CNH Tours - Cultural and Natural Heritage Tours Galapagos
Tuesday November 23, 2010
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).
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.
Friday November 19, 2010
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.
Friday November 19, 2010
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.
Thursday November 11, 2010
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".
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!
Thursday November 11, 2010
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.
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 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.
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.
Friday October 29, 2010
This news items comes directly from the Sea Shepherd Society website: www.seashepherd.org
The Galapagos K-9 Police Unit Detects Wildlife Crime
The 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.
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.
This 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.
Tuesday October 26, 2010
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
Thursday October 21, 2010
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.
THE FOLLOWING IS FROM A PRESS RELEASE DISTRIBUTED BY THE GALAPAGOS TOURISM QUALITY PILOT PROJECT TEAM:
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: email@example.com
Tuesday October 19, 2010
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.
Tuesday October 12, 2010
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.
Monday October 11, 2010
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
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.
Thursday October 7, 2010
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.
Sunday October 3, 2010
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.
Monday September 20, 2010
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