Government – Galápagos Digital an online news website about Galapagos Fri, 18 Dec 2015 19:09:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Opposition to Galápagos Law Continues in Islands /2015/06/16/opposition-to-galapagos-law-continues-in-islands/ /2015/06/16/opposition-to-galapagos-law-continues-in-islands/#respond Tue, 16 Jun 2015 19:07:09 +0000 /?p=1563 Galapagos groups continue to protest against the newly-ratified “Organic Law of Special Regime for the Province of Galapagos.” According to Jairo Gusqui, one of the protest leaders on Santa Cruz Island, there are meetings every evening to discuss the law and plan actions. On Tuesday June 16, says Gusqui, people will form a human chain to spell “SOS” in a court of Santa Cruz and in the coming days they will demonstrate at Tortuga Bay beach.

Women demonstrate in San Cristóbal on Monday.

Gina Andrade / Radio Encantada

Women demonstrate in San Cristóbal on Monday.

In San Cristóbal, Gina Andrade of Radio Encantada reports that a group organized as “the Women’s Galápagos United Front” are standing in a non-stop vigil in the plaza of Baquerizo Moreno with posters “demanding respect for human rights and rejection of the Galapagos law.”

Another factor spurring the protest is the arrest of former  Galápagos congressman Eduardo Veliz. According to a communication from the Ecuadorian Internal Security Ministry, he was arrested Friday night, June 12,  accused of “inciting the public to paralyze a public service” at the San Cristóbal airport. Veliz was moved to Guayaquil where a judge sentenced him to 30 days of detention.

Police officers from the Ecuadorian mainland arrive in Galápagos.

Periódico el Colono

Police officers from the Ecuadorian mainland arrive in Galápagos.

In social networks many Galapagueños expressed dissatisfaction with the presence of a mainland police contingent of 140 officers, including members of tactical units specialized in maintaining public order.

The Daily Periódico El Colono reported that Galápagos governor Eliecer Cruz stated that he “is in talks with the Internal Security Minister to assess how long  the  police reinforcements  should remain in the province.” Cruz added, “the goal is to ensure public order and prevent damage to private and public property. ”

In addition to the protests there is also a legal challenge in the works. Dr. Angel Orna, an expert on constitutional and environmental law, is preparing a court action to get the new Galápagos law declared unconstitutional.

Dr. Angel Orna will challenge the Galápagos law


Dr. Angel Orna will challenge the Galápagos law

In a telephone interview with Galápagos Digital, Dr. Orna stated that this constitutional legal remedy permits “citizens to stand before the Constitutional Court to determine the violation of established rights,” adding that “we want to establish that Galapagos law has violated several rules laid down in the Constitution. ”

According to Dr. Orna, if the new salary formula mentioned in the law  reduces wages in Galápagos, this “would be unconstitutional because Article 11 Paragraph 8 of the Constitution provides that  rights are progressive and not regressive. All rights should go forward not backwards”

Besides the wage issue, Dr. Orna says he finds violations in several other areas of the new law, including a weakening of protections for the environment of Galápagos. He says it “opens the possibility of harm to ecosystems.”

A delegation of Galápagos citizens will accompany Dr. Orna when he submits his complaint before the Constitutional Court in Quito.

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UPDATED SATURDAY JUNE 13: As Protests Continue in Galápagos, Correa denounces violence /2015/06/12/protests-disrupt-galapagos-tourism/ /2015/06/12/protests-disrupt-galapagos-tourism/#respond Sat, 13 Jun 2015 01:59:15 +0000 /?p=1528 Update: The situation was reported calm in Galápagos Saturday as flights to the islands resumed.  Former congressman Eduardo Veliz, one of the protest leaders, was reportedly arrested Friday night.  On Friday, José Serrano Delgado, Minister of Internal Security, sent out a Twitter message claiming “savage agressions” by Veliz and others against the police and promising to file charges against him. In social media, people expressed concern about the arrest. Protesters vowed to continue their actions.

President Rafael Correa addresses the nation from Milan, Italy via satellite.

Presidencia de la Republica

President Rafael Correa addresses the nation from Milan, Italy via satellite.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, delivering his Saturday television talk from Milan, Italy, called the demonstrators “misguided” and urged young people not to follow “demagogues.”  Correa said that three policemen were injured in clashes with protestors and denounced the violence on the islands.  Once again, he said that existing wages in Galápagos will not be reduced–that a cost of living formula to determine wages for new employees will be ready by November.  He promised that wage scales will be “fair” under the new law.

Protestors blocking a road Friday in Santa Cruz

Chary Su

Protestors blocking a road Friday in Santa Cruz

Some commercial airline flights from Guayaquil to the Galápagos Islands were cancelled Friday, June 12 as island residents continued their protests over the legislation they say will hurt their ability to cope with a high cost of living.  There were reports of police firing tear gas at demonstrators blocking roads leading to the airports serving the two main populated islands, Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal.

Hundreds of people reportedly took part in a general strike Friday on the two islands as foreign tourists were stranded on the Ecuadorian mainland by the flight cancellations.

Ecuadorian Civil Aviation authorities report that the airports in San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz continue to operate. “Some flights were delayed but the airlines have not suspended operations,” according to the official wire service Andes.

Stores and schools on Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal were closed and taxis did not run.

Protestors and Police Friday in San Cristóbal

Guadalupe Cox Acuña

Protestors and Police Friday in San Cristóbal

Jairo Gusqui, leader of one of the protest groups, said, “We are not only protesting because of the salaries. We are fighting for the right to continue living here,” saying that the law could harm Galápagos in other ways.

“We are also worried about conservation,” he said, “We are worried about big investors building on areas that belonged to the National Park. We will continue to protest until the law is repealed.”

Maria Elena Keegan, the owner of a tourist fishing business said, “We are appealing to UNESCO because we are worried about the law making it easier  to build hotels in San Cristóbal.”

Another longtime Galapagueño who didn’t want to be identified put it more succinctly:  “The law is toxic,” he said.  Many highly experienced owners of tourist businesses would be forced to re-apply for their permits to operate in nine years without any assurances they would be able to stay in business.

On Tuesday, Ecuador’s national assembly overturned a 1998 version of the law that permitted public employees in Galápagos to earn twice the wages of those on the mainland.  The old law also gave private sector employees in Galápagos a 75 percent subsidy on top of their regular wages.   After Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa struck those provisions from the law, the Assembly ratified the changes.  Correa wants Galápagos wages to be based on a cost-of-living index that hasn’t yet been calculated.

A woman offers water to police officers Friday in San Cristóbal

Guadalupe Cox Acuña

A woman offers water to police officers Friday in San Cristóbal

Traveling in Milan, Italy, President Correa posted on his Twitter account Friday: “We will not surrender,” to the demonstrators.  “We are more, many more.”

The President of the Governing Council of Galapagos, Eliecer Cruz, in an interview with the Andes wire service, said that “it was an aggressive and violent protest” and that the organizers will be sanctioned.

Ecuadorian Security Minister César Navas wrote on Twitter: “We will not allow the disruption of public order in Galapagos,” Adding sarcastically, “‘Peaceful protestors’ attacking the security forces.”

But Guadalupe Cox Acuña, a second generation Galapagueña, said, “We are protesting in a peaceful manner. When we noticed that the policemen who came by plane from mainland Ecuador were thirsty, we gave them water.”

Protestor overcome by tear gas Friday in San Cristóbal

Guadalupe Cox Acuña

Protestor overcome by tear gas Friday in San Cristóbal

She did note that a small group of young people provoked the policemen outside the Liceo Naval school near the San Cristóbal airport and that a tear gas cannister landed inside the schoolyard.

“They should not have fired tear gas near a school,” she said.

So far, there’s no sign that either side in the dispute is ready to back down as some would-be Galápagos tourists cool their heels on the mainland of Ecuador.





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Tracking the Changes in the Galápagos Law /2015/06/10/tracking-the-changes-in-the-galapagos-law/ /2015/06/10/tracking-the-changes-in-the-galapagos-law/#respond Wed, 10 Jun 2015 23:35:57 +0000 /?p=1523 Galápagos Law

Galápagos Digital

Galápagos Law

As a service to our Spanish language readers, Galápagos Digital has published links to the full texts of the various versions of the special law of Galápagos; first, as originally adopted in 1998, second, with the proposed assembly reforms this year, and third, the eighteen changes made by President Rafael Correa and approved by the Assembly June 9.  We are providing a link to that post here.  When the National Registry of Ecuador publishes the final version of the law, we will include that link as well.

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Assembly Changes Galápagos Law Amid Protests as Government Plans Meetings With Island Citizens /2015/06/09/assembly-changes-galapagos-law-amid-protests-government-to-meet-with-island-citizens/ /2015/06/09/assembly-changes-galapagos-law-amid-protests-government-to-meet-with-island-citizens/#respond Wed, 10 Jun 2015 00:48:44 +0000 /?p=1511 National Assembly member Angel Vilema in a heated debate over the new law

Ecuador National Assembly

National Assembly member Angel Vilema in a heated debate over the new law

As we reported earlier,  on Tuesday June 9, the National Assembly adopted by an 88-35 margin the changes proposed by President Rafael Correa to the Organic Law of Special Regime for the Province of Galapagos (LOREG). Correa had vetoed provisions in the law calling for higher wages for public and private workers in Galápagos and called for those wages to be tied to a cost-of-living index still to be determined.  That move has sparked protests in Galápagos.

Assembly member Angel Vilema, representing Galápagos, angrily resigned his membership in the ruling party Alianza Pais and then heatedly debated his former party colleagues on the assembly floor Tuesday. Another Galápagos representative, Fanny Uribe, a member of the Avanza party, also denounced the amendments to the law. Both verbally clashed with the second vice president of the Assembly, Marcela Aguinaga, in an emotional exchange of personal accusations.

The debate was frequently interrupted by loud protests from a group of Galapagos citizens admitted to the assembly gallery.

Eliecer Cruz, President of the Galápagos Governing Council

Consejo de Gobierno de Galápagos

Eliecer Cruz, President of the Galápagos Governing Council

In San Cristobal, the President of the Governing Council of Galápagos, Biologist Eliecer Cruz, told Galápagos Digital in a brief telephone interview that a commission of high-level government officials will visit the islands tomorrow and Thursday for talks with the community. According to Cruz,   “There is a strong current of opposition trying to change the facts.”

In a later Twitter message, Cruz urged people to remain calm and stop themselves from getting provoked. He said citizens should become informed about the changes in the law.

The Commission is composed of the Minister of National Planning Secretariat (SENPLADES) Pabel Muñoz, the Director of the National Census Institute (INEC) and representatives of the Ministry of Labor and other ministries and the National Assembly.

Wednesday, June 10, at 3pm, the Commission will have a meeting at the Darwin Convention Center in Baquerizo Moreno. And on the morning of Thursday, June 11, a second meeting is scheduled in the hall of the Municipality of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz.

According to Periodico El Colono, the Census Institute director will explain how “A study of the consumer price index (CPI) will be conducted and that the representative of the Ministry of Labor “will announce the formula that will be used to establish the increase in wages .”

An explanation of the contents of the Special Law will be presented by a representative of the National Assembly.

Galápagos citizens meet in San Cristobal Tuesday eveningto study changes in the law

Carlos Mena Páez / Radio Encantada

Galápagos citizens meet in San Cristobal Tuesday eveningto study changes in the law

Gina Andrade of Radio Encantada reported that on Tuesday evening, Galapagos citizens met in San Cristobal to analyze the changes in the law and plan strategy.  They’re trying to determine if there are any constitutional remedies that would help them overturn the changes.  Meanwhile calls for protest continue in the islands.

We will keep updating this story as developments warrant.

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UPDATED TUESDAY, JUNE 9 Demonstrations Over Changes in Galápagos Law /2015/06/08/demonstrations-over-changes-in-galapagos-law/ /2015/06/08/demonstrations-over-changes-in-galapagos-law/#respond Tue, 09 Jun 2015 01:59:56 +0000 /?p=1497 Ecuador National Assembly meets to ratify presidential action.

Ecuador National Assembly

Ecuador National Assembly meets to ratify presidential action.

On Tuesday, June 9, the Ecuadorian National Assembly voted by a margin of 88 to 35 to uphold a presidential action that many residents of the Galápagos say will hit them squarely in the wallet. President Rafael Correa had vetoed provisions of the Law on the Special Regime of the Galápagos Province that make wages higher in the Galápagos than on the mainland of Ecuador. The law—in draft form—was reviewed by a congressional committee that accepted the President’s veto and it was then ratified by Tuesday’s plenary session of the assembly. The session was frequently interrupted by a group of Galapagueños shouting slogans from the balcony of the assembly chamber.

Demonstrators march on Santa Cruz Island, Galápagos.

Periódico El Colono

Demonstrators march on Santa Cruz Island, Galápagos.

This followed a number of protests and marches Monday in Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal by concerned Galapagueños.

So far the protests have been peaceful. But via social networks, some citizens have reported increased police presence in the islands and the US Embassy in Ecuador issued a statement warning American citizens to stay away from any demonstrations.

Protesters occupy terminal building in San Cristóbal, Galapagos June 8

Gina Andrade / Radio Encantada

Protesters occupy terminal building in San Cristóbal, Galapagos June 8

Gina Andrade of Radio Encantada  and other media organizations reported that Monday evening, protestors occupied the airline terminal building of the airport on San Cristóbal Island. At one point, after some of the participants went outside toward the runway, they were pushed back by police.

Since 1998 Galapagos has been governed by a special law designed to “preserve the Galapagos Archipelago for present and future generations.”

A couple of years ago, the National Assembly began studying law reforms and on April 28, 2015 the final text of the Draft Law on the Special Regime of the Galapagos Province was presented for a vote.

On May 29 President Rafael Correa filed eighteen partial vetoes, amending  provisions of the bill, including one on remuneration. So far, according to the law, public employees were receiving wages in Galapagos 100% higher than on the mainland and private sector employees 75% more. President Correa proposes that the National Institute of Statistics and Census calculate future wages based on the cost of living index in Galapagos.

This veto and it acceptance by the National Assembly committee spurred the protest marches and a flurry of angry messages on Twitter and Facebook as well as other social networks.

The Mayor of Santa Cruz, Leopoldo Bucheli, told the newspaper El Comercio: “For people in Galápagos, this is very worrisome. The cost of living in Galápagos is enormous and now worse because in the last eight months, three freighters that brought cargo to the Galápagos sank and only one is bringing food supplies.”

Demonstrators burn ruling party t-shirts on San Cristóbal Island.

Gina Andrade / Radio Encantada

Demonstrators burn ruling party t-shirts on San Cristóbal Island.

Angel Vilema, who represented Galápagos in the National Assembly, voted against accepting the presidential veto and then resigned as a member of the ruling party Alianza Pais. Shortly after that, the party announced that Vilema had been expelled. Vilema told  the newspaper El Universo that he was resigning because “the government proposal would be regressive for the rights of workers.”

The Galápagos publication Periódico El Colono reports that in addition to staging the June 8 march, activists are asking members of the Alianza Pais to follow Vilema’s example and resign from the party.

César Velastegui, a reporter for the Ecuadorian television network Ecuavisa tweeted that 250 members of Alianza Pais had quit the party and burned their t-shirts and credentials in protest.  Other reports put the number of resignations at 300.

For his part, President Rafael Correa in his weekly broadcast June 6 said. “” We have had many problems this week because of  the presidential veto on the Law of Galápagos.  Because life is more expensive in Galápagos, civil servants earned twice than people in the mainland and in the private sector, 75% more. So what did the President do?  We have said we will calculate the price index in Galápagos.  If it is two, we will pay 100% more to the public and the private sectors. It’s technical.  I’d rather lose all the votes in Galápagos than lose my conscience.”

Several inhabitants of Galapagos unwilling to be identified told Galápagos Digital that in addition to the salary issues, there are other parts of the law that would be detrimental to their interests. “The stipulations, prohibitions and restrictions, although motivated by environmental concerns, often show little practical knowledge of our life in the Archipelago,” said a Galapagueño, referring to changes in how tourism concessions are handled. Another resident expressed concern that the proposed law seems to give foreigners easier access to investing in Galápagos and that there is no clear information about new hotel construction.

We will continue to update this news and we welcome comments.

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UPDATED: In Galápagos, a Case of Suicide or Murder? /2015/01/22/in-galapagos-a-case-of-suicide-or-murder/ /2015/01/22/in-galapagos-a-case-of-suicide-or-murder/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 01:05:06 +0000 /?p=1373 Valerie de la Valdene (2006 photo)

Women Divers Hall of Fame

Valerie de la Valdene (2006 photo)


Was it suicide or murder? The Ecuadorian government, hoping to answer that question, says it is reopening the case of the death of underwater filmmaker Valerie de la Valdene, whose body was found July 5, 2014 in her home on Santa Cruz island in the Galápagos.

As reported in Galápagos Digital, the Ecuadorian authorities initially and quickly ruled her death a suicide because she had a bullet wound in her left temple and a gun  lying next to her. However, her family was not convinced and financed its own investigation which has prompted the Ecuadorian government to take a second look

According to her father, Guy de la Valdene, a writer and film maker who lives in Florida, the biggest inconsistency in the official reports has to do with the initial tests which showed gunpowder residue in her right hand but not in her left hand. Valerie was left-handed. “She would have to be a contortionist to reach over her head and shoot herself with her right hand,” he told the Miami-Herald.

Poster circulated by de la Valdene family offering $10,000 reward for information.

Guy de la Valdene

Poster circulated by de la Valdene family offering $10,000 reward for information.

Mr. de la Valdene says he is convinced it was murder, not a suicide. According to his private investigation, his daughter, Valerie had received threats and was getting ready to travel to the United States in early July 2014.  

His dogged pursuit of the case has paid off. Next Monday, January 26th, the Director of the Homicide Section of the national entity that investigates murders, kidnappings and extortion in Ecuador, Col. Pablo Leon Navarro, will travel to Santa Cruz to start the new proceedings. In addition, the Ecuadorian Minister of Internal Security will meet with Mr. de la Valdene on January 30th to reassure him of their commitment to solving the case

“We are a new unit and utilize the most modern technology” Col. Leon said in a telephone interview with Galápagos Digital. “We will look at every aspect of the case very carefully and hope we will clarify certain things that are not clear.”  He added that they will start by exhuming the body in order to obtain samples that will be re-tested and will conduct interviews with several “persons of interest.” A civilian Galápagos source with knowledge of the investigation told Galápagos Digital that police will pay special attention to the trajectory of the bullet that killed Ms. de la Valdene to determine if the fatal shot was self-inflicted or fired by another individual.

Valerie de la Valdene photographing a giant manta ray.

Douglas Seifert

Valerie de la Valdene photographing a giant manta ray.

Valerie de la Valdene led what seemed an enchanted and adventurous life. She was a world-class diver and underwater photographer. She shot documentaries, was interviewed on television and in 2007  was inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame.  As heiress to a large fortune, she had the freedom to chase her dreams.  About ten years ago she fell in love with the Galápagos and became a resident of Puerto Ayora, in Santa Cruz island where she practiced diving, taught at a local school and founded the Galápagos Children Fund which supported educational activities for island children.

However, not everything was rosy for Ms. de la Valdene. According to her father, she had bipolar disorder. And many people who knew her in Santa Cruz and do not wish to be identified, say that she used drugs and alcohol in excess and sometimes associated with disreputable characters.

Her family is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension of the murderer. And Col. Leon says his unit in their first year has solved 50% of the cold cases they have investigated, so he hopes they will succeed in this one.

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The Struggle for Sustainable Energy on Galápagos /2013/06/12/the-struggle-for-sustainable-energy-on-galapagos/ /2013/06/12/the-struggle-for-sustainable-energy-on-galapagos/#comments Wed, 12 Jun 2013 18:48:00 +0000 /?p=545 Wind farm on San Cristóbal Island, Galápagos


Wind farm on San Cristóbal Island, Galápagos

(SAN CRISTÓBAL) A steady, low, hum accompanied by the “whoosh-woosh-woosh” of giant blades slicing through the air–music to the ears of sustainable energy advocates.  It is the sound of the San Cristóbal wind project, three turbines generating power to help meet the island’s growing need for electricity.  But, it is also the sound of half-fulfilled promises.

“From day one, the overriding concern was the need to protect this invaluable place and its incredible biodiversity,” said Michael Morris, CEO of American Electric Power (AEP) when the project was dedicated in 2008.  AEP  provided about half of the $10.8 million for the wind farm, heading an international consortium of electric companies that partnered with the UN Development Program and the Government of Ecuador to get the Galápagos turbines up and running.

The project faced multiple challenges. Environmentalists raised concerns about the windmill blades striking birds. Because of that, the windmills were placed away from known migration routes. And the transmission lines were located underground to further reduce the hazards to the bird population. Transporting the components of the windmills from Spain and getting them through the Panama Canal to Guyaquil and then San Cristóbal was a complicated operation that was carried out successfully.


Tod Lyons-U.S. Coast Guard

Tanker "Jessica" aground off San Cristóbal--2001

That effort was driven by an incident a few years earlier:  in January, 2001, the tanker Jessica, loaded with 150,000 gallons of diesel and bunker fuel, struck a reef and began breaking up off of San Cristóbal, in an appropriately-named place called, “Wreck Bay.” At risk were the unique flora and fauna that have made Galapágos one of the most treasured spots on Earth.

A major catastrophe was averted when ocean currents carried the oil out to sea, although a Princeton University scientist said that almost a year later, 60% of the marine iguanas on Santa Fé Island had died, presumably poisoned by the spill. The incident served as a nasty warning about the hazards posed by the importation of fossil fuels to the islands.

In 2008, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced his intention to rid Galápagos of fossil fuels by the year 2015 as the wind power project was launched with considerable fanfare. The project’s goal was to generate 50% of San Cristóbal’s electricity.

Diesel generators in San Cristóbal

George Lewis--Galápagos Digital

Diesel generators in San Cristóbal

But to date, only about 32% of San Cristóbal’s electrical power comes from wind.  The rest is provided by three 650 kilowatt diesel generators that continue to burn up to 2,600 gallons of fuel a day while pumping out exhaust emissions of carbon dioxide and particulate soot to meet a demand of about 11,000,000 kilowatt hours each year.

Power company officials blame several years of weaker-than-normal winds  for the under-performance of the San Cristóbal wind farm. “It’s been a low wind period,” said Luis Vintimilla, general manager of EOLICSA, the company that operates the project. EOLICSA appears to be a well-run enterprise that overcame considerable technical difficulties to get the windmills in operation.  But the elements just haven’t cooperated.

Engineer Cristian Fernández monitors wind turbine output

George Lewis-Galápagos Digital

Engineer Cristian Fernández monitors wind turbine output

Recently, as he looked at a computer screen monitoring the performance of the windmills, engineer Cristian Fernández noted the wind was blowing only at about six meters per second (13 miles per hour). He’d rather have it blowing twice that fast.

“10-to-12 meters of wind,” (22-27 MPH)  he said, “would be ideal.”

Also not ideal is the fact that that one of the turbines was offline for much of 2012 due to manufacturing defects. Last year, wind power accounted for only 22% of San Cristóbal’s electricity generation.

Still, over time, Fernández noted, the windmills have saved one million gallons in diesel consumption. “And 14-thousand tons of carbon dioxide that were not emitted,” he said.

Another potential sustainable energy source for Galápagos is solar power, with several projects in the planning stages.  Billing himself as “Captain Sunshine,” Israeli entrepreneur and environmentalist Yosef Abramowitz solicited public contributions on YouTube earlier this year for his plan to install solar panels on San Cristóbal.

“I think Galápagos has no choice but to turn to renewables if it is to live up to its legacy,” Abramowitz told Galápagos Digital.


As an added incentive, Abramowitz promised signed photographs of his celebrity sister-in-law, comic Sarah Silverman, to everyone who contributed $75 or more. But his public fundraising efforts failed to raise the necessary money and Abramowitz is looking for other sources of financing.

Proposed site for solar power installation

George Lewis-Galápagos Digital

Proposed site for solar power installation

He does have the support of San Cristóbal mayor Pedro Zapata, who provided Galápagos Digital with a signed contract he has with the Abramowitz group.”I’m doing everything I can,” Zapata said, “to bring clean power to San Cristóbal.”

The mayor has designated a place for the solar power installation–the old garbage dump at Baquerizo Moreno.

But the truth is the island lacks a true economic push to switch to sustainable power.  In Ecuador, fuel and electricity prices are subsidized by the government.  Diesel fuel costs $1 per gallon at the pump and electricity users pay $.09 per kilowatt hour.   By comparison, the cost of electricity from a solar plant could run to about $.42 per kilowatt hour.

“As long as you have power over $.15, there isn’t that much incentive to switch,” said Tommy Kissell, a Texas-based sustainable power advocate.Kissell recently returned from the Hawaiian island of Lana’i, where electricity costs $.47 per kilowatt hour and plans are afoot for a major wind farm.  He wrote about that trip in the Green Tech Advocates blog, noting that there is some local opposition to the big windmills.

“It might be unsightly to some,” Kissell told Galápagos Digital, “but it will help Hawaii be sustainable in the long run.”

“What’s needed,” he said, “is a network of good people showing what sustainability can do.”

That would also come in handy in Galápagos, as the archipelago and its people struggle to kick the fossil fuel habit.

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Galápagos Roadkill: Birds Threatened /2013/06/09/galapagos-roadkill-birds-threatened/ /2013/06/09/galapagos-roadkill-birds-threatened/#comments Sun, 09 Jun 2013 18:12:13 +0000 /?p=529 Yellow warblers killed on the Baltra ferry road.

Godfrey Merlen

Yellow warblers killed on the Santa Cruz Highway.

There are more than eighty feathery lumps laid out on a cloth–the bodies of yellow warblers killed in just one day by vehicles on the Santa Cruz Highway connecting the Baltra ferry landing to the city of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. Galápagos roadkill.

“This has been going on for a long time,” said Godfrey Merlen, a British biologist who’s lived in Galápagos for four decades. He and an assistant recently spent a day hiking and bicycling along the road, collecting the dead birds.

The Galápagos National Park estimates that 50-60 birds are killed in an average day, a number that would add up to between 18,000 and 22,000 dead birds in the course of a year.  Park officials say the problem is caused mainly by taxis speeding along the road, trying to cram in as many lucrative runs to the ferry dock as possible.  They say the speed limit, 70 kilometers per hour (43 MPH), is widely ignored.

It’s ironic that Galápagos wildlife, the very magnet that brings the tourists, is being slaughtered by the taxi drivers who depend on the tourist dollars for their livelihood.

The organization WildAid and the park have equipped the Santa Cruz police with radar guns to catch speeders but, according to park officials, the police have been reluctant to use the equipment, citing personnel cutbacks and malfunctions of the radar guns as excuses.


George Lewis/Galápagos Digital

Sign urging drivers to slow down, save birds

Now, the park has launched a public awareness program, using billboards along the road and a weekly radio broadcast to try to reduce the carnage, urging taxi drivers to slow down and drive within the speed limit.

“I try to observe the speed limit,” said one Puerto Ayora taxi driver, “but sometimes the birds just fly out of nowhere and hit the vehicle. I am no saint but I am more careful than other drivers who come from the mainland and don’t know about our environment.”


Luis Moreno

Luis "Lucho" Moreno holding dead yellow warbler

“There is a lack of will,” said Luis “Lucho” Moreno, the owner of a Puerto Ayora pharmacy, “The National Park must pressure the police to act.” Moreno, who began noticing the bodies of yellow warblers six years ago when he was riding his motorbike on the highway, was first to raise alarms about the dead birds, peppering public officials with complaints.

“We are all guilty,” he said, “not just the drivers, all of us, because we do not value what we have in Galápagos–beautiful nature.”

The front of Luis Moreno’s pharmacy in Puerto Ayora

Moreno commissioned the painting of a mural on the front of his drugstore featuring birds and the slogan “keep me flying” written in English. Moreno says he would like all the Galápagos authorities and even President Rafael Correa to join him in the effort to save the birds.

A friend of his, Galápagos park guide Marlon Véliz, has written a poignant children’s story about the plight of the birds, called “The Monsters of the Highway.”

In it, a little bird named Miguelito wonders what has become of his mother:

“My mommy went to look for food but now I don’t see her coming home.  My little brothers and sisters are crying and I can’t help them because I don’t know how to fly.

“Monster of the highway, I ask just one thing and nothing more. If you see my mother, who is yellow like the sun and is very beautiful, more beautiful when you hear her sing…if she comes your way, please don’t kill her. Just tell her you’re passing by, that my little brothers and sisters are crying a lot, that we’re hungry and we just want to hug her.”

But, in the end, it’s up to the adults to protect the yellow warblers and the other birds of Galápagos. Godfrey Merlen would like the Ministry of Tourism to take up the campaign:

“It is out of context to promote tourism and at the same time kill the resource that  encourages tourism,” he said, adding that everyone who lives in Galápagos lives through the natural resources and that maintaining those resources should be given top priority.

“Killing birds on the road,” he said, “is disrespectful of these aims and assuredly unnecessary.”

In the meantime, visitors to Galápagos can do their part.  If you’re riding in one of the taxis that uses the Santa Cruz Highway and you see your driver going faster than the 70 kph speed limit, you can say:  “más despacio, por favor“–“Slower, please,” and “Cuidado con los pajaritos”–“Be careful with the little birds.”





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Tale of the Lobster: Celebrity Cruises Gets Pinched /2013/06/03/tale-of-the-lobster-celebrity-cruises-gets-pinched/ /2013/06/03/tale-of-the-lobster-celebrity-cruises-gets-pinched/#comments Mon, 03 Jun 2013 17:39:32 +0000 /?p=507
Celebrity Xpedition cruise ship (

To every thing, there is a season.  And in Galápagos, there is a season for catching lobster.  Now, the 96-passenger cruise ship Celebrity Xpedition has had its license to operate in the islands suspended for 45 days because the Galápagos National Park said the ship was carrying out-of-season lobster tails.

Passengers who had booked travel on the June 2nd cruise got a rude surprise when they were told by the company that their trip had been canceled.  In a statement, Celebrity Cruises said:

“We will provide all guests with a full refund of the monies paid for their June 2 sailing of Celebrity Xpedition. We will also provide them with a 50% future cruise credit for another Celebrity Xpedition cruise. The credit is based on the amount they paid for your June 2 cruise and may be used for a future cruise on Celebrity Xpedition within the next two years. Future cruise certificates will be mailed to guest’s home address or travel agent within two to three weeks.”

Saying that it was “truly sorry for this unexpected impact on our guests’ vacation,” Celebrity also promised to refund airline fares purchased through the cruise company for air travel to Galápagos.

As for the lobster in question, Celebrity claims it was bought legally.

“It was purchased in the Galapagos from authorized sellers during the lobster season. We have all the paperwork to prove that. The issue was that we were in possession of frozen lobster tails out of season,” spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez tells USA TODAY.

Rosa León, a spokesperson for the Galápagos National Park told that even if lobster is purchased during the legal season, it can be transported and stored only for five days after the season closes.  She said this regulation is to ensure that no out-of-season lobster is carried aboard cruise ships.

According to the blog, the company is appealing the decision through the Ecuadorian court system.  In the meantime, the 296-foot long ship remains at anchor in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, Galápagos.

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Maria Isabel Salvador to head Galápagos Provincial Council /2013/06/01/maria-isabel-salvador-to-head-galapagos-provincial-council/ /2013/06/01/maria-isabel-salvador-to-head-galapagos-provincial-council/#respond Sat, 01 Jun 2013 19:41:44 +0000 /?p=478 Maria Isabel Salvador (2010 file photo--Duv Heiderberg)

Maria Isabel Salvador (2010 file photo--Duv Heiderberg)

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has appointed longtime diplomat Maria Isabel Salvador as President of the Galápagos Provincial Council (Consejo de Gobierno de Galápagos.) Since 2010, she has been Ecuador’s Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, DC. In previous posts, she served as Ecuador’s foreign minister and was also minister of tourism.

In appointing her, Correa said, during his regular Saturday broadcast to the nation, that there is “disorder, a lot of abuse, anarchy and lack of policies” that damage the ecosystem and tourism on the islands. He said although the Galápagos is no longer on UNESCO’s list of endangered World Heritage Sites, there is  still unfinished business on the archipelago.

Specifically, he cited a lack of implementation and monitoring to ensure compliance with existing regulations to protect the environment.

The Provincial Council of Galápagos is the body responsible for the administration of the islands, including planning, zoning and resource management to ensure the conservation of their natural heritage.

Here’s a link to the government press release in Spanish.

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