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News from the Galápagos

(Here we report about events of relevance to our studies and others which we experienced personally. While far from offering a comprehensive list on conservation news in the National Park, we try to selectively highlight "hot" topics and refer to more in-depth information elsewhere.)


July 2010, Galápagos taken off the red list of threatened sites

Activities during the last two years for capacity building programs to improve sustainable conservation and an for the implementation of immigration laws have led the UNESCO to take the Galápagos off the red list of world heritage sites in danger. Eviction orders against people without legal residence status have been issued for the first time in a larger scale and different initiatives have been started (see below) in response to the 2007 decision to put the Galápagos on the red list.

The UNESCO decision is a sign for very positive developments. Some organisations, however, are warning to overinterpret the decision as an indication of a lower threat level for the archipelago. In an article on 7 Aug. 2010 in the online Telegraph, Toni Darton, chief executive of the organisation Galápagos Conservation Trust is warning especially about the underestimation of spiralling numbers of tourists coming to the islands, which had been identified as the driving force of many of the conservation problems in the wake of increasing immigration to the Galápagos1. In his conclusion Toni Darton wrote: „Unmanaged tourism could destroy the Galapagos; planned tourism could save them. This is why we feel Unesco's decision is premature.“

1 Watkins, G. & F. Cruz (2007) Galápagos at risk : a socioeconomic analysis of the situation in the Archipelago. Puerto Ayora, Charles Darwin Foundation, Galápagos.

March/April 2010, another visit by UNESCO delegation

Edouard Matoko led a team of Ecuadorian UNESCO representatives who met with the executive director and staff of the Charles Darwin Foundation during a visit of the islands. The visit aimed to build inter-institutional aggreements for collaboration in science, education, information, and culture.


This was a year full of celebrations.
2009 marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth
and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his groundbreaking book “The origin of species”.
2009 was also the 50th anniversary for the inauguration of the Charles Darwin Foundation and for the foundation of the Galápagos National Park.

For more details around the celebrations read here

September 2009,  Initiative to support conservation and sustainable development

The UNESCOs Ecuadorian representatives and the Charles Darwin Foundations director Dr. J. Gabriel Lopez, signed an aggreement this month to coordinate Galápagos projects for sustainability with Ecuador’s National Development Plans, specifically to develop social capabilities for environmental preservation. This aggreement aims to:

February 2009, satellite monitoring of vessels cruising in the marine reserve
The Galápagos Marine reserve is the first in the world to implement a satellite tracking system to control boat traffic within its boundaries. This will enable to control the correct use of tourist sites (which often have a load limit) but also the monitoring of fisheres, closed areas and the zoning restrictions of the marine reserve.
The Galápagos National Park Service gets full direct access to the National database of registered National vessels cruising within or transiting the marine reserve.
The system will also enable to analyze current use of the sites and improve on the zoning system or to evaluate the impact of ships within protected zones and transit areas.
Furthermore it will also be easier to single out illegal ingressions of foreign fishing vessels, which have come from as far as Central America.
With the extra capacity gained through the satellite system, inspection forrays at sea will become more efficient, too. Thus, improvements in the control of prohibited fishing equipment, extraction of species that that are closed, or the fishing of specimen that do not meet minimum standards for marketing can be expected.

Read more


December 2008, Further efforts to breed the Pinta Tortoises

In 1972 80 years-old “Lonesome George”, the last living tortoise from the subspecies of Pinta Island, has been found and brought to its corral in Puerto Ayora in 1972. Since then, hopes had been high that he would find interest in two females of the Espaniola race, which were sharing his enclosure to eventually repatriate Pinta Island with their offspring. In summer 2008, finally after many years of intense efforts to allow for reproduction, 14 intact eggs had been found and transferred to an incubator. Despite high hopes and first signs of success, the eggs eventually turned out to be unfertilized or not viable. In spite of the possibility that George may be sterile, there is still hope that this year may have marked the start of his interest in reproduction and the years coming up might turn out more fertile.

October 2008, Ecuador gives Nature fundamental legal rights

Following a referendum about its novel constitution, Ecuador’s legislation acknowledges a fundamental right to Pachamama, or the Mother Earth. It’s unprecedented to give nature such an “unalienable right to exist, flourish and evolve within Ecuador” within a state’s institution. Five articles define the unalienable right for nature within Ecuador to exist, flourish and evolve. Therefore, many people around the world will be watching with interest, how this translates into practice. Legally, the new laws would grant citizens the right to sue on behalf of an ecosystem, even if not actually injured themselves. The Charles Darwin Foundation is working with the Government and partners in Galapagos to establish what these changes might mean for Galapagos.

Read more

September 2008, Ecuador begins transfer of illegal residents

In September 2008 about 1,000 people living on the Galápagos Islands without formal state admission have been sent to the mainland as a starting point to enforce laws. This has been one of the demands by the UN World Heritage Committee that put the Galápagos on the list of threatened World Heritage sites (see below). Some 2,000 other people were put on notice that they have to leave the islands within a year. As such, the current government is the first to actually enforce laws that require registration and a sort of “visa” for residents who wants to live on the islands.

April 2008, Wind turbines on Galápagos Islands
In 2001 the diesel fuel tanker "Jessica" ran offshore San Cristobal causing disaster to many marine sites in the Galápagos archipelago. With the number of immigrants and visitors to the islands increasing exponentially, the risk of such havoc to repeat itself is increasing, too. The demands for electricity by e.g. the town Puerto Ayora on the island of St. Cruz already exceeds the capacity of the generators running on diesel. This becomes noticeable by the frequent power blackouts. A new program has therefore been launched that is projected to halve the islands diesel fuel imports, which are to be substituted with energy from wind turbines. The “San Cristobal Wind Project”, which started last October, is a cooperation between the government of Ecuador, the UNDP and major electric companies. An accompanying study has been trying to identify construction sites with low risk to the local population of the endangered Galápagos petrels (Pterodroma phaeopygia), which commute at night between their highland nesting sites and the sea and thus could pass within range of the turbines.
Read more

March 2008, Galápagos Invasive Species Fund
After the UNESCO decicion in 2007 to list the Galápagos as a threatened world natural heritage an Ecuadorian National Invasive Species Fund had been established. In order to support its actions to support programs for the control and eradication of invasive species it has been increased by 2.2 million US$ by the United Nations Foundation to a current capitalization of 3.2 million US$. The aim is to reach a final capitalization of 10-15 million US$

January 2008, No iron seeding in the waters near Galápagos?
IGTOA (International Galápagos Tour Operators Association) is reporting that the plan of a private company for large-scale pumping of iron dust into waters near the Galápagos islands has been thwarted due to protests from the public and from conservation NGO’s. With iron dust the company 'Planktos' wanted to increase plankton growth in order to absorb CO2.
see also an earlier report
and an earlier CEDENMA report on the issue 


December, Ecuador responds to the World Heritage Commission
The Ecuadorian Government laid out a working plan to deal with major conservation problems on the Galápagos Islands in response to the UNESCO world heritage committee’s action that put the National Park on the list of endangered world heritage sites (see earlier news below). This is following the April 2007 decree by the Ministry of the environment in response to the UNESCO’s decision; among others it targets immigration control and the eradication of alien species. The Instituto Nacional Galápagos and the Galápagos National Park developed the details of the plan together with the new governor of the province of Galápagos, Eliecer Cruz, who is quoted as a driving force behind the plan.
read more at the Galápagos conservation trust site
August - A good choice for the Galápagos
Ecuador's president has appointed Eliecer Cruz as the new governor of Galápagos. Cruz who was born and raised on the islands, had been director of the Galápagos National Park for several years as well as the head of the local WWF. His engagement was decisive for adopting the 'Galápagos special law'.

 read more at: www.worldwildlife.org

26 June 2007
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee puts the Galápagos Islands on the list of "World Heritage in Danger" thereby acknowledging the threat posed to the integrety of this famous Nationalpark, which was the first to become a "World Natural Heritage" site in 1978. This decision highlights the threat from invasive species, growing tourism, immigration, and the inefficiency of local agencies to deal with these threats. “The problems in Galapagos cannot be simplified to the finning of sharks, or overharvest of sea cucumbers; the problems are underlain by an unsustainable socio-economic model that brings more investment, more immigrants, more cargo, more invasive species and does not sufficiently link the local community to conservation” said Graham Watkins, Executive Director of the CDF. The decision is not only a demotion but offers a chance to mobilize more support for the conservation of the islands and to initialize a change of direction in the overall management of the islands; the declarations by the President of Ecuador and UNESCO could be critical initial steps in this process of change.

more at the sites of UNESCO
and the Charles Darwin Foundation

 May 2007 – “Groundbreaking analysis”
The Charles Darwin Foundation has published a review, which is rightly praised for its groundbreaking insights and overview it gives on the status quo of biodiversity, conservation challenges, economics and human migration on the archipelago. Its expressed aim is to create a new paradigm of “understanding about what is happening in Galápagos”.
Key points as outlined in the report by the authors Graham Watkins and Felipe Cruz are (among others):
- the driving force for drastic changes on the Galápagos during the last 15 years is tourism with a 14% average annual growth.
- main cause for this increase is a weakened governmental leadership in Galápagos without a long-term strategy on development
- Increase in tourism pushes the demands for public services and jobs, which are part of a vicious cycle of growth
A more complete outline can be found here
The complete report is available (as PDF) at the site of the Charles Darwin Foundation.

March/April 2007 - Military violence sparks new conservation plans for the Galápagos

On March 16th Raquel Molina, the National Park director, and four park wardens were investigating the beach "La Millionaria" on Baltra island from which illegal fishing and tourism activities had been recorded. While documenting the activities and as they wanted to confiscate two kayaks they were confronted and physically attacked by officials of the Ecuadorian Air Force (which are based on part of Baltra) until they could escape into the water. They had to be hospitalized. This incredible event brought the Galápagos back into headlines and sparked high level consultations between the National Park Service, Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, and several of his ministers. At the same time officials of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee are again visiting the Galápagos to assess the status of the National Park and the implementations of regulations for the conservation of its biodiversity (=> more). As a consequence of these pressing events, the minister of the environment Ana Albán is promoting a comprehensive development plan for a "common vision" for the Galápagos until the year 2020, and the President Rafael Correa has signed an emergency decree on April 10th for the enforcement of tourism and population restrictions to "overcome the huge institutional, environmental and social crisis in the islands". On Galápagos television the minister for the environment, Ana Albán, has acknowledged that tourism and human migration are causing an "immense pressure" on the natural resources of the islands. She indicated that there is a plethora of problems in the Galápagos that have to be tackled with a comprehensive approach.

more at http://www.reevolucion.org/portal/ [Spanish]


November 2006 - Ever increasing number of people arriving in the Galápagos pose a new threat: the West-Nile Virus
The rapid spread of the West Nile Virus (WNV) from North America to the southern American continent together with the recent establishment of its principal vector, certain mosquito species, on the Galápagos pose a new threat to native wildlife in the Galápagos Islands, especially birds and reptiles, but may also threaten humans. It is believed that the virus already reached Columbia and Ecuador. population increaseIts introduction to Galápagos can only be prevented with a stringent implimentation and improvement of the current inspection and quarantine system. This system, however, suffers from the lack of personnel and the situation is amplified by ever increasing numbers of human arrivals (see figure courtesy Charles Darwin Foundation). By the end of this year a third airport is scheduled to start receiving incoming international flights on Isabela island. Last spring has also set a mark with the arrival of the first cruise liner bringing in 500 passengers at once, which had been traveling tropical waters only days and weeks before. It is nearly impossible to sufficiently control such large liners to prevent transport of invasive species. This is an increasing threat to that main asset that made the islands special in the first place: isolation from the continent and from among each other. Isolation was the driving force for radiation of species so unique to the Galápagos, which are the main cause for tourist and scientists alike to come to islands. Millions of years of isolation, however, make these species very vulnerable to invasive species from the outside. More cruise liners and aircrafts coming in will further advance immigration of people working in tourism, which in turn will spur new transports of goods and the construction of new infrastructure...  a vicious circle.

August 2006 - Galápagos remains on UNESCO's World Heritage List
As reported earlier (see below) developments in the Galápagos Islands over the recent years had prompted the UNESCO to examine a possible degradation of the National Park to the status of an endangered World Heritage Site. Earlier this year, the Ecuadorian government affirmed the UNESCO that a strategy plan for future developments in the Galápagos would be launched, which includes an improvement of the implimentation of the "Special Law for Galápagos" (among others for the control of immigration and transport of materials by an inter-agency body). This and the new procedure of election of the Park directors (see below) persuaded the World Heritage Committee to keep Galápagos on the World Heritage List.

July 2006 - Isabela Eradication project successfully completed
The largest eradication project ever undertaken is being seen as successfully completed. The project coordinaters are affirmative that the goals of the eight year long effort to exterminate feral goats from the northern half of the largest Galápagos Island, Isabela, and from the island Santiago, could be accomplished, i.e. there are no further indication of surviving goats in these areas. Northern and southern parts of Isabela are separated by an inaccessible volcanic isthmus, which had for many years prevented goats from crossing from the populated South into the North. Important endemic tortoise habitats are located in the northern parts and the local vegetation, important food plants to the tortoises, had suffered tremendously by vast herds of goats, which proliferated in the nortern parts after finally they had reached these areas. With the thinning of goat populations during the recent years, the native vegetation showed first signs of recovery and today, restoration is already well advanced. Alongside with the goats, other feral animals, like donkeys and pigs, could be eliminated, too.

See report at the Galápagos Conservation Trust.

May 2006 - New 10-years strategic plan

The Charles Darwin Foundation launched a new strategic plan to face the challenges ahead for the next ten years.
This plan can be downloaded online.

May 2006 - Galápagos National Park's new head: a woman director

Sra. Raquel Molina has assumed her position this month. This is not only special because a woman takes over the position of director. It is also special because for the first time she had been properly elected. Elected by a jury on academic merits and experience and not merely on political inclinations. There is a whole new selection process. Until before the present election, National Park directors were nominated under direct control from the government; without proper elections and often without majority support from the staff of the National Park Service. In the end of 2004 the National Park staff had gone to protest against one more new director superimposed on them by the government - one of a long row of directors, which used to change frequently. The strike achieved a retraction of the nomination and finally led to the formation of a commision, which worked on new procedures how to fill the position. In the meanwhile the Park had been directed commissionarily by Sr. Washington Tapia. Now with new procedures and a properly elected head the National Park staff is hoping for more continuity in the years  to come.

more details (so far only in Spanish)

Interview with Sra. Raquel Molina


Nov 2005 - UNESCO World Heritage Committee's first analysis on the state of the National Park
As reported earlier (see below), an UNESCO delegation had visited the islands to investigate accumulating worries about the sustainability of conservation on the Galápagos Islands and the surrounding marine reserve. Recently, the World Heritage Committee has published its recommendations and requests to the Ecuadorian government. Among others, it had been pointed out that:
more details

October 2005 - Mass tourism on Galápagos?

In 2006 and 2007, a cruise ship with up to 500 passengers will for the first time visit Galápagos. Discovery World Cruses proclaimes that a limitation to 500 passengers aboard the MV Discovery does appreciates the delicate ecological balance of the Galápagos National Park. However, for the same reasons - the protection of the ecological balance - boats touring the archipelago limited have always been limited to a maximum of 90 passengers, with most groups comprising much less than 50 people. The MV Discovery will be inspected at a mainland port in Ecuador to avoid the introduction of alien species into the Galápagos. The ship will then anchor offshore the provincal capital of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Tourists will be tranfered to smaller tour boats to visit National Park sites. An accompanying survey on customer satisfaction and benefits to the local community shall influence the decision on a continuation of the scheme after 2007. Conservation agencies and the International Galápagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA) question the ecological sustainability of Galápagos tours at this scale. IGTOA also questions the major's commitment for conservation who hosted an illegal fishing tournament at his town Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (see below). There are concerns that these new developments will further increase immigration, and it will not be able to restrict big cruise ships to San Cristobal, once other towns on Galápagos would claim their share. A change from sustainable ecotourism to general mass tourism is being anticipated. Concerns are raised, on how much it would really benefit the local population or rather a few tour companies.

more details

July 2005 - more news on longlining

During a meeting held on 29 and 30 June, the probibition of the use of longlines for fishing in the Galápagos marine reserve (GMR) has been confirmed by the
Inter-institutional Management Authority. This is an important decision for conservation (see earlier contribution), however, the ruling refers to a layer of water from the sea surface to a depth of 60 meters, which is the layer that is most critical for catching large numbers of unwanted species, the so-called by-catch, as has been shown by results of investigations on the impact of longlining carried out between 1994 and 2003. The Galápagos Conservation Trust writes in its breefing, that "last week's decision means that any future proposal to evaluate the possible use of long lines within the GMR must consider setting long lines with the hooks deeper than 60 meters. As Graham Watkins, executive director of the Charles Darwin Foundation is being quoted: "Studies in other parts of the world show that the risk of being caught on hooks is reduced if hooks are deployed at greater depths."
Discussions on this issue will continue inspite of the recent ruling. A proposal of local stakeholders has already been started to analyse the feasibility and commercial viability of fishing for large pelagic fish. Concern for future proposals for longlining in depths greater than 60 meters could be the inability to control adherence to the depths restrictions.
The local newspaper El Mercurio wrote on July 4th, that the decision has already been rejected by the fishery stakeholders and the president of the Unión de Cooperativas de Galápagos, Rogelio Guaicha, who's statements, that his group is sick of more and more studies, has been interpreted as an open threat for the  resumption of protests and strikes in the Galápagos.
Meanwhile, there are efforts to allocate funds to support local Galapageńos to give up their occupations in the fishing sector in order to change into jobs in the tourism sector. The minister for the environment, Ana Albán, anounced the opening of a fund for which her government will allocate 1.5 million US $, and an Italian syndicate and the Banca Popolare Etica declared financial support for the new efforts.

further details: http://www.gct.org/jul05_2.html

The Municipality of Puerto Ayora rectifies obstacles on the main jetty for marine iguanas

jetty 1jetty 2The municipality of Puerto Ayora, main town in Galápagos, had built a new promenade about about two years ago. During its inauguration the new promenade had been praised as an important step toward the modernization of the town and increase of the quality of life. And ever since it is attracting new forms of nightlife, with more and more inhabitants gathering for a night walk, open air concerts, auto scooters or to catch the weekend amusement train in Disney fashion. The quality of life, however, had decreased for the few local marine iguanas, which still live in the area of the port. Once they used to climb up the rough jetty walls and bask on top of it. The concrete top of the new promenade, however, made this impossible for any but a few of the smallest and lightest iguanas. On the advice of nature conservation groups in Puerto Ayora, the municipality modified the side walls and added new structures marine iguanas can now use to climb up the jetty.

June 2005 - World summit on evolution successfully concluded on San Cristobal

... so successful, that one senior participant claimed this was the "woodstock of evolution".
210 people attended from June 8-12, graduate students and senior scientists alike in a conference on the history of evolutionary thoughts, on theoretical as well as empirical models and recent developments of evolutionary research. The meeting was hosted by the Universidad San Francisco in Quito at the location, where Darwin's ship the Beagle, first arrived in the Galápagos archipelago nearly 170 years ago.

read more detail written by one of the participants: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa004&articleID=00020722-64FD-12BC-A0E483414B7FFE87

June 2005 - update on fishing issues in the marine reserve

Despite an existing moratorium, sea cucumber fishing has been temporarily permitted.
Sea cucumbers fulfill an ecological function which can be compared to the earthworms of grasslands. A study by the Charles Darwin Foundation demonstrated that overfishing of cucumbers caused a decline in the density of these animals from 34 per square meter sea surface in 2001 to 0-4 per square meters in 2004. Therefore, a two year moratorium on sea cucumber fishing had been established in 2004. This is obsolete with the most recent consession that allows the harvest of 3 million animals during a open window of three months, starting June 2005. The new minister of environment, Ana Albán has been quoted to explain this decision by the Institutional Management Authority (AIM) with the words "We decided to open fishing of sea cucumbers, mainly due to social and economic considerations."

for more information on both developments see: http://www.igtoa.org/newsletter/2005/may-june/

April 2005 - The UNESCO World Heritage Site under scrutiny

A delegation of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre is visiting the Galápagos Islands in mid April to review the state of conservation in the National Park, which had been declared World Heritage Site in 1978. Francesco Bandarin, director of the World Heritage Centre has been cited to explain that this visit is in response to an invitation by the Ecuadorian government. Many claim that recent developments in the Galápagos Islands, especially the failure to implement existing conservation legislation in the marine reserve, prompted the delegation's visit at this time. The World Heritage Centre will decide whether a more thorough investigation will be started in summer 2005 on the basis of which will be decided whether or not to downgrade the UNESCO status of the Galápagos National Park. It would then be put it on the list of the "World Heritage Sites in danger".

April 2005 - Fishing with longlines to be allowed in the marine reserve of the Galápagos Islands?

A longline or "palangre" is a single strong fishing line to which hundreds or thousands of baited hooks are attached, floating low under the sea surface. It is meant predominantly to catch tuner and swordfish. But it has been shown convincingly, in the Galápagos and elsewhere, that bycatch (species caught, which were not intended to be caught in the first place) on the many miles long fishing lines is huge and may contribute to the decline in populations of certain protected species. Sharks, sea lions, sea turtles, albatrosses, all are known to be affected. Therefore, longlining has always been barred as long as the National Park marine reserve exists. Because of it's high negative impact, longlining has also been banned by the Pacific Fishery Management Council in the USA. A recent petition signed by more than 600 scientists from 54 countries is urging the United Nations to impose a moratorium on longline fishing in the Pacific. Since several years, however, the fishing cooperative on the Galápagos and many fishermen are repeatedly pressing, sometimes with violent protests, that longlining be allowed in the marine reserve of the National Park. The newest proposal for the introduction of longlining is being debated under heavy pressure from the fishing lobby and with some support in the Ecuadorian government. Not only international and Ecuadorian non-governmental conservation groups oppose longlining. According to the Executive Director of the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA), "To us, it is inconceivable that this form of fishing is even being discussed for the Galapagos Marine Reserve, a UN World Heritage Site." IGTOA further questions even the profitability of longlining on its web page: "There is skepticism about whether longlining will be economically viable for local fishermen, given the cost of getting their catch to market. Many believe it is simply a scheme for the industrial fishing fleet to move back into the reserve." There is, however, no doubt that the illegal marketing of the bycatch, the bulk of which consists of sharks, would earn fishermen a high margin. In 2004 Ecuador exported 850 tons of dried shark fins, which corresponds to an estimated 1.7 million sharks, the majority of which came illegally from the waters surrounding the Galápagos.

see also:

April 2005 - "Isabela Project" is making progress in the eradication of introduced mammals

The Isabela Project started in 1998, financed by the UN with the mission to restore the environments on the islands Santiago, Pinta, and Northern Isabela. So far, Santiago is believed to be freed of feral pigs and donkeys. Feral goats are still being eradicated on the islands Isabela and Santiago. Already they became so sparse on Isabela, that the natural vegetation is visibly recovering on the slopes of the volcano Alcedo, which hosts a big population of giant tortoises, which were previously suffering from lack of food and shelter within the degraded vegetation. Felipe Cruz, the coordinator of the project, reports that "during 2004, more than 7,450 ground hunting and 975 helicopter hours have been invested on Santiago and northern Isabela and the results are impressive."

see also:

April 2005 - Transgressions by private sport fishing yachts illustrate loss of power on the side of the National park authorities

YachtsIn February 2005 several private yachts entered the marine reserve of the Galápagos islands for a planned sport fishing tournament, which was organized by the Salinas Yacht Club, the International Game Fishing Association and the Billfish Foundation. Their legal basis was a transit license issued by the marine authorities. However, soon after their arrival the minister of environment Juan Carlos Camacho responded to National Park activities and adopted a resolution (Acuerdo Ministerial número 014) which would prohibit the issuing of licenses for every kind of sport fishing in the marine reserve until a pending legislation on sport fishing activities in the Galápagos would be in place. Everybody then expected the boats to leave San Cristobal, where the yachts were based. But nothing happened. What happened was that the yachts were regularly pursuing illicit fishing activities on a commercial basis while inviting foreign clients, stayed in National Park area without permission, and violated basic existing National Park ruling, embarking on National Park visitor sites without appropriate permits and without any guide attendance. Any landing of tourist vessels on National Park visitor sites is highly regulated and not possible without the attendance of trained Park guides. In general, no private boat is allow on land anywhere in the protected National Park zones of the archipelago.
The National Park authorities had tried to intervene and implement sanctions, but the only executive authority that could force the boats to leave were the marine forces. But nothing happened. Even worse, when a Park-owned plane took pictures of those yachts while fishing on sea, their owners complained on the basis of regulations on private air traffic and the plane was called back by the authorities. Eight yachts were still in place when we took this picture in March 28 and were going out for regular illegal fishing activities. When anchored at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, owners, personnel and their well-paying guests can move in and out of town freely, no police, no marine executives hampering their activities. The arrogance of the power of money is becoming obvious. Illustrative of their influence is the fact that the Salinas Yacht Club is even displayed on a Ecuadorian stamp. People in town call good connections and payoffs to local politicians responsible for this erosion of the National Park authority. Meanwhile Artmarina, Red Mangrove, Blue Marlin Lodge, and "Galapagos sport fishing co." still run their advertisements on respective internet pages, promoting exclusive fishing experiences on board of luxurious yachts, still continuing to pursue illegal activities unhampered in the waters of the Galápagos marine reserve, while lying to their prospective customers that "Recently, after extreme consideration by the Galapagos authorities, this activity will be permitted under world-class environmental controls"*.
The Galápagos Conservation Trust writes in his news release: "What is happening now is setting a negative precedent for the management of the Marine Reserve and erodes the authority of the Galapagos National Park Service. Moreover, it opens the door to other activities inappropriate to the Marine Reserve and indeed to the sustainable development of the community. The Galapagos Alliance views sport fishing as a tourist activity that might be valid for the Marine Reserve and which might, under adequate controls, make a positive contribution to reducing the impact of fishing. It would also respond to the demands of artisanal fishermen for alternative sources of income. The vital regulations should be produced more speedily and there should be sanctions on the afore-mentioned activities."
More information can be found at:

* comment: The grammatical mistake made in this quote seems to imply that fishing had "recently" been approved [which is wrong], but the choice of further wording "will be permitted" is more closely to the truth that a final decision is still pending, as of the beginning of April.

April 2005 - Recent large scale deaths of marine iguanas on the island of San Cristobal

iguana cadaverIn February 2005 the local office of the National Park Service in San Cristobal had been notified about several dead corpses of marine iguanas which were found along the coast of the naval base right at the edge of the main town Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. At least two of the corpses had black, necrotic heads, what led to the fear of a possible outbreak of a new infectious disease. A possible connection with the wrecked oil- tanker Jessica was also invoked, a wreckage from 2001, still aground the bay only a few hundred meters away from the points where the cadavers were found. A group of scientists from the Laboratorio of the National Park, visiting scientists from Italian Universities, members of the Charles Darwin Research Station, and we were heading for San Cristobal to investigate the case.
During this first survey along about 1.5km of coast, Park wardens found about 70 carcasses of marine iguanas, some old, some recent. At most of the recent corpses, signs of bites could still be recognized, marks of teeth of a size that could be attributed only to an animal of the size of a dog. Some living animals had mortal infections from wounds, like pulmonia, or necroptic tails. Infections, which also seemed to have spread out from wounds almost certainly caused by dog bites. There was a relief that no infectious disease was causing the deaths, and that there was no imminent threat of an epidemic. However, this relief was derogated by the sheer number and ghastly appearances of the many deaths we were recording.
In March 2005, we returned to the place and extended our survey along the coast behind the naval base. We found many more cadavers both, within the zone of the first survey, and beyond it. The number of dead bodies we found within 3 km of coast finally totaled a minimum of 130. Local people told us about sightings of dead marine iguanas at the Loberia, several kilometers away from town, suggesting our figure covers only a small fraction of the real number of victims. Within the first 2.5 km we could not find a single living iguana. Only fresh nests in the sand, from the most recent egg-laying episode, were witnesses to a formerly vital population of marine iguanas at this part, which must have still existed at the beginning of 2005. At a point 3 km from town, live and dead iguanas were covering alternately the coastal rocks. This is were we could start working and take samples from living marine iguanas to study their stress response under imminent heavy predation threat to find out more of the physiological basis of the fact that marine iguanas are so naive and without means of defense, when threatened by introduced mammalian predators. [You can find more pictures about this ghastly findings in one of our galleries.]
Again, most of the cadavers, which were fresh enough to be investigated, and many of the living animals showed bite marks from a jaw of the size a dog would have. Rats and cats have been discussed as culprits, too. However, our data suggest that rats and cats only come into the play once marine iguanas are either seriously wounded, or dead. Several times we found fresh dog prints on smoothed sand, which had been left by dogs roaming the coast during the night. Almost all of these tracks were of similar size, left by a middle-sized dog. Therefore, at least for the first section of coast close to town, it could be that we are dealing with only one dog, which may be responsible for most of the casualties. It is very unlikely that he killed the iguanas. Most of the wounds and signs of bites were found on the tails of iguanas. During the night, they sleep on top of rocks or in between the rocks. But even in the latter case their tails are usually hanging outside, unprotected. During sleep, marine iguanas are quite sluggish and responsive very late, making it easy to grab them. Very likely, we are not dealing with a wild beast raving mad, out to kill iguanas, but rather with a stray domestic dog, which found out it's fun to pull and shove iguanas at night and chew on their tails, when they are stuck between the rocks. Usually this does not kill the iguanas, but causes only minor wounds. Wounds, however, which are regularly followed by infections causing the tissue to rot and ultimately the death of the iguana. While marine iguanas are very capable to heal wounds from blows and tears, which they suffer frequently in the rough surf of the sea between sharp-edged lava rocks, we could see how vulnerable they are to the bacterial load in wounds caused by even minor dog bites. Something they had no chance to adjust to during their isolated evolution on an island without native ground predators.
What can be done about it? The National Park Service is currently trying to find the dog or dogs responsible for the fatalities close to town in order to catch or kill them. Simultaneously, the Park is using poisoned meat baits, which is an easier solution, but more troublesome in our view. We will follow up here with updates as soon as any news become available.
On the long run, any events like the current deaths must be prevented preemptively. In May 2005, Animal Balance [see article below] will be starting a campaign on San Cristobal, which is all about dog neutering and education for responsible pet ownership. This is hopefully a further strong contribution to stem the tide of stray and feral dogs, which can cause havoc among the native fauna. As such, the program is invaluable. However, as has been shown from the recent deaths in San Cristobal, one single dog may be enough to extinguish part of a population, solely through uncontrolled, playful behavior. Therefore, all efforts possible have to be made to reduce the number of dogs, and to prevent any new dogs to be brought into a place, where they should not be. Even something as simple as this, preventing new imports of dogs from the mainland, however, has its loopholes. There are rumors about corruption among the INGALA, the "National Galapagos Institute", a governmental organization; corruption that may be responsible that pure breeds such as a bulldog and a dalmatian recently showed up in the main town in the archipelago, Puerto Ayora, although legislation prohibits any transports. As anywhere else, environmental issues on Galápagos are foremost political issues, and the inability to change the political climate makes cases, like the recent deaths of marine iguanas, appear so frustrating. Because the real problem can not be fixed merely with the removal of a dog...

January 2005 - Neutering and spaying of domestic dogs and cats in the townships of Galapagos

sterilization of a dogShelley Thomas has good news when looking back upon Year 2004. She is co-ordinator of the spay and neuter project "Conservation without Cruelty" run by WildAid, recently partnering with US-based animal welfare group Animal Balance. This project, which kicked off in January 2004 offering free sterilization clinics backed up by education campaigns pushing responsible pet ownership, is turning the tide on an over-population of dogs and cats in the townships of Galapagos.
It’s thought domestic animals were first introduced into Galapagos by English privateers. Numbers of dogs and cats have since sky-rocketed, evident in a recent census placing the population at 2,500 in Puerto Ayora alone, where, with other “introduced species” such as rats, goats, donkeys, pigeons and pigs (and humans), they threaten future sustainability of unique ecosystems.
Dogs have been dumped on the street, allowed to breed out of control, caught in a vicious cycle of uncontrolled breeding and neglect. They run in packs, scavenge from garbage, prey on endemic creatures, and create a potential risk to the public.
In only one year the the project has managed to spay and neuter 864 dogs and cats in the townships of Puerto Ayora and Puerto Villamil. It started the process or registering pets, inserting identification micro-chips, and giving owners collars and leads. Obviously, the key benefit can be seen in a reduction in the population of strays. But, Shelley Thomas is also convinced that compassion for one animal, leads to greater compassion for all creatures. 
The biggest problem, aside from differing cultural attitudes towards pets, is the lack of finances available to most Galapagueńa families without outside help to participate in the program.

<Find out more> or contact Shelley Thomas from WildAid Galapagos, or Animal Balance founders Emma Clifford and Allice Ng.

2004 overview

In 2004 several dramatic struggles were fought over the natural resources within the Galápagos National Park.

The first confusion started beginning of January, when news dropped in very unexpectedly via the fax machines of the National Park Service, the Charles Darwin research station and the municipality of Puerto Ayora. To the surprise of all parties involved, a decree from the President of Ecuador retroactively overthrew existing laws. It fundamentally changed the regulations of the special law for tourism in the Galápagos, which accounted for the special needs of these sensitive environments. This special law for tourism had been agreed upon during numerous tedious meetings of the so-called "Junta Participativa" and was a compromise between the interests of the fishing cooperative, the local tourism representatives, the municipality, and conservation agencies. The presidential decree basically annulled this compromise on the management of tourism. As a consequence, tourism agencies suddenly had the opportunity to employ guides on their own (instead of the rule that specially trained guides from the National Park have to be accepted). Furthermore, the existing deadlines for the payment of operation fees (Yacht taxes) for the tourist vessels had been overturned, which equals an abolishment of this important source of income for the National Park Service. Finally, the upper limit for the number of tourists, which were allowed per boat, was canceled and vessels of all sizes could have access to all tourist sites in the archipelago (instead of the restriction in the number and size of boats allowed to sensitive areas). And several other changes were installed. These new regulations were not only a contradiction to the special law for tourism, which is linked to Ecuador's constitution, but in essence they opened up the archipelago for mass tourism. The loss of control over the on-board guides constituted a serious cut of the influence of the National Park Service on what is going on at remote sites in the Park. This gave free reign to abuse by tourism agencies. Fortunately, the decree had been retracted a few weeks later in response to the protests and diplomatic pressure from international and local conservation agencies even with the support of the local municipality and fishing cooperative. The special law for tourism was re-installed by the end of February and a potentially destructive influence of big alien concerns could be prevented.

While conflicts over the presidential decree still continued, the fishing cooperative tried to push through changes on the quota for the harvest of sea cucumbers in their own favor. These animals yield large profit margins on Asian markets. Once very common all over the archipelago, the population drastically declined due to overexploitation. They are similarly important for the marine environment as are earthworms for the enrichment of soil. As part of the protests the area of the National Park Administration and the Charles Darwin research station was occupied by armed fishermen and access for employees was blocked, sometimes by violent means. Only protracted negotiations and a ruling by the Ecuadorian court could stop the strike of fishermen, giving in to some of the demands of the fishing lobby.

The last view years have seen many cases of illegal fishing activities by local fishermen but also by big companies based in the mainland of Ecuador, in other South-American countries and as far as Costa Rica and Asia. The intrusions of big fishing boats from the waters outside the reserve are difficult to monitor let alone to convict, due to the large size of the marine reserve. With marine resources diminishing in other areas, the Galápagos marine reserve attracts more and more poachers. A method of particularly high profit and cruelty is the hunt for shark fins. Again, this peculiarity serves Asian markets, where fins yield large profits as aphrodisiac and delicacy. Usually, fins are cut off and the live animals thrown back into the sea facing a slow death. After all, there are some positive news on the shark line. In 2004 a Year of the Shark campaign was launched to raise awareness for the increasing problem of illegal shark finning. The export of shark fins from Ecuador was finally banned. This also complicates the smuggling of fins from the Galápagos Islands onto the mainland of Ecuador and into foreign countries.

In mid-September of 2004, a new National Park director was appointed by the president of Ecuador, unilaterally ending the short term in office for the existing director Edwin Naula. Thus, eight different people directed the National Park within the last two years, all appointed by the president.  This sparked the protest of Park wardens who wanted more continuity and their outstanding salaries to be paid. The newly appointed director was joined by some 100 fishermen on his first day to work, forcing his way into his office, what resulted in a violent confrontation, using clubs and throwing rocks, calmed down only by tear gas from the police. International protest rose quickly and a delegation of Park wardens was sent to the minister of environment in Quito. Finally, the new appointment was retracted end of September and wages were payed. A new interim director Victor Carrion was agreed upon and a new commission founded, which now will establish ways how to elect a new Park director. This should avoid one-sided political influences during the process of nomination of future directors and also grant more continuity through a term of office for four years.

Events of the last year indicate that the delicate balance between the exploitation and conservation of natural resources in the Galápagos marine reserve is under heavy strain. Currently, changes in the use of natural resources take place, which will essentially determine their sustainability and future availability for tourism, local communities and fishermen. The reasons for these changes are the rapidly growing local population, the decrease in the populations of native marine animals, and the corresponding urge of many fishermen to increase their catch and switch to more profitable illegal fishing methods. Alternatively, first fishermen start to abandon fishery in order to gain income in tourism.

Many if not most tourists traveling the Galápagos are not aware of these developments. Important decisions about the future of the Galápagos are being made these days. As far as tourism is concerned, every visitor to this paradise on earth should be aware that he or she can profoundly influence the fate of the islands with his choice over which trips to book. We recommend to take sustainability and quality of the guides, allocated to a boat, into account. This not only helps nature, it also guarantees a richer experience. You can inquire beforehand about the efforts an agency makes to avoid transport of invasive plants and animals between the islands, to minimize pollution of the waters and keep up with security and conservation standards set forth by the National Park. Be responsible and enjoy the wonders of a world that in many areas still are the same that Darwin admired on his tour in 1838 on board of the ship Beagle.


You can find more details as well as current news from the Galápagos on the following pages:

PLEASE NOTE:   due to not always converging news on the events, we can not assume responsibility for the correctness of the information given above.
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