Posted by: galapagosinc | June 16, 2010

Galapagos Islands topped a new “Must-See” destination list

According to Irish Times, a new list of top travel experience destinations has been compiled from reader polls (almost 50,000 people voted).  The Galapagos Islands came at the top of list as a place for an amazing traveler experience.

“The very best travel involves experiences; an encounter with a particular animal, a visit to a famous site at a particular time of day, a dramatic journey to a renowned location. What links them all is they’re personal to the individual traveller, more about what one feels rather than sees,” Explore claims.

The focus on traveller experiences rather than destination seems to be taking off, with Lonely Planet launching their own version of such an award in the wake of the interest generated by the wondrous experiences list.

Explore drew up a shortlist of 20 “wonders” from around the world and then asked customers to vote on their favourites – and 48,473 did. South America featured prominently in the list, with the Galapagos being closely followed in popularity by the experience of arriving at the Sun Gate of Machu Picchu after trekking the Inca Trail in Peru.

Next in popularity came the experience of seeing giant gorilla up-close in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, which also involves a lengthy hike topped off by a dramatic climax. Sunrise at Angkor Wat in Cambodia and tiger watching in India completed the top five.

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Posted by: galapagosinc | June 7, 2010

Learn more about the Galapagos Giant Tortiose

The Galapagos tortoise is the largest living tortoise. It can weigh over 500 pounds and measure 6 feet from head to tail. It is a very slow-moving animal, moving only 0.16 miles per hour. The Galapagos tortoise has a very large shell made of bone. The shell can be domed, saddle-backed, or somewhere inbetween. Domed shells are found on tortoises that live in areas with lush vegetation. Saddle-back shells allow the tortoise to reach vegetation higher off the ground. This shell is more common in areas with less vegetation.

The Galapagos tortoise is an herbivore that eats prickly pear cactus and fruits, bromeliads, water ferns, leaves, and grasses. They have tremendous water storage capacities, enabling them to survive the long arid season.

The Galapagos tortoise is found on the Galapagos Islands just west of Ecuador in South America. Spanish explorers, because of the 250,000 tortoises that inhabited the island, named the islands Galapagos (Spanish for tortoise). Today only 15,000 are left.

The social structure of the Galapagos tortoise is a dominance hierarchy based on the height to which the tortoise can stretch its head.

The Galapagos tortoise matures at 20-25 years of age. Compared to most tortoises, the birth rate of Galapagos tortoises is extremely low. Most tortoises can lay hundreds of eggs at a time. Howveer, the Galapagos tortoise only lays between 2 and 16 eggs. These eggs are laid in a hole dug by the mother. Then they are buried for incubation. The mother leaves, and the eggs hatch 4-8 months later. It takes the baby tortoises one month to dig out of the nest.

The Galapagos tortoise has a good sense of smell and smells all of its food before eating it.

The Big Zoo

Posted by: galapagosinc | June 2, 2010

The life of an Iguana

The iguanas on the Galápagos Islands enjoy a pleasant life with few predators and ample marine algae to feast on.

But every few years El Niño, a tropical Pacific weather pattern, disrupts this, warming the ocean waters and causing the algae to die. Iguanas sometimes go without food for up to several months.

While some iguanas starve, others seem to make it until new algae grow. This survivability may be connected to the iguana’s ability to control stress levels, according to a study in the May 26 issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

In a stress-inducing situation like that caused by El Niño, iguanas release a hormone called corticosterone. In the short term, this helps the iguanas tap into their own protein reserves. And, for example, when an iguana faces an attack by a predatory hawk, the hormone provokes a response to move faster.

But in the long term, iguanas that cannot turn off the stress hormone expend too much energy too quickly, which is fatal, the researchers found in their survey of 98 iguanas.

“Their ability to turn off their response was what seemed to predict who lived and who died,” said L. Michael Romero, a professor of biology at Tufts University and the paper’s lead author.

A similar stress hormone, called cortisol, exists in humans. During a stressful situation, this hormone triggers what is commonly referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response. Just as in iguanas, the inability to turn off the release after danger has passed can result in serious complications, including post-traumatic stress disorder and brain damage.

NY Times

Posted by: galapagosinc | May 24, 2010

Living the dream with a Galapagos project

Carrie Pokrefke is living her dream, taking part in a 10-day National Geographic photography expedition on the Galapagos Islands.

“This is the realization of my ultimate dream in life,” said Pokrefke. “They say it’s like summer camp for adults. It’s nonstop.”

For years, Pokrefke, 31, has wanted to photograph the wildlife and various plant species indigenous to the island, officially named Galapagos Archipelago. A few months ago, she put her name on a waiting list to travel with National Geographic knowing her being able to go was a long shot. By chance, a spot opened for her when someone canceled his or her reservation for the trip to the chain of islands in the Pacific.

“I have wanted to go since high school,” Pokrefke said.

A representative from the magazine called on April 27 telling her the news. She said her being selected was “a total fluke.”

The St. Aloysius High School graduate left Vicksburg for Ecuador this past week for Galapagos, famed for its endemic animal and plant life including the tortoise and cacti.

The volcanic island chain of lush vegetation and picturesque scenery lies in the Pacific Ocean about 525 miles off the western coast of Ecuador, sitting in the Northern and Southern hemispheres.

Discovered in 1535 by Fray Thomas de Berlanga, the bishop of Panama, the group of 18 islands, 107 rocks and islets is 3,040 square miles of land spread over 17,000 square miles of ocean.

As a lover of photography, Pokrefke, joined the magazine’s biannual photo expedition to capture images of what she had seen on television and the Internet since she was a teen.

“I do photography on the side. That’s the reason I’m going,” said Pokrefke, a credit union examiner for the state of Mississippi.

“It’s a very photography-based expedition. I’ve always watched the website. National Geographic has been going to the Galapagos for 40 years. They actually give back to Galapagos.”

Clarion Ledger

Posted by: galapagosinc | May 12, 2010

Special $99 One-Week Tour of Ecuador!

Check out this new, special promotion (now through mid-December):

Galapagos Inc. is offering a highly-discounted $99 one-week tour of Ecuador, when you book a 7-night Galapagos cruise.  Don’t miss out on this exclusive promotion!  Check out our website http://www.galapagos-inc to book your next cruise and luxury tour.

Posted by: galapagosinc | May 7, 2010

Fast facts

Check out these unique facts about the Galapagos Islands:

The islands constitute an Ecuadorian province and are part of that country’s national park system. Ecuador strictly regulates tourism in the area.

More than sixty volcanic eruptions have been documented over the last two hundred years in the Galapagos region.

During the nineteenth century, whaling ships were a common sight in Galapagos waters. Sperm whales once swam in large pods around the islands.

Today, orcas can be seen hunting sperm whales in Galapagos waters. Orcas also feed on Galapagos sea lions, sharks, and rays.

Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, was so fascinated with the islands that he wrote a series of essays about them in his work The Encantadas.

Charles Darwin was twenty-six when he first saw the Galapagos Islands. His observations about life on the islands eventually led to his famed theory of evolution. His On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was published in 1859.

Darwin Island, one of the main islands in the archipelago, is named for the naturalist.

There are thirteen species of Darwin’s finches endemic to the islands. As noted by the great naturalist, these birds are famous for their beaks.

The islands’ marine iguanas are only found in the Galapagos region. These are the only marine-going lizards found anywhere in the world.

The notorious scolopendra centipede lives on the islands and frequently dines on lava lizards and even young rats. These creatures grow to about thirty centimeters.

The famous Galapagos penguin is the only type of penguin to live at the equator. An endangered species, there are less than 1500 examples according to scientific studies.

Poisonous manzanillo apple trees are native to the islands. Both their fruit and sap are toxic.

The islands and their waters are a World Heritage Site. Conservation is an ongoing project for the region.

Rustic Girls

In celebration of the inaugural Green Auction on the 40th Annual Earth Day, the National Geographic announced the Top 40 Greatest Nature Photos of all time.  “A polar bear dance, a doomed thresher shark, and a crowd of giant tortoises gathered at dawn in the Galapagos are just a few of the stunning images that have been selected.”

Giant tortoises in pond, Alcedo Volcano, Galapagos Islands. “The Galápagos Islands provide a window on time. In a geologic sense, the islands are young, yet they appear ancient. The largest animals native to this archipelago are giant tortoises, which can live for more than a century. These are the creatures that provided Darwin with the flash of imagination that led to his theory of evolution.

“Immutable as the tortoises seem, they were utterly vulnerable to the buccaneers and whalers who took them by the thousands in the last two centuries. But one population eluded them. Inside the Alcedo volcano on Isabela Island, an earlier era lingers. This caldera is sealed off from the outside world by steep lava slopes that rise to 3,860 feet on the equator.

“It was not until 1965 that an Ecuadorian biologist found a way down inside and discovered a world where giant tortoises roamed in primordial abundance. This group had presumably never seen humans…They hadn’t seen many more when I entered the time capsule of the caldera.

“For one memorable week, I lived among the tortoises of Alcedo. Photography one morning was one of those precious experiences where I could be part of a scene rather than a distant observer. The tortoises were resting in a pond as soft mist mingled with sulfur steam from nearby fumaroles and dust from an erupting volcano to the west, and I was able to create an image that evokes the era when reptiles dominated life on land.”–Frans Lanting.

National Geographic, Frans Lanting Photography

Posted by: galapagosinc | April 14, 2010

Celebrities Participate in Eco-Conference in Galapagos

An elite group of environmentally-conscious celebrities, including Leonardo DiCaprio and Edward Norton, gathered in Ecuador last week to participate in an innovative conference and visited the Galapagos Islands.

The stars joined over 100 business leaders, scientists and activists to participate in The Mission Blue Voyage, a four-day conference at sea to address conservation issues in the country, reports the Daily Express.

Veteran rocker Jackson Browne, singer/songwriter Damien Rice, film producer Jake Eberts and French explorer/environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau were among the guest speakers during the trip.

DiCaprio and Norton reportedly met with Ecuador’s Vice President Lenin Moreno during the trip and offered their support to the Yasuni-ITT initiative, a scheme that aims to protect the Ecuadorian Amazon from oil extraction measures.

DNA

Posted by: galapagosinc | April 5, 2010

Are we loving the Galapagos to death?

Sylvia Earle’s Mission Blue is an exciting adventure that will bring scientists and celebrities on a Galápagos expedition to study ways of protecting the oceans. It is my hope that the expedition will generate action and bring in the funds to help preserve Galápagos because, as a native of the islands just told me, “Conservation without money is just conversation.”

Whenever I tell people that I was born in the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador, they always say, “I didn’t know there were any people on the Galápagos. I thought only strange animals lived there.” To which I usually respond that people–strange and not-so–also made their way to the islands over the years.

The islands were unpopulated for centuries, although they were not unknown. There are oral accounts of one Inca ruler who made his way here on a raft. The first written chronicle comes to us from the Bishop of Panamá, whose ship was blown off course in 1535. The misplaced cleric and his party loaded up on water, but the volcanic terrain and the strange creatures reminded them of hell, so he said mass on the beach and promptly left. The islands, also known as “Las Encantadas” or “The Enchanted Isles,” later became the refuge of pirates and buccaneers. In the 18th and 19th centuries, whalers made the Galápagos a way station to stock up on water and giant tortoises which they carried as a meat supply.

In 1832, the newly independent government of Ecuador took possession of the Archipelago and in 1835, a young Englishman by the name of Charles Darwin came calling.

And the rest is history–or evolution, if you prefer.

Throughout the early years, Ecuador tried all sorts of colonization schemes. When they failed, settlers left behind domestic animals which became feral and to this day threaten the native species.

Among the more colorful human specimens in the Galápagos saga stands Manuel Cobos, who planted sugar cane and ran with an iron hand a sugar mill and a railroad in San Cristóbal Island utilizing convict labor. He was killed during an uprising. A few years later Norwegian immigrants tried to start a fish processing plant. It failed for lack of adequate transportation. In the 1920s, several Europeans arrived searching for a Robinson Crusoe experience in this volcanic utopia.

In the 1930s came a woman who called herself a Baroness and lived with two lovers on Floreana Island, where she intended to open a hotel. She and her favorite boy-toy vanished mysteriously–but that is another story (and there is talk of a movie being made on that subject). Several Germans came in those years fleeing the impending horrors of war. Prominent among them were the Wittmers and the Angermeyers, whose descendants still live on the islands. Mrs. Margret Wittmer wrote a bookPost Office Floreana about her experiences. A couple of “pre-hippies,” Ainslie and Francis Conway, arrived from Berkeley, California. She wrote a book about their adventures, Las Encantadas.

Both authors praise my father, Lt. Col. Alejandro Alvear, who was appointed “Jefe Territorial,” or Military Governor, of the Archipelago in 1939. They call him “enlightened” because he built the first school in San Cristóbal and cared about the settlers. When my father, my mother, Laura Triviño de Alvear, and my older sister Alexandra arrived in 1939, Baquerizo Moreno in San Cristóbal Island was a small village with huts of bamboo, lumber and corrugated iron. There were only about 900 people living in the whole Archipelago. My parents lived in a wooden house facing “Shipwreck Bay” (with a front porch view of the site where on January 16, 2001, an old tanker, the “Jessica” ran aground, spilling bunker fuel). That’s where I was born and where I spent the first two years of my life.

Although I was never more than a toddler there, I know that we spent most of the days at the then-pristine beach. Sealions and iguanas frolicked on the nearby rocks. We watched the blue-footed boobies as they dove in swarms to catch fish for their dinner.

In the summer of 1996 I returned to Galápagos with a group of friends. As we approached San Cristóbal a school of dolphins rode the bow wave. They are magnificent creatures in their natural habitat: powerful and playful, enjoying an afternoon romp in the turquoise waters. Our squeals of delight seemed to encourage them to do even more elaborate somersaults, to flip over and then to look up at us to check our reactions. I felt they were welcoming me back home.

The Galápagos were declared a national park in 1959, and in the 1960s tourism to the islands started to grow and produce significant revenues for Ecuador. There are now about 160,000 annual visitors–including Bill Gates and his family, who are touring the islands in a private yacht this week– and the local population, mainlanders in search of better job opportunities, now numbers 30,000 spread over four populated islands. My birthplace, Baquerizo Moreno, is now a small city of 4,000 with a concrete pier, paved streets, cars, and cement houses. The house where I was born was swallowed by the new Ecuadorian Navy base.

Although the Galápagos National Park and the Darwin Foundation are making efforts to protect the fragile environment from the impact of the human species, it is very hard for us to co-exist with endangered species. One famous story is that of “Lonesome George,” the last one of the species of tortoises that inhabited Pinta Island. George now lives on Santa Cruz island, where the Darwin Foundation cares for him. Efforts to find him a suitable mate have failed thus far, but there may be some hope because recently another male tortoise was found with half of the genes of George — so now the search is on for a female equivalent to try and save George’s species. In the meantime George has also mated with young tortoises, but so far there are no offspring.

Some of the people who live in the Galápagos are fishermen. It has been difficult for them to accept governmental regulations as to the length of time they can fish and amount of crustaceans and fish they can harvest. In the past they have staged uprisings to protest the end of the lobster season and the constraints on the harvesting of sea cucumbers. Many residents work in the tourism industry, which continues to grow as more and more people want to visit the islands. In an effort to control the population the government is now deporting back to the mainland Ecuadorians who do not have permission to live and work in the archipelago.

Initially tourists came here because they loved to observe the animals and the wildness of the several islands that are still uninhabited. More recently, a new breed of tourist is demanding the amenities that can be found in the Caribbean or in Mexico: surfing, sports fishing, discos, luxury hotels, etc. That places tremendous pressure on the scarce water and sewage resources.

Islanders resent what they perceive as a policy that favors animals over people. They also feel that the profits generated by the tourism industry tend to favor well-established mainland operated tour companies. The locals feel unfairly criticized by environmentalists who portray them as desecrating this pristine place, when in effect some Galapagueños are fighting to save the islands. Native born Felipe Cruz is world renowned for his efforts to restore the islands. This week a group of scientists is meeting in Santa Cruz island to study ways to attain sustainable development and also In Santa Cruz several residents are opposed to an annual fiesta on Tortuga Bay, a once pristine stretch of beach where turtles and iguanas nest. But despite these efforts, it is true that through the years the human population has changed the inhabited islands. Domestic animals compete with endemic species. Goats introduced in the 19th century became such a plague that a military-style operation was launched a few years ago to eliminate them. Cars and electrical power plants require fuel, which is shipped from the mainland.

The islands were given World Heritage site status by Unesco in 1978 and in 1985 were declared a Biosphere Reserve. This was extended in 2001 to include the 43,500 square miles of ocean surrounding the islands. But in 2007 UNESCO joined the government of Ecuador in declaring the islands “at risk.” Despite all these efforts the flood of tourism continues, and although it is the economic lifeline of the islands, it has many downsides. As information about the islands is transmitted virally by Twitter and Facebook and Galápagos becomes a finalist in the 7th Wonders of the World contest, I wonder if in effect we are loving the Galápagos to death.

The Huffington Post, Cecilia Alvear

Posted by: galapagosinc | March 26, 2010

Earth Hour

Get ready to go dark on Saturday.

At 8:30 p.m., folks from around the world will turn off their lights for one hour to unite in a call for global action on climate change.

Earth Hour, as it has come to be known, started in 2007 in Australia as a global demonstration organized by the World Wildlife Fund.

The Earth Hour Web site has some cool stuff on it, as well, including a lantern project for which kids can design their own online lantern by selecting its shape, color and message.

There’s also a virtual light switch and a game that has you turn off as many lights as you can in two minutes.

WWF claims that, in 2007, 2.2 million homes and businesses turned off their lights and that, a year later, more than 50 million people in 35 countries were participating.

This year, more than 318 cities have committed to going dark.

From the port town of Puerto Ayora on the Galapagos island of Santa Cruz, where the streetlights of the main street and boardwalk will be replaced with candles, to China’s Forbidden City, lights will go dark.

South Florida Business Journal

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