 students has been trained to go door to door to collect census data.

The census may cause disruptions to your visit.   It appears that the Census is taken very seriously, and relatively draconian measures are put into place to ensure that all people are counted.  The Census law requires that all Ecuadorian residents stay at home from 7AM to 5PM.   It will also apply the "Dry Law", which prohibits the sale and consumption of alcohol from Friday night (midnight) to Sunday night (midnight).  This may have an impact on your travel plans.

HOW WILL THE CENSUS AFFECT MY TRIP?

If you're on a cruise: Business as usual, nothing to worry about.

If you're on land (e.g. on the continent, in town in Galapagos):  We have been informed that guests will have to remain in their hotel rooms from 7AM to 5PM.  We find this somewhat excessive, and are trying to get additional information.   Shops will likely be closed, and public transport may be difficult to secure (as will getting a drink!).

If you're flying: Either between Galapagos and the continent, or international departures and arrivals, CNH Tours has been informed that it will be business as usual (despite the National Census website indicating the contrary).

If you're looking for a taxi: We have been informed that specially authorized transport will be arranged by hotels to ensure their guests can get to and from the airport.  The best option will be to get in touch with your hotel and ask for help in this regard.

CNH Tours Pre-trip Reading Recommendation

If there is one book CNH Tours recommends you read before going to the Galapagos it's SONG OF THE DODO, ISLAND BIOGEOGRAPHY IN AN AGE OF EXTINCTIONS by David Quammen.

This is not a novel, nor a book particularly focused on Galapagos (though the islands do feature in the book, and the author has traveled there to meet some of the locals).   But it's a book that, in a fascinating and often very entertaining read, will give you a strong foundation for better understanding why Galapagos is such a special place.   It's part travel log, part popular science and by using many colourful examples, tells the story of how islands are a powerful force behind biological evolution.  Also, perhaps one of the most poignant lines in the book, Quammen explains why "islands are where species go to die".

Song of the Dodo cover

The book was perhaps one of our best appreciated wedding gifts (we were married 3 weeks before moving to Galapagos).  My husband read it three times while we where there!

Quito Festival - December 6th

Most people traveling to Galapagos pass through Quito, and may even linger there for a day or two on the way in or out of the islands.   Like Galapagos, Quito was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1978 (one of the first).    If you schedule permits it, CNH Tours highly recommends a visit.

If your travels take you through the city in early December, you may want to consider participating in the city celebration of its founding, on December 6th (but celebrations usually begin several days before).

Here's what EcuadorExplore.com has to say about the festivities:

Ecuador's capital city is in a wild, festive mood as it celebrates the Fiestas de Quito. This most exciting of Quito's festivals kicks off annually in late November with the crowning of the Reina de Quito (The Queen of Quito), and it concludes on December 6th, the anniversary of the city's founding in 1534. The Fiestas de Quito were first celebrated in 1959, when a small group of friends decided to revive some of Quito's lost traditions. Since then, Quiteños have taken to the streets every year to party in their neighborhoods and congregate in the historic center's central plaza to dance and imbibe. There are also some customs, like bullfights, cuarenta and chivas, which residents associate closely with the Fiestas de Quito.

Bullfights

A lot of the action during Fiestas de Quito revolves around the city's bullring. The Plaza de Toros hosts fights every day and up to sixty bulls are killed during the course of the festival. The bullfights can be gory affairs, but they are steeped in tradition and link Quiteños with their roots in Spain. The picadores, mounted on horseback, are the first fighters to face the bull. They use large lances to stab the bull as it charges after the horses. Next comes the banderillero, who runs up to the bull and stabs it with small, barbed sticks. Finally the matador comes out and uses his cape to force the bull into a number of close passes. As the bull's energy lags, the matador seizes the opportunity and thrusts his sword into the bull's back, piercing its heart. The crowd goes wild when a bull is killed, cheers lustily on every close pass, and break into song at various points during the fight. Most bullfights sell out, so you have to line up for tickets pretty early to join the lively, wine-swilling spectators.

Cuarenta

Cuarenta is a traditional card game in Ecuador's highlands, but it is most commonly played during the Fiestas de Quito. Whole offices will stop work early to relax with some beer and cards. The game is not complicated, but it is addictive. Players, either individually or in teams, hope to capture their opponent's cards by matching their value. Each captured card is scored as one point, and the winner is the player or team that gets to forty points.

Chivas

Even if you don't participate in the Fiestas de Quito revelry, it's hard to avoid seeing and hearing the iconic chivas. These old wooden buses, converted into mobile dancefloors, cruise around the main arteries and plazas of the city center. As the chivas arrive in nightlife hotspots, revelers pour out and begin dancing in the street. If you want to catch a ride on one of the myriad chivas, befriend a Quiteño and start asking around; you're bound to score an invite.

Smuggling of Marine Iguanas Thwarted by K-9 Corps

This news items comes directly from the Sea Shepherd Society website:  www.seashepherd.org

The Galapagos K-9 Police Unit Detects Wildlife Crime


Can WillyThe K-9 unit of the Ecuadorian Environmental Police recently prevented an illegal exportation of two marine iguanas, an emblematic species of the Galapagos archipelago that has been protected since 1959.

On September 30, 2010, the Police were conducting a routine inspection of cargo and luggage at the Galapagos airport in Baltra, Ecuador. Willy, one of the dogs of the K-9 unit, identified a cardboard box containing two marine iguanas. The box had been abandoned by its owner. The iguanas were hidden in a compartment of the box. Both iguanas were improperly stored, but fortunately, they were still alive. The body of a deceased baby sea turtle was also found in the box. After the police inspection, the marine iguanas were delivered to the authorities of the Galapagos National Park.

According to the police report, witnesses only provided a general description of the suspected owner of the box. Since the box had been abandoned, the Police were unable to locate the suspect. An investigation has been opened to that end.

Iguana caja Iguana envuelta papel

While the perpetrator has not yet been identified, this case shows that the mere presence of the K-9 unit at the Galapagos airport was effectively able to frustrate and prevent a wildlife crime. According to Galapagos special legislation and the Penal Code of Ecuador, the non-authorized collection and/or mobilization of wildlife, including its exportation from the islands, is a penal infraction sanctioned with imprisonment.

shark finsThis operation came a day after another important finding of six shark fins stored in the ceiling of a house in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. Sharks are also protected species in Galapagos. The shark fins were found as the result of an inspection conducted by another K-9 unit. This case is also currently under investigation to determine judicial responsibilities.

The K-9 unit of the Ecuadorian Environmental Police is supported by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. It is a pioneer unit in Ecuador, and in the region. In the past few years since its inception, the K-9 unit has proven to be instrumental in the fight against wildlife crimes in Galapagos. The dogs are trained to detect wildlife, including shark fins and sea cucumbers, and to prevent their illegal exportation. The K-9 unit operates the three inhabited islands of Galapagos under the command of specialized police officers.

New "homes" built for rare penguins

The Galapagos penguin survives in a perpetual state of "endangered-ness".   Like many Galapagos animals and plants, the very fact that it exists only in Galapagos radically increases its vulnerability to extinction.   All it would take to die off would be a streak of bad luck - a series of terrible "El Niño" events, the introduction of avian malaria, domestic egg-eating pigs gone wild, and perhaps an ill-timed tsunami during nesting season, and numbers would plunge perhaps to a point of no-return.

 

There are currently about 2,000 Galapagos penguins in the world -  and they all live in Galapagos.  Just think about it:  likely half are female, and of these, perhaps half are of breeding age, meaning you have about 500 birds able to lay an egg each year - and mortality among chicks is likely not negligible.  It doesn't take much to knock such a species off its feet.

 

According to University of Washington experts, Galapagos penguin numbers have been falling over the past 40 years.   To reverse this trend, scientists there have been building, out of lava rock, crevasses that are suitable for penguin nests.   They found that the absence of suitable penguin nesting sites, particularly beyond the range of wild pigs, is one of the limiting factors to successful reproduction.

 

When CNH Tours did its first cruise in 1999, we saw very few penguins - this was just after the major 1997-98 "El Niño" event, which led to very high penguin mortality.   During our latest visit to the islands in February 2010, we were pleased to have seen a whole lot more of them.    Penguins are a delight to observe underwater, as they dart about chasing fish, and bob up to the surface, watching snorkelers go by without concern.

 

For more information, see:  http://uwnews.org/article.asp?articleID=60860

 

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