Galapagos News

Price Increase on Flights to Galapagos

TAME (Transportes Aereos Militares del Ecuador - Ecuadorian Military Air Transport), one of the main commercial airlines to Galapagos, announced yesterday a hike in ticket costs to Galapagos, effective …. 1 week ago!   Prices will go up by about 10%.   A regular round trip ticket to Galapagos from Quito will now cost US$463, as opposed to the previous $425.   Prices are a bit less for travel from Guayaquil (US$ 438) and a bit less still for travel during the low season (May 1st to June 14th / September 15th to October 31st).   It is likely, though CNH Tours cannot confirm at this point, that the other airlines flying to Galapagos (LAN, Aerogal) will apply the same fare increases.

Nobody likes a price increase, but to be honest, the previous prices had hardly changed in the past 10 years.

Galapagos green turtle found on Costa Rican beach

From the Tico Times ( 31 March 2011

Green TurtleResearchers from Widecast Costa Rica discovered a mature female Eastern Pacific Green turtle which had been tagged in the Galapagos Islands during their collection study Thursday in the Gulfo Dulce in the Osa Peninsula. Blood and tissue samples were taken from the turtle and then the sea creature was released.

"This is very exciting for us," said Didiher Chacón who is president of Widecast Costa Rica, a sea turtle conservation organization. "We have been capturing turtles on and average of every two hours of time on the water and discovered what we think is a major feeding ground in the Golfo Dulce for Green Turtle populations.

It is rare for a Green Turtle to nest in the GolfoDulce area. Turtles that come to Costa Rica nest at beaches in Santa Rosa National Park, Nombre de Jesus and Punta Pargos in Guanacaste. Widecast researchers now believe the turtles come from as far as Galapagos, off the coast of Ecuador, to feed in the gulf.

Blood samples from the turtles in the area will give a Widecast a better idea of the health of the Golfo Dulce. Pesticide, sewage and sediment levels detected in the samples will determine the possible negative effect of palm and rice farms in the area.


CNH Tours is pleased to see results from efforts made at tagging turtles in Galapagos.  Between Costa Rica and Galapagos (1,200 km, or 750 miles) there are a series of undewater "sea mounts" which have long been suspective of guiding, somehow, the movement of sea animals, including hammerhead sharks and billfish.  This kind of research demonstrates how it's important for the conservation of Galapagos marine life, to be closely coordinating efforts with Costa Rica, among other countries.

CNH Tours friend featured in major science magazine

From the Charles Darwin Foundaiton (CDF) Research Station

CDF Restoration Group Coordinator, Dr. Mark Gardener, is featured in the March 18 edition of Science magazine, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  The article by Gaia Vince entitled "Embracing Invasives," describes a recent paradigm shift in which conservationists are beginning to value and manage highly-disturbed ecosystems as biodiversity strongholds.

Although not all members of the conservation community are convinced by the new trajectory, the paradigm shift has been gaining traction worldwide over the last five years.  Regarded as "novel" or "hybrid" ecosystems, that is systems that are mixtures of exotic and native species, Gardener has come to the conclusion that: "It's time to embrace the aliens," rather than continue to invest millions of dollars in schemes that for decades have proven largely incapable of removing introduced flora and fauna from protected areas in order to return them to a "pristine state."

With introduced species a fact of life in nearly every corner of the planet as a result of globalization, proponents of novel ecosystems are bringing science to bear on questions such as the role these systems may play in sustaining threatened biodiversity, particularly in areas where certain endemics may be brought back from the brink of extinction due to pollination or erosion control provided by the new taxa.

However, "Galapagos remains one of the most pristine ecosystems left on our planet," with some uninhabited islands in a near original state and entirely protected.  These islands obviously will have different management objectives from the inhabited islands which have been highly modified, especially in the humid highlands.   In these modified systems, Gardener seeks to find ways to optimize management such that biodiversity and ecosystem services are maximized and intervention is minimized.  As he notes in the article, "with 30,000 people now living in the Galapagos, ecosystem planning must address human needs, such as providing addition to nurturing biodiversity."

A further challenge, says Gardener, is marrying biodiversity and human needs to meet future conditions such as climate change and continuing human development through food cultivation and recharging groundwater.mark gardener

CNH Tours has known Mark Gardener since 1999, when he first set foot in the Galapagos islands.   A dedicated scientist and good friend, we're very pleased to see his work so well highlighted in this prestigious scientific publication.

Miss Ecuador 2011 named honorary park ranger

Miss Ecuador 2011, Claudia Schiess Fretz, was honored yesterday as Honorary Galapagos Park Ranger, in a small ceremony at the premises of the institution in Puerto Ayora.

Edwin Naula, the Galapagos National Park Director, presented the medal and gave her a scroll which states that the declaration corresponds to the recognition of the deep affection for Galapagos Claudia has demonstrated in the past.  Claudia will now become a spokeswoman for the Park.

During the event Claudia Schiess provided some emotional words of thanks noting that, "It's an honor to receive this designation to be Ranger, because it is also a dream that one wants to achieve - one of my most important goals is to work in education because there is no conservation without education."Miss Ecuador

Park Service fights illegal hotel construction in Puerto Ayora

The developers had obtained a building permit for a residential construction from the municipal government.  Developers Mauricio Ponce and Antonio Noboa Cartwight Ycaza then began construction of a building in Punta Estrada, Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island.  The picture below (courtesy Galapagos National Park Service) clearly shows that this is not a house - illustrating the brazen disregard developers have come to have for local regulations (and the municipality's incapacity to monitor how well builders are respecting their building permits!)

The developers later presented the findings of a feasibility study for the construction of a 26 room hotel to the Ministry of Environment, for its approval, hoping that with such an approval, bureaucratic processes would get muddled allowing them to proceed.    The Galapagos National Park Service learned of this inconsistency, and immediately ordered a halt to the construction of the hotel, as it did not comply with current legal regulations, which require that an appropriate building permit be obtained for different construction projects.    
The Park Service has asked the Municipal Government of Puerto Ayora to implement the necessary measures ensuring that the developers and their project go through the same approval process that applies to all other people.

CNH Tours is pleased to see the Park Service actively involved in ensuring that development in Galapagos does not continue in a chaotic fashion.   Land based tourism has increased dramatically in the last 10 years, but in an environment of poor regulation / planning.   As a result, hotels have been built even in park lands, and towns risk turning into chaotic, unattractive places.   CNH Tours has generally favoured more of a cruise ship focus for Galapagos visits, thus reducing the development pressures for hotels, restaurants etc. on land.


Illegal hotel

Over 173,000 visitors in 2010

The Galapagos National Park recently reported that 173,296 people entered the Galapagos Islands as tourists in 2010 - a 6% increase over 2009.

Of these 36% (61,574) were Ecuadorians, 27% ​​(46,093) from the USA, 5% (9045) from the United Kingdome and the others were from 140 other countries.   Other major origins include Canada, Germany and Italy.  

Of these visitors, 46% (79,716) enjoyed a cruise and 44% (76,250) used hotel services, and 7% stayed with family and friends.    A small number of tourists did not specify their type of accommodations. 

All this information is collected through the Transit Control Card (TCC) that a visitor must fill out when departing the continent for Galapagos (at a cost of $10).

CNH Tours has calculated that if all cruise ships operated at 100% capacity, running 7 night cruises and not spending any time in dry dock (ships usually spend a few weeks each year undergoing maintenance), the maximum number of visitors they could accommodate would be about 90,000 in one year.   But because most ships run 3 and 4 night cruises, the actual total turnaround is likely closer to 125,000.   The 2010 numbers likely indicate an occupation rate for cruise ships of about 70%.


Flying Galapagos Penguins Captured on Video!

Galapagos may be a living laboratory for evolutionary process, but no one, not even Charles Darwin himself, could have foreseen that Galapagos penguins could so easily take to the air.

But CNH Tours has to come clean here.....  we're sorry to disappoint you.   This isn't actually a case of spontaneous evolutionary adaptation to changing environments… but rather an unusual way to transport a penguin.

A video clip of a Galapagos penguin on board a commercial aircraft, being moved from San Francisco to San Diego aquarium, was recently posted.    Apparently, its caretaker was given permission to take it on-board and to let it roam around the cabin.   Someone captured the scene on video and posted it on Youtube.    To see the video, click here.



Charles Darwin Research Station Marine lab damaged - donate now.

(CDRS News bulletin)

In the aftermath of the tidal surges induced by the March 11th Japan earthquake and tsunami, a team of more than 20 staff and volunteers worked shoulder to shoulder to clear debris, retrieve equipment and clean laboratories, offices and storage buildings at the Marine Sciences complex of the Galapagos-based Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and Research Station on Santa Cruz Island.

The powerful surf hit Santa Cruz with waves up to 1.77m /5.8 feet above normal according to data from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC), one of the highest readings in the Eastern Pacific.  The waves also coincided with the local high tide, sending the first wall of water into the CDF installation at approximately 18:00.  Two subsequent waves at intervals of 26 minutes raised the water level 1.50m/4.9 feet above the upper CDF Marine Lab dock.  "The waves," stated Dr. Volker Koch, CDF Director of Marine Sciences, "completely destroyed a concrete pump house, broke through heavy wooden doors, flooded laboratories, workshops and storage facilities, and carried off furniture and equipment," despite advance emergency preparation.  CDF Senior Scientist Stuart Banks observed that: "Equipment ranging from dive tanks, small boats, wooden furniture, freezers and field supplies was widely scattered.  We found items in the ground floor laboratory, buried in sand and vegetation, driven 50 meters [165 feet] up the entrance trail and dispersed across a 200 meter [650 foot] radius around the mangrove-lined shore."

The first wave arrived 20 minutes after the ETA of 17:40 predicted for Baltra Island to the north of Santa Cruz.  The receding wave lowered the water level in Academy Bay from full tide by more than one meter/3 feet within 12 minutes.  The sea then rose rapidly to cover the CDF dock. The second ebb was stronger than the first and subsequent waves continued into the night, gradually reducing their amplitude into mid-morning of the following day.

No injuries were sustained and no other areas of the CDF Research Station were significantly damaged.  Staff are in the process of damage assessment and will calculate overall losses in the coming days.

The CDRS will have to scramble to find necessary funds to bring this important facility back to operational standards.   This lab is the nerve centre for a great deal of important research on wildlife in Galapagos.

For more information on the CDRS's great marine conservation work, see their website here.

For donations, please go to the CDRS Donations page here.


PICTURE:  Marine biology lab's equipment, furniture is taken outside to dry. Photo:  Mary Witoshynsky

biomar post tsunami

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: 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:

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.


Picture credit:

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:

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.


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.