Galapagos News

Smuggling of Marine Iguanas Thwarted by K-9 Corps

This news items comes directly from the Sea Shepherd Society website:

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:


"Galapagos Quality" Labeling effort renewed

CNH Tours has been aware of the nascent effort in Galapagos to promote the "Galapagos Quality" label, which would guarantee high quality service while at the same time ensuring the conservation of the Galapagos Environment.  Some of our old colleagues from the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Galapagos National Park Service are closely involved in trying to set up this new label (including our Galapagos CNH Tours representative, Ivonne Torres).

The project started in reaction to outside organizations arriving in Galapagos in an effort to impose their own labeling processes there.  These were considered mal-adapted to the reality of the islands, and sparked an interest in developing more suitable, locally developed standards.

The effort is still in its infancy, but it is gaining traction.  CNH Tours is following its progress closely - we believe that it's a great idea that needs nurturing and perhaps a little outside guidance as well.   We are glad to note that after a 9 month hiatus, it is up and running again.


October, 2010

After a break of several months, the Galapagos Tourism Quality Pilot Project has been re-activated thanks to financial support obtained from new donors.

Activities came to a halt at the beginning of the year because the main source of resources, the "Sustainable Development Project for Productive Sectors in Galapagos" came to an end.

There is now a new member in the project team: The World Wildlife Fund. Their support, received through the Chamber of Tourism for Galapagos, has enabled the project to re-launch activities. Since September, an evaluation of progress to date has taken place, so that the stage can be set for implementing the necessary next steps.

The Quality Pilot is just that - a pilot, an experimental process from which a good deal has been learned.  This learning process has demanded periodical revisions and adjustments. The experience achieved through this learning process will guarantee its successful reactivation.

It is the goal of the project team to contact our members shortly to start again with more eagerness and confidence. Galapagos needs this initiative. Together, Galapagos tourism business and the project team can will boost good tourism practices that will consolidate the quality of overall service while ensuring that the environment that sustains us is protected, because in Galapagos quality and environment have only one connotation: to satisfy visitors so that they will keep considering these islands as one of the most favoured tourism destination in the world.


For more information on the project, contact:

Galapagos Coastal Clean-up Operations Underway

Close to 29 thousand kilograms of rubbish were collected from coastal and offshore of San Cristobal Island during eight days of work done by artisanal fishermen from this island.  The rubbish collection was organized as an alternative income source for fishermen affected by the closing of the sea cucumber fishery in 2010.

57 fishermen distributed among 18 small and medium sized boats participated in the clean up.

The Galapagos National Park announced that another group of fishermen is setting off today on a second round of cleaning activities in a different part of the Galapagos.   This activity will end in eight days, after which Galapagos National Park staff will carry out inspections, to certify that work has been performed to high standard.

Most of the rubbish collected comes from sources as far away as Chile and Peru.  It is carried up by ocean currents that sweep past Galapagos.

BBC Galapagos video now on-line!

The BBC's standard-setting movie on Galapagos can now be seen on-line, free of charge (though I still recommend you try to see it on a big screen!).   I was still living in Galapagos when they started production, but it took them 3-4 years to complete it.   It's very well done, and covers not only the typical animal shots (all very well done), but also includes an important section on the conservation challenges.  It even covers the famous goat eradication project (my husband was in charge of fundraising for that $8 million dollar project).

A great introduction to those who haven't yet been (but don't forget, the wonderful shots took years of patience to capture - this is not done on a 1 week cruise...) and a great opportunity to reminisce for those who've been.

See the first part here.

Lobster Season Underway in Galapagos

The Galapagos National Park Service reported today on the first month of the lobster fishery in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, which was completed on October 1st.  The season is open until January 31, 2011, or until it complies with the maximum catch quota set to 30 tons of red lobster. The spiny lobster has no quota.

Fish Monitoring department of the Galapagos National Park Service, which has monitored the development of this fishery, reported that during the first month 4,547 kilograms of lobster tails red lobster and 1,289 kilograms of green lobster were captured for a total of 5.7 metric tonnes (about the same as 5.7 US tons).

In the three ports authorized for landing marine product, we recorded the following data for lobster tails: Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz) 2693 kilos, 1,658 kilos in Puerto Villamil (Isabela), and 1,385 kilos in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno ( San Cristóbal).

The Park also seized 124 kilos (apx. 260 pounds) of lobster tails, for various reasons: they did not meet the minimum size established for his capture (15 cm / 6 incn tail),  were carrying eggs, or their tail fins had been brushed or cut.

UNESCO publishes its Galapagos report

UNESCO's report on the state of conservation of Galapagos was made public recently.  It can be accessed by clicking here.

The 35 page report was written after a team of experts visited the site in April/May of this year.   The report highlights a number of issues, noting some progress in certain areas, and also places where significantly more work was needed.   CNH Tours recommends this report as good reading for those interested in learning about the conservation challenges in the islands.

Short Lived Police Protest Ends

A brief but aggressive protest by the police in Ecuador, which took place on Thursday, September 30th, quickly came to an end later the same day.   President Correa was briefly held captive by the police - but was soon rescued by the Ecuadorian military.   Airports were closed for the day, causing temporary chaos for travelers on their way to or from Galapagos.   Things came back to normal on the following day.

The Economist, an internationally read and respected news magazine, has criticized the decision-making process of the World Heritage Committee, with a focus on Galapagos to illustrate its case.  Saying that politics are trumping sound technical advice, the article describes how the Committe, a 21 country group, decided to remove the Galapagos from the Danger List against the advice of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  The IUCN is the formal technical advisory body to the World Heritage Committee, as defined in the World Heritage Convention's text.

The Economist has rightly called for more transparency and public disclosure of its decision-making process.   CNH Tours agrees.

See the full article here