The effects of climate change in the Galápagos Islands are
posing a severe threat to one of the world's rarest seabirds, a
decade-long historical study led by a University of Queensland
researcher has revealed.
The unique flightless cormorant, Phalacrocorax harrisi, is found
only on the coasts of two Islands in the Galápagos archipelago and
relies on cold, nutrient-rich water provided by the Equatorial
These heavy, flightless, diving birds evolved from a light,
flying ancestor due to the absence of predators and abundance of
in-shore sea food in the isolated Galápagos region.
UQ's Emeritus Professor Robert Tindle, the lead author on the
study, said the species was a striking example of evolution in the
Galápagos which so intrigued 19th-century naturalist, Charles
Emeritus Professor Tindle said the species' sensitivity to
changes in water temperature was now threatening its survival.
"The population of these birds is currently low at about 1000
adult pairs, and this number has dropped as low as 400 pairs after
a period of warmer ocean temperatures around the islands," he
"90% of breading occurs when ocean temperatures are between
18-23 degrees Celsius.
"An increase of just two degrees Celsius can significantly
reduce breeding due to decreased availability of food."
During the cold upwelling of the Equatorial Undercurrent there
is an abundance of fish available to the flightless cormorants
through shallow-water foraging within a few hundred meters of the
During El Niño - Southern Oscillation events, which persist in
the area for 11-18 months, the Equatorial Undercurrent weakens,
leading to warmer, nutrient-poor water at the surface and a
reduction in the abundance of prey.
"The frequency and severity of El Niño - Southern Oscillation
events in Galápagos have increased and it has been shown that this
is most likely a result of climate change,"
Emeritus Professor Tindle said.
"During these periods when ocean surface temperatures range
between 23-28 degrees Celsius, Flightless Cormorants lay fewer
clutches of eggs and have fewer juveniles survive.
"These birds have evolved to breed when water temperatures are
cold and food is abundant.
"Either long-term or frequent short-term rises of just a few
degrees in local sea surface temperature could pose a catastrophic
threat to this species."
The research was carried out in Galápagos by scientists from The
University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology and
the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UK) between 1970-1980, with
annual checks conducted by scientists at the Charles Darwin
Research Station, Galápagos, from 1980 to 2012.
When people ask me about my time in Galapagos, most are
surprised to find out that there is a substantial population of
Ecuadorians actually living there. The islands were
first discovered (at least by Western eyes - there is some poorly
substantiated evidence that indigenous groups from the mainland may
have been there at one point) in 1635, but weren't permanently
settled until the early 1800's. Until the
2nd World War, the population remained very small,
perhaps a few hundred people living on the three main
islands. The war brought in military investment, which
attracted more people - as Baltra island was used as an American
advance base for the protection of the Panama Canal against
potential Japanese attack. After the war, the
population was somewhere in the 1,000 to 2,000 range until the
1960's, even early 1970's - when it became feasible for the first
time for people to consider visiting the islands as
tourists. Tourism growth was exponential over the
following decades, going from about nothing to about 200,000 annual
arrivals in recent years. The expanding tourism
economy, along with a short but intensive 1990's boom in fisheries
drew in many economic migrants from the continent.
The island's population now stands at about 30,000 permanent and
long-term temporary residents. These are scattered among 5
islands - in order of importance - Santa Cruz, with the main town
of Puerto Ayora, San Cristobal, with its town of Puerto Baquerizo
Moreno, Villamil on Isabel island, and Floreana island (population
of about 100). Baltra island has a small contingent of
military personnel who manage the airport there.
That leaves well over 100 uninhabited islands in the
Below: boys enjoy a good game at Santa
Rosa, in the Santa Cruz island highlands. Thanks to Wilson
Cabrera, a top goat hunter and former colleague, for the
The Galapagos National Park reported that over the weekend,
today during a control operation conducted by the Galapagos
National Park (GNP) at different coastal sites of San Cristobal
island, a shipment of 18 jute bags containing dry salted sea
cucumbers was discovered.
The Park immediately proceeded in the confiscation of the sea
cucumbers and moved them to the Parks offices on that
island. Park staff counted 32 477 sea cucumbers, most of the
species Isostichopus horrens . Later sea cucumbers were
placed in 43 pouches in which they remain in custody of the
respective GNP , during the administrative and criminal process
that will begin to investigate was is considered an environmental
crime in Ecuador.
Carlos Rivera, president of the Fisheries and Seafood
Cooperative, San Cristobal, stated that the illegal harvesting of
sea cucumbers is regrettable because it undermines the natural
resource's ability to regenerate itself and to continue providing a
livelihood to local fishermen.
The sea cucumber is a protected species in the Galapagos Marine
Reserve and worldwide, some species are on the IUCN RedList of
endangered species, and protected by the Convention on the
International Trade in Endangered threatened Flora and Fauna
(CITES). They are extremely important to ecosystems as they
oxygenate the ocean floor. Sea cucumbers are related to star
fish, and sought after mostly by the Asia market.
The Galapagos National Park Service reported yesterday that it
had detected a number of dead and sick marine iguanas along some
beaches (both off limits to the public and those open to the
public) of Santa Cruz Island. It said it was studying the
causes of death of 14 marine iguanas in the popular beach area of
Turtle Bay, site which has been intensively monitored over the
years. Apart from dead marine iguanas, the Park found a sick
one, behaving as if it needed to vomit.
The Park proceeded to close access to the colony of iguanas in
Turtle Bay, and also reviewed the health conditions of individuals
in this sector, where a population of about 775 individuals
Veterinarians and biologists performed the autopsy of dead
individuals, those with most of their bodies in good
condition. Results showed bellies full of green and red algae
with increased prevalence of the red algae, as well as inflammation
and bleeding in the small intestine.
Washington Tapia , head of research applied to the GNP and
an old friend since CNH Tours used to work in Galapagos, said
that the precise cause of death was not yet known, though it
appeared to be related to a digestive problem . The park
indicated that there was no evidence of water contamination in the
areas affected. Studies continue with the support of
scientists from partner institutions, specialists in marine iguanas
and reptile diseases, to implement remedial actions if
Galapagos National Park staff monitoring marine iguanas at
CNH Tours tried this out today - very nice! Here is
The minister of the Environment of Ecuador announced yesterday
that Edwin Naula, Galapagos National Park director for the past 3
years, and old friend of CNH Tours, is stepping down.
Edwin had been working for the Galapagos National Park Service for
many years, and had acted as interim director for a short period in
2007, before being formally given the job in 2010. He
will be replaced by another Galapagos veteran, Arturo
Arturo himself served as park director in the 1990's when he was
in his 20s. At the time, he brought in a decentralised
structure allowing local people to deal with environmental
problems. He restricted the number of boats visiting islands.
He has sinced worked for the World Wildlife Fund in
Latin America, and was most recently managing protected areas in
Australia. Though CNH Tours does not know Arturo
personally, his name is a very familiar one - and he comes well
recommended by all of our close Galapagos contacts.
The dramatic story of the first settlers on Floreana Island will
be shown at the Telluride Film Festival this week, for the first
time. The story involves murder, deception, mysterious
disappearances, an imposter baroness, a vegetarian toothless
dentist and more! All based on real characters (CNH Tours is
friends with some of their descendants - the Wittmers, who run Tip
Below, the Wittmer family circa 1932.
Margaret, on the right, lived on Floreana island until her death in
Here's an excerpt from the producer's website:
Darwin meets Hitchcock in the
feature-length documentary THE GALAPAGOS AFFAIR, a gripping tale of
idealistic dreams gone awry set in the brutal yet alluring
landscape of the Galapagos Islands in the 1930s.
Featuring voice-over performances by Cate
Blanchett, Diane Kruger, this film skillfully interweaves an
unsolved 1930s murder mystery with stories of present day Galapagos
When Berlin physician Friedrich Ritter
left Germany in 1929 with his lover Dore Strauch to make a life on
the deserted Galapagos Island of Floreana, he envisioned a paradise
of solitude in which he would be able to write great philosophical
tracts while carving out a rudimentary existence based on
Nietzsche's doctrine of the Superman. What Ritter and Strauch
didn't count on was being discovered by the international press,
who rapidly trumpeted their exploits as "The Adam and Eve of the
Below - the "Baronness" and some of her
For more information, see:
Until very recently, there were 30 confirmed shark species in
Galapagos waters - thanks to the efforts of some dedicated diving
enthusiasts, a keen local fisherman and a Galapagos student
out on diving sortie. Pictures and video were obtained
for each report and analyzed by a variety of experts, and consensus
was reached on the species involved. The results were
published in a scientific paper. The new official members of
"Galapagos shark species" club are:
Along with Cocos Island (another World Heritage site),
approximately 700 km to the northeast (450 miles) Galapagos is
considered a "shark mecca" of the world by dive outfitters.
"Galapagos probably sees more variety of shark species than
anywhere else!" claims Shark Diving Experts. Now we'll
need to add another three species. CNH Tours, being natural
born skeptics, will note that Galapagos probably benefits from a
lot more scientific attention than other places, which might tip
the balance in its favour in terms of spotting and officially
confirming shark species, but that's fine by us.
Some of the main shark highlights in Galapagos include:
Great white sharks are generally absent from Galapagos waters,
tough an old colleague of ours, and Galapagos native, Felipe Cruz,
once reported to us as having seen one in the Bolivar Channel,
between Fernandina and Isabela islands. It's nice to
know they are rare!
Nicole Chabaneix uploaded this nice picture on August 8
(Twitter) - a very composition. Orcas, often associated
with the US northwest coast and Canada's British Columbia waters,
are also around in Galapagos. CNH Tours had the
pleasure of floating amongst a group of 3-4 orcas a few years ago -
so close that we had the pleasure of smelling "orca
It seems Lonesome George will live on in Galapagos. After
his death of this iconic "last of its kind" giant tortoise in June
last year, he was shipped to the American Museum of Natural
History, where he was "stuffed" by expert taxidermist, and
mounted for display. He will make a
temporary appearance at the museum this winter, before heading back
to his homeland next year.
George was the last of the Pinta Island tortoise species.
He was discovered in 1971 by a team of National Park goat hunters
(goats had been introduced to the island and were destroying its
forests). They brought back to Puerto Ayora, the park
headquarters, and the site of the Charles Darwin Research
Station. For years people searched for any remaining
Pinta island tortoises - in 2001, when we wilved in the
islands, CNH Tours met up with one team that had proposed to use
infra-red, helicopter imaging, on the assumption that after dark,
while the land cooled, tortoise bodies, even though cold blooded,
would remain hotter for a while and show up. That
didn't work. Nor did so many other search
missions. So George remained alone, and
lonesome. The extinction of his species took place
before he died - as there was no hope for his
We used to live at the Charles Darwin Research Station, just
down the short trail to George's pen. It was sad to
learn of his death - we had assumed he would still be there long
after our own passing, given that tortoises can live up to 200
years, and he was thought be closer to 100. But that's
Lonesome George in better times