Galapagos News

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.

Prince Charles to provide advice for environmentally sound development in Puerto Ayora

The Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment announced on its website this week that it will be providing support in ensuring that the development of lands recently allocated for housing in Puerto Ayora will take place according to the best environmental standards possible.     Up to 1,000 residential units are expected to be built over the next few years in the "El Mirador" housing development, located along the main road leading out of town.   Along with other conservation organizations, including the Charles Darwin Foundation, the Prince's Foundation will work with local communities to produce an urban architecture code for a development of over 1000 houses at El Mirador, Puerto Ayora. The code sets out information on building codes and energy efficient housing, whilst also considering the overall impacts of construction on the local eco-system and communities within the area.

CNH Tours has remarked in the past that current building standards are maladapted to the environment in Galapagos, which has a very hot season with intense sunlight, and a cooler season requiring, in some cases, a bit of indoor heating at night.  Poor building practices result in an excessive reliance on air conditioning, and poor insulation and use of vegetation for shading results in very low efficiency in terms of use of electricity.   As most electricity is generated by oil powered electrical power plants, this oil has to be imported at a high cost, subsidized by the government of Ecuador, resulting in even more wastage, and oil spill risks (see the Jessica Oil spill in January 2001 - in Galapagos).

Water is also scarce, yet most rainwater is left to drain off rooftops onto the ground, and is lost to human use.    The water in Puerto Ayora is unsafe to drink, with high E.coli counts (because sewage is simply flushed into holes the ground) and high salinity (because water is pumped from below ground, where it mixes with sea water given the high porosity of the volcanic rock on which Puerto Ayora is built).

So, CNH Tours welcomes this news.   There has been some sensationalist reporting about it in the UK press, indicating that the development will double the population of Galapagos.    In fact, the development will have no impact on the population.    The people are there already, the population is growing through natural growth, and through a well controlled immigration.   The land for the "El Mirador" is already slated for development - the issue is, will it be good development, or bad development.  The demand for housing in Galapagos is very  high, and the Prince's Foundation involvement will only assure that better building standards are applied.


For more informaiton, see the Prince's Foundation page here.

Image from the Prince's Foundation Website

Princes Foundation

Celebration of World Heritage Anniversary

Galapagos Celebrates the anniversary of World Heritage listing

Over three hundred students from different educational institutions of primary and secondary education in the town of Puerto Ayora, along with officials of the Galapagos National Park Service, city hall and the ministry of tourism joined in a parade down the main street on Wednesday this week.

Children and young people displayed along the sidewalks and balconies displayed posters, banners, costumes, etc. to transmit a show of pride in Galapagos. The parade ended at the San Francisco Park, on the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, a place where the principal authorities of the municipality, who led the march, gave speeches in line with the celebration.

The next day, the Galapagos National Park Service ran the second Galapagos Dance Festival with the participation of the different schools.   On September 7,  1978, the World Heritage Committee of the Organization of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), signed the document officially recognizing the Galapagos Islands, as the first World Heritage site ever.   In 2001, the government of Ecuador submitted a proposal to have the Galapagos marine reserve also recognized under the World Heritage Banner.   After a careful analysis, the World Heritage Committee also accepted it.   Today, there are over 900 World Heritage sites around the world, including such iconic places the pyramids of Egypt, the Grand Canyon in the USA and Peru's Machu Picchu.     But Galapagos takes pride in being the first ever World Heritage site to be named.

Anniversay Parade

Waves batter sea front boardwalk

September 1, 2011

The sea front at the main town of San Cristobal island, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, was battered by heavy seas over the past three days, reports a local Blog poster, Adriana Meza.   The Military Oceanographic Institute gave an advance warning that unusually heavy seas would result in greater wave action than usual.

The town is famous for the large colony of sea lions that lounge around near, or even on the sea front boardwalk.   But the waves played havoc on the seafront infrastructure, messing up some landscaping.    Nobody was hurt, and the sea lions knew how to handle the waves, but local residents took the opportunity to admire the spectacle.

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno hosts one of the 2 airports in Galapagos.


Waterfront PBMPBM Waves

Tainted alcoholic drinks found on Galapagos store shelves

After several cases of methanol poisoning were detected by health officials in the past 2 weeks, the Ecuadorian Ministry of Health has ordered a recall of several different brands of wines and hard liquors.  After analysis, the Ministry detected small amounts of the toxic methanol in the Vino San Francisco - a wine produced in Ecuador and predominantly sold in smaller "mom & pop" stores.  Visitors to Galapagos in the coming weeks should be vigilant, purchasing any alcool in the larger markets, and making enquiries with the clerks.    Though no-body was reported to have died, some people were hospitalized for treatment.

Other alcoholic beverages flagged by the Ministry include:  Israel Durazno wines, Osadía wine, Durazno Especial, Silver label Cuban Rhum, Brown label Cuban Rhum,  Palo Viejo rhum, Ivanoff Vodka Ivanoff, Lima Limero, Lima Limón, Tentador frutilla wine, Roblecito liqueur, Tentador Durazno (peach) wine, Lima Limón Fiesta (Papelito), San Roque Moscatel wine, Brandy Las Tres Marías, Z-Uno.

Park Service to close direct access to tortoise pens

The Galapagos National Park Service has decided to close direct access to the giant tortoise pens in the tortoise breeding centre near the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz island this week.   Of the six pens, two had been open to public "walk throughs" given visitors a chance to see the tortoises that much closer.

The decision was based on the fact that, over the past while, the park had been receiving a growing number of reports of unacceptable behaviour on the part of some naturalist guides who were not applying the regulations for visiting the pens.   People were reported to be walking on the tortoise's feeding platforms, touching the tortoises and leaving garbage behind.

Visitors will still be able to take the very nice boardwalk which takes them alongside the pens, from which they will still be able to get good views of the tortoises.  If the park has any reason to believe that guides will "pull up their socks" and ensure that regulations are applied, it said it may re-open the pens to visitors again.

The pens receive about 7,800 visitors a month and currently include 925 juvenile and 70 adult tortoises.

Tortoise pens locked up Picture courtesy Galapagos National Park Service

Park nabs commercial shark poachers

Fer Mary I shark catch

(story adapted from Sea Shepherd Society news item)

One of the biggest shark poaching arrests in the history of the Galapagos National Park recently took place. The national park rangers and an Ecuadorian naval ship apprehended the industrial longline fishing vessel from Manta, Ecuador and 30 or so fishermen. At the time of capture, the vessel was fishing 20 nautical miles within the designated area of the Galapagos Marine Reserve, southeast of Genovesa Island.

Upon inspection by the park service, it became clear that the vessel was using longlines to commercially fish for sharks, all of which are illegal in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Furthermore, it turned out that this vessel had been involved in a mass slaughter of sharks. The vessel's holds were filled with sharks, 357 in total. The confirmed death list included: 286 thresher sharks, 22 blue sharks, 40 Galapagos sharks, 6 hammerhead sharks; 2 tiger sharks, and 1 mako shark.

The Galapagos National Park Service has started an administrative process against the vessel, its owner, and crew. Simultaneously, the new environmental prosecutor for Galapagos has started a penal procedure in order to get maximum penalties for the people involved in this serious environmental crime.

Sea Shepherd Galapagos will monitor this case closely when it goes to court. The impact on the fragile Galapagos ecosystem is devastating and a message needs to be sent that such highly illegal activities will also come with severe consequences.

The Automatic Identification System (AIS) Sea Shepherd Galapagos is implementing will further improve vessel monitoring capabilities for the park service, making illegal fishing ever more difficult inside the protected waters of the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

Sea Shepherd has been working in close cooperation with the Galapagos National Park since the year 2000, and the Ecuadorian National Police since 2007.


CNH Tours has had the privilege of sharing dinner with Paul Watson, the founder of the Sea Shepher Society, when he was in Galapagos a few years ago.   He's quite a character!

Galapagos #1 on list of 100 top travel destinations

(adapted from the original International Galapagos Tour Operators Association news item here)

The special August/September issue of Britain's well-respected Wanderlust Magazine names the Galapagos Islands the number one destination in the world in its 'Top 100 Travel Experiences' cover story. To compile the list, the magazine invited its readers to submit their own top ten travel experiences and thousands heeded the call. Once the dust had settled and the tabulating was complete, the Galapagos Islands emerged as the readers' number one favorite. Anyone who has had the good fortune to visit the Galapagos knows the honor is well-deserved.

As the Galapagos Islands continue to attract great press coverage, it's only natural that more and more people want to discover its wonders for themselves. But as the Galapagos grows in popularity, it's more important than ever that travelers and travel providers carefully consider their impact on this fragile ecosystem. To this end, IGTOA encourages travelers to do their research and choose a Galapagos travel provider that is serious about operating in an environmentally and socially responsible manner, one that is doing its part to help preserve and protect these magical islands for the enjoyment of future generations.


CNH Tours has been an Associate member of IGTOA since 2003 and fully endorses its objectives.

Inter-island ferry runs out of gas, passengers stranded


July 12th, 2011

According to the Ecuadorian Coast Guard rescued a yacht, Y/P Albany with 24 tourists aboard, including 4 children, last  week (July 8th), between tow ilsands in the Galapagos. The National Maritime Authorities announced that foreigners from the United States, France, Germany, and citizens of Ecuador were passengers of the yacht. Officials say the yacht ran out of fuel 8 nautical miles off land and was drifting in the ocean. All passengers were uninjured and brought to Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz in the Galapagos. The Coast Guard says that the owner of the yacht miscalculated the amount of fuel necessary for its travel and that fuel was provided to the yacht at the time of rescue. Also, the Coast Guard adds that the yacht was over capacity in terms of the number of passengers.  It reports also that the owner of the boat will be fined.


CNH Tours adds:

This is one of those ferries that transports people between islands.   Clearly, more can be done to ensure that maximum capacity is respected.   We recommend you email the Galapagos Chamber of Tourism to ask that they pressure the authorities to ensure this does not happen again.  You can reach them here:


Albany Ferry

Report on Impact of March tsunami on Galapagos wildlife

(adapted from


UNESCO's World Heritage Center reported yesterday on the impacts of the Japanese tsunami on Galapagos wildlife.   It stated(text adapted):

Eighteen hours after the March 11 tsunami wreaked devastation in Japan, it hit the Galápagos Islands.  Luckily, by then the energy of the waves had dissipated somewhat, and the people there had received advanced warning and took to higher ground. The waves hit later in the afternoon, local time, and caused significant damage only to some buildings located near the water's edge. The Charles Darwin Research Station's (CDRS) marine biology lab and its equipment were largely destroyed. The lab is critical in carrying out the marine monitoring work that feeds into the Galápagos National Park's management work.

Soon after the disaster, the CDRS received a grant from UNESCO to help it re-establish its marine monitoring capability, and also to carry out a rapid assessment of the impacts of the tsunami on Galápagos wildlife, which contribute a great deal to this site's international fame.

Their preliminary report has just been received.  It indicates that impacts varied significantly between areas.  It notes that the height and penetration of the wave at the coast was very specific to different localities within and between islands, with varying impacts upon the flora and fauna.  Several beach areas were extensively reconfigured, while others showed large scale sediment shifts offshore, probably limited by upper littoral vegetation roots (including those of mangroves) stabilizing the sediment.

Important flightless cormorant nesting sites on Fernandina island, the most undisturbed large island in Galápagos, showed evidence of the destruction of existing nests, but the scientists also noted that adults had largely survived and had recommenced nesting and egg laying. Occasional mortalities were evident (sea turtles and marine iguanas) at the upper limits of the wave. Other sites, such a small but critically important mangrove area (home to the very rare nesting mangrove finches) were apparently not negatively affected.  Marine turtle and iguana nesting was affected depending upon wave height, beach profile and nesting behavior.

The CDRS reports that it was currently following up lines of investigation to examine the dynamic of the wave as it propagated throughout the archipelago with their associates in the Ecuadorian Navy compiling information for Park and Disaster mitigation planning agencies.

Garbage/Rubbish Recycling Established on Floreana Island

(News release from the Charles Darwin Foundation)


Solid Waste Recycling Stations on Floreana Island



Last June 8, the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), the Galápagos-Ecuador Foundation and the Floreana Island Parish Government launched the "Strengthening of the Solid Waste Management System" campaign.

During the launch event, attended by local authorities, special guests and the community at large, technologist Max Freire, President of the Parish Government, made a formal presentation of the analysis of island waste management that was conducted last year and on which the campaign is based. The program also included unveiling of a logo, slogan and mascot that will be part of the awareness-raising activities to be carried out on the island.

Cristina Georgii, CDF Education for Sustainable Development Coordinator, took the floor to emphasize the importance of community participation in the solid waste management process. She explained: "Our commitment is to the all-round restoration of Floreana with community participation, by providing tools to build local capacity in order to enhance the quality of life of the islanders." In conclusion, she expressed her appreciation to the Floreana Parish Government and Galápagos-Ecuador Foundation for their joint efforts.

In turn, Galápagos-Ecuador Foundation representative Veronica Santamaría explained to the community the importance of the six new recycling stations, whose primary function is to get the community and visitors to the island to cooperate in solid waste management.

Shortly before the end of the event, the community enjoyed two puppet shows, "The Three Finches" and "Lucy, the Recycler," that were produced and acted by the young students of the Amazonas School.

In the next few months, various activities are planned with the main theme of proper garbage disposal and recycling with the participation of the community.



Floreana Island is the least populated in Galapagos, with about 100 people living there.   Waste is even an issue in such small places, and every effort to manage it / reduce it is welcome.   This is an example of the work of the Charles Darwin Foundation - it's not all research!

Entrance Fee to Rise, Special Law for Galapagos under Revision

The government of Ecuador recognizes that Galapagos is a place like no other.  And for this reason, in 1998, it passed the "Special Law for Galapagos" (SLG), which sets out the conditions under which various activities can take place in the islands, and establishes various administrative structures to deal with issues there. For instance, it's in the SLG that the $100 park entrance fee, and its use, was fixed.

In 2008, after a constituent assembly approved a new constitution for Ecuador, some of the structures set up in the original SLG were found to be in conflict with the new constitution.  For instance, prior to the new constitution, Galapagos had the status of a Province in Ecuador (similar to a State in the USA).   The new constitution has withdrawn full provincial status for Galapagos, based on its very small population compared to that of other provinces.  The new constitution creates a governing council for Galapagos, composed mostly of a few ministers (Environment, Planning, and Tourism) and of local mayors.

The most immediate effect on the average tourist would be a proposed increase in the park entrance fee.   The current fee is $100 for people over 11 years of age, and $50 for those under 12.

The new fee will be a function of the length of stay in the islands.  A basic $120 fee will apply, to which an "environmental impact" supplement will be added.  The Environmental Impact supplement will be an additional $120 (total $240) for those staying no more than 3 nights, $30 (total $150) for people staying from 4 to 6 nights, or more than 16 nights, and $8 (total $128) for people staying from 7 to 15 nights.   To sum up:

NEW FEWS PROPOSED FOR 2012-2013 (adults):

A.   Staying 0-3 nights:   $240

B.   Staying 4-6 nights, or more than 16 nights:  $150

C.   Staying 7-15 nights:  $128


The basic $120 fee is subject to change every 2 years.  Children under 12 will pay 50%.

Over the next several days, the government will be holding public consultation sessions in Galapagos to collect comments and opinions on the proposed revision, and to clarify any misunderstandings.

CNH Tours supports responsible travel, and effective management in Galapagos.   The Park Entrance fee will continue to represent a relatively small percentage of the overall cost of a Galapagos vacation. Having lived and worked for conservation in Galapagos for 4 years, CNH Tours has seen how the funds raised by the park entrance fee are put to good use in dealing not only with tourism management, but also in supporting park conservation work, marine reserve management, the control of harmful introduced species, and other useful work.

The overwhelming majority of visitors to Galapagos spend between 7 and 15 nights in the islands.  The $28 increase for this category is the first since 1998, and was warranted.    The average price of a cruise, and of hotels, has increased easily by 75, if not 100% since 1998, whereas this is the first price increase for the park entrance fee.

CNH Tours also notes that the SLG contains many other elements very critical to the long term conservation of Galapagos, including a focus on biosecurity - to keep alien species out, tourism management and others.  It even contains measures to keep Ecuadorian citizens from the continent from freely moving to Galapagos, in an effort to limit population growth there.  These are extraordinary measures requiring a level of political will that is commendable.

Power outages in San Cristobal

The main diesel electrical power plan at San Cristobal Island broke down yesterday, due to damage caused by an unplanned outage.  This has led to a reduction in its generating capacity to a maximum of 1,500 kilowatts while island-wide demand is at about 1,800 kilowatts.

Elecgalapagos, the electrical utilities company, has been forced to make energy rationing in several areas of the island. 

Mr. José Moscoso, the CEO for Elecgalapagos, said that arrangements are being made to repair the failed generator as soon as possible.  Spare parts were to be imported from the continent to do so.  He called on the public to reduce electricity consumption so as to reduce the need for rationing of electricity.   This situation is expected to last for a few days while spare parts are flown in and the generator repaired.

Visitors to San Cristobal island in the next few days may end up "in the dark".

Sea cucumber fishery to open June 15-August 15

Galapagos, May 11, 2011 (translated from the press release of the Participatory Management Board).

This afternoon and evening, at an extraordinary meeting of Participatory Management Board (PMB) of the Galapagos Marine Reserve on Santa Cruz, consensus was achieved in regards to the opening up of the sea cucumber fishery in the Marine Reserve.  The decision was based on population monitoring results performed by technicians of the National Parks Service and of the Charles Darwin Foundation, with the help of fishermen from the various fishing cooperatives in the archipelago. (CNH TOURS:  The sea cucumber fishery has been closed due to insufficient stocks, since 2008)

This monitoring showed that there is a population density of 12 sea cucumbers per 100 square meters, which is above the minimum density of 11 per 100 square meters permissible to consider the opening of this fishery, as stipulated in the Fisheries Management Plan for the Galapagos Marine Reserve, developed and approved in 2009.   

Based on this report and considering the needs of the artisanal fisheries sector of the archipelago, the PMB set a quota of 1 million individuals for the extraction of sea cucumber for this season, which starts June 15 for a period of 60 days .

The Bolivar channel, which separates Fernandina and Isabela islands will remain closed to the fishery, as has been the case previously.  This zone is considered as an important breeding ground for sea cucumbers.

PS: Sea cucumbers are considered a delicacy in many asian markets.

CNH Tours notes that it took many years of hard and frustrating work to reach this point in the management of the sea cucumber fishery in Galapagos.  From the early 1990s to the mid-2000s (CNH the sea cucumber gold rush drew in fishermen from the continent intent on vacuuming up as many of these ground dwelling starfish related animals as possible.  At up to $1 per individual, a fisherman could make a few thousand dollars within several weeks.    It was clear that the practice was unsustainable, and by the early 2000s, the effort required to harvest enough sea cucumbers was so great that the fishery nearly closed down for lack of economic interest.    It now seems that management has led to a small come-back.    Previously, annual catches were in the 5 million individual range.

The battle to manage this fishery was hard fought, and led to several disruptions to tourism operations, as fishermen, angry at efforts to impose quotas, would blockade roads and visitor site access points.    It seems that this period is now a part of Galapagos history - let's hope!

Visitors to the islands between June 15 and August 15 may note several small fishing boats near the shoreline around the archipelago.  These will likely be sea cucumber fishermen - the animal is usually harvested by hand, by scuba divers.

Picture:  Measure the size of a sea cucumber - minimum length, fresh, must be respected.  Courtesy of Galapagos Conservancy. sea cucumber

Galapagos airport to be re-built

The government of Ecuador has recently authorized the construction of a US$23 million airport on Baltra island, the main airport serving Galapagos bound travelers.

This airport has been in the planning stages for a few years.  It will replace the existing infrastructure, which is currently too small to handle the increasing numbers of travelers.  Though CNH Tours recognizes the need to upgrade the existing airport - we will be sorry to see it go.   The current airport is a testament to simple building design, making ample use of natural air flow to keep people cool, rugged in appearance - fitting well with its natural surroundings.

The new version has been dubbed an "environmental airport" by the authorities.  CNH Tours has been hard pressed to find actual technical details justifying this monker.   The best we could find came from an April 15th press release from the Ecuadorian Ministry of Transport and Public Works, which said:

The environmental aspect of the airport relates to its infrastructure and operating procedures - these will be subject to environmental standards. The track will be constructed of concrete, the passenger terminal will have natural lighting and ventilation…. The airport is expected to operate during the hours, reducing the need for artificial lighting.  Renewable energy systems will be incorporated into the design.  These will include photovoltaic panels, to provide 25% of building energy demand and 12% of the total demand of the airport.

Though a new airport will undoubtedly better serve the travelling public, and we are glad to see that it should be using the same principles as the existing building, CNH Tours finds it a bit far-fetched to call it an "environmental" airport without further justification.   We have also learned through ourcontacts at the Galapagos National Park Service that the landing strip will be outfitted with a "mini-fence" to keep out land iguanas, which have made increasing use of the hot pavement as a sunning area - resulting in occasional tragedy for the iguanas!

Construction, when it begins (apparently fairly soon) is expected to last up to 18 months.   During this time, it is likely that more use of the other airport in Galapagos, at San Cristobal island, will occur.   Ship owners and operators in Galapagos are used to these kinds of things and will no doubt be well prepared to handle any logistical changes necessary.

Baltra was first used as an airport during World War Two, when the US military, under an agreement with the government of Ecuador, established a base there from which to defend approaches to the Panama Canal from possible Japanese attack.

Baltra airport

Eric runs aground - nobody hurt.

From Ecoventura, owners and operators of the Eric:

"In our ongoing effort to keep our tour operators informed and up-to-date on all news concerning Ecoventura and our operations in the Galapagos we want to inform you of an incident that occurred early this morning (April 27) involving our yacht the MY Eric.  After 14 weeks in dry dock, and two days into the first cruise, the ERIC ran around while en route to Puerto Egas, Santiago Island.  After 20 years in operation, this was the first accident ever to occur to the ERIC or any yacht operated by Ecoventura.  Our president and operations management team have arrived in Galapagos to survey the extent of damage sustained.  All passengers and crew on board were safely evacuated and no injuries were reported.  We expect the Eric will be out of operation for the next 3-4 weeks for repairs and will notify guests traveling on these future cruise departures of alternatives available.  We will keep you informed as soon as more details are available.   It is our intention to provide the most timely and accurate information possible and we do thank you in advance for your support & understanding."

CNH Tours received an update a few hours later:

"The Eric has been refloated or rather pulled from the rocks and will be towed to Baltra.  It is expected to arrive shortly in Puerto Ayora.  Once there, the ship will be assessed to determine whether it can sail to
Guayaquil or needs to be taken by ferry.

CNH Tours recommends to those booked on the Eric (or its sister ships, the Letty and Flamingo) over the next few weeks to get in touch with their agents to confirm the status of their cruise.

(photo courtesy Galapagos National Park Service).

Eric Grounded

CNH Tours Tips off National Park Service over Illegal commercial “tourism overflights”

CNH Tours learned late last week, while looking for information for clients, that the EMETEBE airline company, which provides service between the three main towns in Galapagos, was offering "touristic overflights of Galapagos" on its website.  Knowing full well that such overflights were strictly regulated in Galapagos, to ensure that wildlife was as least disturbed as possible by human activities, CNH Tours informed one of our former colleagues, now a senior manager at the National Park Service.   Today, we learned that the Park was taken by surprise over this illegal activity, and will be undertaking the necessary measures to ensure that this practice is halted.   Aerial tourism in Galapagos is not authorized.

CNH Tours commends the National Park Service for its swift action.


Below - typical EMETEBE plane (they have 2 in operation like this).


Alternative energy in Galapagos – the only solution to reducing the risk of diesel spills?

Every year, about about 5 million litres (1.3M US gallons) of diesel are shipped 1000km from the mainland to generate electricity in the Galapagos island (this doesn't include the diesel to power ships and vehicles).  This is a risk not only for a potential oil spill disaster in the islands, but also for chronic pollution arising from minor spills and leakage.   It is in the interests of everyone, both residents and visitors alike, to encourage the reduction of diesel imports to the islands.

This can be done in 2 ways:

1)       Finding alternative energy sources, and

2)       Using less energy.

Having lived in Galapagos for 4 years, and having visited frequently in  the past few years, CNH Tours notes that a great deal of effort is invested in option 1- finding alternative sources of energy.   For instance, three multi-million dollar wind powered generators (largely donated) were installed on San Cristobal Island and  have been in operation since 2008, producing up to 31% of electrical generation needs on that island (when the wind is blowing of course!).

Now, Floreana island, the smallest inhabited island with about 200 inhabitants is about to double its solar electrical generation plant, further reducing its reliance on diesel powered generation.  This is happening with the support of a $200,000 grant from World Wildlife Fund.   Not bad news.

While CNH Tours is happy to see efforts made at finding alternative sources of energy, we feel that the conservation side of the equation is insufficiently addressed.    In particular, a much cheaper public information campaign, accompanied by minimum building code standards, would help reduce electrical energy needs by significant amounts.    Given the millions donated to Galapagos to install "media friendly" alternative energy sources in Galapagos, hardly anything is done on the less glamorous conservation side of things.   Yet much can be done.

Galapagos can be very hot, and air conditioning is likely a major draw on electrical energy.   Yet, wandering through town, one can't help noticing that more and more people rely on AC, yet windows might be open, or badly installed, there is no insulation on roofs, slipshod construction standards result in houses that are far from being air tight (coming from wintry climates, we know how important that is!), doors are left open - it's a common sight.

CNH Tours encourages donors and local governmental authorities to invest more effort in conservation.   CNH Tours would like to see just 10% of the funds spent on expensive alternative energy projects invested on efforts to reduce electricity consumption - and we are ready to bet that on a dollar for dollar basis, conservation work would get a much bigger bang for your buck than alternative energy projects.