President of Ecuador appoints environmentalist as governor of Galapagos islands

This video is called Galapagos Wildlife.

From the World Wildlife Fund:

President Correa Appoints Former WWF Director to Governor of the Galapagos Islands

Wed Aug 8, 2:27 PM ET


Contact: Kathleen Sullivan of the World Wildlife Fund, +1 202-778-9576,

QUITO, Ecuador, Aug. 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Ecuador’s President Correa today appointed Eliecer Cruz, former director of the Galapagos, World Wildlife Fund, to governor of the Galapagos Islands. Born and raised in the Galapagos Islands, Cruz protected the unique life of the islands in his work with WWF since 2003 and for eight years prior as director of the Galapagos National Park.

“I am completely devoted to the Galapagos,” said Cruz. “The Galapagos Islands are a unique spectacle of life and beauty — and it is home. Even as a child, I knew that I wanted to give back to the Galapagos, to work for their conservation.”

His appointment by President Correa recognizes Cruz’s unparalleled passion for his homeland as well as his record of accomplishments.

Leading WWF’s work in the Galapagos, Cruz concentrated efforts on strengthening the Galapagos Marine Reserve. A key accomplishment was the implementation of a zoning scheme for protection and use of the reserve, which was supported by USAID. Over the past three years, Cruz also organized and led a consortium of environmental NGOs to work with the Galapagos National Park and local institutions, strengthening participatory management.

During his tenure with the park, Cruz was instrumental in working on the development of the groundbreaking Galapagos Special Law. This key legislation created a marine reserve, banned industrial-scale fishing within the reserve, and ensured that tourist revenues would support conservation.

“Eliecer Cruz has proven himself a devoted champion of the Galapagos Islands in his work with World Wildlife Fund,” said Carter Roberts, president and CEO, World Wildlife Fund. “With the Galapagos in crisis, President Correa has clearly indicated his commitment to its protection by appointing Eliecer. WWF remains committed to supporting Ecuador in its efforts to conserve the Galapagos Islands.”

Cruz holds advanced degrees in biology and environmental management.

Known in the United States as World Wildlife Fund and recognized worldwide by its panda logo, WWF leads international efforts to protect endangered species and their habitats and to conserve the diversity of life on Earth. Now in its fifth decade, WWF, the global conservation organization, works in more than 100 countries around the world.

SOURCE World Wildlife Fund

See also here.

Deadly invasive fly kills Galapagos birds: here.

Illegal fishing around the Galapagos: here.

Volcano erupts on Ferdandina island: here.

Ecuador introduces entry cards to protect Galapagos Islands: here.

Ecuador, oil, and environment: here.

Ecuadorian football: here.

Conservation Expands in Latin America: here.

21 thoughts on “President of Ecuador appoints environmentalist as governor of Galapagos islands

  1. Federico Fuentes

    (from: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #720 8 August 2007.)

    Ecuador: The indigenous movement and Correa

    When Rafael Correa was elected president of Ecuador in 2006, campaigning on a strong anti-neoliberal platform to bring about a “citizen’s revolution”, one key social force seemed notably absent from his campaign – the country”s powerful indigenous movement.

    For over a decade, Ecuador’s indigenous people – who make up over 40% of the population – were central to national politics as the key protagonists in a new wave of struggle that toppled several presidents.

    Luis Macas, indigenous candidate for Pachakutik and a leader of CONAIE, which unites the different indigenous organisations and nations, garnered less than 3% of votes in the first round of the presidential election – a far cry from the 20% obtained in Pachakutik’s first electoral campaign in 1996. In the second round Pachakutik endorsed Correa, but played a marginal role in the victory for a candidate who has since begun to act on many of the movement’s key demands, particular the convocation of a Constituent Assembly.

    Speaking to Green Left Weekly during a visit to Caracas in July as an invited guest of the Miranda International Center (CIM), Blanca Chancoso, a well-respected protagonist of the indigenous movement and leader of the indigenous organisation ECUARUNARI, explained the somewhat contradictory nature of the relationship between Correa and the indigenous movement.

    Chancoso said that while “there have been some changes under Correa”, the movement is neither in opposition nor part of the government. “The Correa government has formed its own political movement, Country Alliance, but I don’t think that should mean that we are under the obligation to be part of it. Instead I think that there is a need to maintain an identity”, commented Chancoso, adding that the indigenous people have their own movement – Pachakutik – and are part of “a different process, which existed prior to the current government and which depends upon its own spaces”.

    Resurgence of indigenous struggle
    While the indigenous people have waged a continuous struggle against colonialism for over 500 years, Chancoso said the end of the 1970s marked an important leap forward for the movement. Even though there had been previous attempts by left and communist parties to organise indigenous peoples, Chancoso noted that much was made of “class issues” such as land reform, yet a key weakness was that “there was no talk about the position of indigenous people in society”.

    “At the end of the 1970s a new process of recuperation of identity and regroupment occurred. New organisations emerged that incorporated issues of indigenous identity and defence of our languages, alongside traditional class issues.”

    This resurgence fuelled a growing indigenous pride, with people no longer “whitening” their surnames to hide their indigenous background. Instead protest leaders would dress in traditional clothing and sometimes address the crowds in indigenous languages. By 1986, this new expression of revolt had led to the creation of CONAIE.

    As Ecuador became wracked by a growing economic crisis, the indigenous movement moved onto the centre stage of national politics with its first uprising in June, 1990, paralysing the country for nine days. Central to the mobilisation were the issues of land and agricultural prices and the demand to officially recognise the plurinational character of the state, granting legal recognition to the existence of the various indigenous nations.

    Unity among indigenous and urban sectors
    In 1994 an intense uprising forced the government to hold direct negotiations between the president and the indigenous leadership, consolidating the movement as a political actor that the elites could not ignore. By successfully combining mass mobilisations, a strong anti-neoliberal and pro-indigenous discourse, and gaining victories in negotiations with the government, the indigenous movement became the central axis of the broader reorganisation of left and popular forces, which had also begun to emerge in the urban areas.

    One of the key actors in the urban youth movements was Virgilio Hernandez, who was active in a liberation theology-inspired youth organisation in Quito. Hernandez, who was also in Caracas as a guest of CIM, explained to GLW how this growing unity was reflected in the 1995 campaign against the government-initiated referendum over deepening neoliberal policies. This challenge required the “further coming together of the indigenous and urban left”, through the Coalition of Social Movements (CMS).

    The CMS helped bring together in a successful campaign different unions, liberation theology organisations, youth and women’s groups and other urban sectors, in essence creating “a broad anti-neoliberal coalition, but which had at its core Ecuador’s indigenous movement”, said Hernandez.

    According to Hernandez the growing unity built up by the victorious “No” campaign in the referendum, along with the constitutional reform enacted that same year, which opened the space for independent candidates to run in elections, acted as important stimuli for the formation of Pachakutik, taking the movement into the political arena.

    Hernandez, who helped found Pachakutik and for almost a decade played an important role in its leadership, noted that Pachakutik’s emergence was important in two senses: it was the first political force constructed by indigenous people to directly take up their demands, particularly that of a plurinational state that “radically challenged the existing state structure”, but it also created a broad front to bring in other movements and concerns.

    Pachakutik’s full name was Movement of Plurinational Unity – Pachakutik – New Country, in order to reflect the three main components: CONAIE, the Amazonic indigenous movement and the urban sector. “It also became the party of thousands of citizens who had found no other way to participate in national politics”, Hernandez said.

    While Pachakutik gained strength in the parliamentary sphere, the indigenous movement continued protesting on the streets, which Hernandez referred to as a “dual strategy” to transform the state “from within and from outside”. By 1999 the indigenous movement had led seven uprisings and had overthrown President Abdala Bucaram in 1997. With a deepening economic crisis hitting hard in 1999, then-President Jamil Mahuad reacted by freezing bank accounts, deepening popular discontent.

    Chancoso recounts how having given Mahuad a deadline to negotiate by November, “we began to organise the ‘parliaments of the people’ in preparation for the insurrection. The insurrection was later delayed until January and by this time our demands had radicalised: we were calling for the abolition of the three powers of the state [executive, legal and judicial] and for a revolutionary government to be formed from below.”

    This insurrection led to relations being built between the movement and a section of the military, led by Colonel Lucio Gutierrez. This united force brought down the government on January 21, 2000, placing power in the hands of the Junta of National Salvation, but by the next day power had been ceded to the vice-president, Gustavo Noboa.

    The movement enters government
    After a dispute over candidates for the 2002 elections and several failed attempts at unity with other left and centre-left forces, Pachakutik was left with only one possible alliance, with Gutierrez and his Patriotic Society.

    Almost immediately after being sworn in as president, Gutierrez began to betray the movements. Hernandez, who was sub-secretary of the interior ministry, was the first to speak out, resigning from his position. After seven months, when Gutierrez demanded that Pachakutik overturn its vote against his International Monetary Fund-endorsed economic program to allow it to go through parliament, Pachakutik broke its alliance.

    A section of CONAIE aligned with Antonio Vargas, who had been president of CONAIE between 1998 and 2001, maintained its clientalist relationship with the government, which Gutierrez in turn used to further split the indigenous movement. According to Hernandez, Pachakutik’s defence at all costs of institutional spaces it had won began to lead to a growth in cronyism and bureaucratism.

    Differences grew and as discontent increased against the Gutierrez government, the indigenous movement retreated in the face of a growing identity crisis. As the middle classes of Quito erupted onto the streets against Gutierrez in April 2005, forcing his resignation, the indigenous movement – while supporting the protests – was unable to muster any mobilisations on the streets.

    2006 elections
    Pachakutik faced further splits from the urban sectors. “Serious debate became impossible. We were accused of being racists, mestizos”, said Hernandez, who at the end of 2005 left Pachakutik.

    According to Chancoso, Correa had approached Pachakutik to offer the vice-presidential spot on his ticket. “We first replied saying why not reverse the formula and have [Correa] as vice-president, but he refused”, explained Chancoso. “Once again the impression was created that we the indigenous people came second.” However Correa did propose primary elections among those forces that came behind a broad united project of change.

    Disorientated and weakened by its alliance with Gutierrez, and fearing a possible repeat performance, Pachakutik decided it was better to run Luis Macas “to truly test our support”. Macas came in last.

    Although the mass mobilisations against the free trade agreement in March 2006 demonstrated a continued presence of the indigenous movement, today it has clearly lost its hegemonic role in the popular camp. New actors have emerged and a new process of change expressed through the leadership of the charismatic and radical economist with whom the majority of Ecuadorians sympathise and actively support.

    For Chancoso, the indigenous movement today continues to identify with “a political agenda that is: No to Plan Colombia, no to the FTAs, no more military base in Manta, no to the payment of the external debt.”

    “We support this agenda of change against the neoliberal model. With Correa winning government, our proposals continue to remain within this agenda. Our struggle was for the convocation of the Constituent Assembly. So we identified with the call for a consultation on the Constituent Assembly. We have said we will support proposals as long as they are within this agenda Š but if it does not fit within this agenda, we will have our own proposals.”

    Today the indigenous movement faces some real challenges. However forging unity between this process of change and the indigenous movement to help push forward and defend Correa as his government comes under heavy attack from imperialism will have an important impact on Ecuador’s destiny.


  2. Summer 2007: Latin America Rising
    by Nadia Martinez

    (from: YES magazine /

    Summer 2007: Latin America Rising
    Grassroots movements change the face of power.

    As the people of Latin America build democracies from the bottom up, the symbols of power are changing. What used to be emblems of poverty and oppression-indigenous clothing and speech, the labels “campesino” and “landless worker”-are increasingly the symbols of new power. As people-powered movements drive the region toward social justice and equality, these symbols speak, not of elite authority limited to a few, but of power broadly shared.

    The symbolism was especially rich last year in Cochabamba, Bolivia, when the new minister of justice made her entrance at an international activists’ summit. Casimira Rodríguez, a former domestic worker, wore the thick, black braids and pollera, a long, multilayered skirt, of an Aymara indigenous woman. As she made her way through the throng, Rodríguez further distinguished herself from a typical law-enforcement chief by passing out handfuls of coca leaves.

    Throughout the region, marginalized people are rising up, challenging the system that has kept them poor, and pursuing a new course. In country after country, people are selecting leaders who strongly reject the Washington-led “neoliberal” policies of restricted government spending on social programs, privatization of public services such as education and water, and opening up borders to foreign corporations.

    Of course, there are exceptions, most notably Mexico, where conservative Felipe Calderón claimed power after a bruising battle over disputed election results. But the growing backlash has driven old-guard presidents out of power in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Bolivia. And, while there are sharp differences among the new leaders, there is no question that what put all of them in power was a growing outcry against economic injustice. Over 40 percent of the region still lives in poverty, and the gap between rich and poor is the widest in the world.

    No longer willing to accept perpetual poverty, Latin America’s poor are redefining their societies and, in the process, redefining democracy. They are organizing large segments of society into strong, dynamic social movements with enough power to drive national politics. The challenge, of course, is to hold their new leaders accountable, to maintain the strength of the grassroots democratic power, and to go beyond symbolism to make real change.

    Bolivia’s Indigenous President
    In Bolivia, where indigenous people are the majority, there are already some concrete signs of progress. Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, took office in 2006 with the strongest mandate of any Bolivian leader. Catapulted onto the national political stage by his struggles as a union leader defending the rights of coca growers, Morales came to power on the heels of massive popular uprisings that ousted three presidents in as many years.

    Despite sitting on the region’s second largest natural gas reserves, Bolivia is South America’s poorest country. In tandem with a wave of privatizations that swept Latin America in the 1990s, the oil and gas industry in Bolivia was opened for business to foreign oil companies, which garnered 82 percent of the profits, while leaving a scant 18 percent for Bolivia’s coffers. Shortly after taking office, the Morales government set out to rewrite contracts with private companies. Negotiators increased the country’s share of the profits to 50-80 percent by renegotiating contracts with 10 different companies, which will yield billions in additional revenue for the government to sustain its new social agenda.

    Spurred by his experience as a coca grower, Morales has introduced new policies that challenge the U.S. approach to the “drug war.” Coca, the base ingredient of cocaine, has special ancestral significance for Bolivia’s indigenous people and in its raw form is widely used to treat maladies such as stomach upset, altitude sickness, and stress, in addition to being a part of many Bolivians’ daily routine. Under pressure from the U.S. government, previous Bolivian administrations tried coca eradication. Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network in Bolivia, says that “local farmers who planted coca as a means of subsistence would often face violent confrontations with the military and security forces who were mandated to destroy their crops, which in essence devastated their only means of livelihood.”

    The Morales government has developed a farmer-friendly program that allows small farmers to grow small amounts of coca for domestic consumption, while also implementing a zero-cocaine policy that includes interdiction and anti-money laundering efforts to prevent drug trafficking.

    In Brazil, a Metalworker is President
    The political shift in Brazil is also steeped in powerful symbolism. When Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, a metalworker with an elementary education, rode a wave of popular support to the presidency in 2002, it inspired working-class people around the world. He was re-elected with a comfortable 60 percent of the vote in October 2006. Although his first term was tainted by corruption scandals and accusations from many on Brazil’s left that he acquiesced too much to the demands by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for strict fiscal policies, he fulfilled some of his campaign pledges to the poor who form his political base.

    According to the Center for Economic Policy Research, some 11 million families have benefited from the “bolsa família”-a monthly cash payment made to poor families in exchange for ensuring that their children stay in school. Signaling more pro-poor policies to come, one of the first acts of Lula’s second term was announcing an 8.6 percent rise in the minimum wage.

    Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution
    President Hugo Chávez is best known in the United States for his overblown rhetoric against President Bush. But in Latin America, the Venezuelan president is fond of conjuring up the symbolism of Simón Bolívar, the “liberator” of South America from Spanish rule, who dreamed of uniting the region in a strong bloc. And while it has garnered little attention here, Chávez has used oil windfalls to advance Bolívar’s dream. Venezuela has purchased big chunks of Argentina and Ecuador’s debts to the IMF, for example, and sold discounted oil to several of its neighbors and even to poor communities in the United States. And Venezuela has signed trade pacts with several countries that include novel bartering arrangements, such as agricultural products in exchange for doctors and other technical personnel. Chávez has devised a regional trade plan to counter the Bush-favored Free Trade Area of the Americas. The Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America (ALBA, for its Spanish acronym) aims to benefit the poor and the environment, and to advance trade among countries within the region.

    In January, Venezuela and Argentina took another step towards breaking the region’s dependence on such neoliberal institutions as the World Bank, IMF, and Inter-American Development Bank, which have conditioned lending on “free market” policy reforms and harsh austerity measures. They pledged more than $1 billion to jump-start a new “Bank of the South.” Bolivia and Ecuador have since signed on.

    Within Venezuela, Chávez has made impressive progress in boosting literacy levels and providing health and other services to the poor. He has teamed up with Cuba in cosponsoring a program called Operation Miracle to provide free eye surgery to poor residents from Venezuela, Panama, Jamaica, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and a growing list of other countries. The Venezuelan government is also investing heavily in creating a model of local economic development through cooperatives.

    On the other hand, Chávez’s fossil-fuel-based development plans-including a proposed gas pipeline from Venezuela to Argentina-are hardly visionary. As currently planned, the 5,000-mile pipeline will traverse areas of extreme ecological and cultural sensitivity. Several possible routes are being evaluated, but all run through the Amazon. Environmental and indigenous rights groups throughout Latin America have voiced opposition to the behemoth project, and have asked the Venezuelan government to halt all plans until they can be publicly debated.

    Social Movements Redefine Democracy
    Some of the most hopeful democratic advances in Latin America are not the result of official policies, but of social movements harnessing their own power. The thousands of poor peasants who make up the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil have claimed the right to settle on and farm close to 7 million hectares, or 43,000 square miles, of unused land-a territory a little larger than the state of Ohio. For millions of people who are largely outside of the mainstream economic system, access to land is of paramount importance, as they depend on it for subsistence.

    Miguel Carter, of the Oxford-based Centre for Brazilian Studies, explains that groups like the MST contribute to the democratic process in important ways. “By improving the material conditions and cultural resources of its members” he says, “the landless movement has fortified the social foundations for democracy in Brazil.”

    Indigenous movements, too, have gained ground. In the Amazonian region of Ecuador, after witnessing multinational oil companies for decades cut through the jungles of their ancestral lands in search of petroleum, indigenous women put their bodies on the line against the armed soldiers sent to escort oil workers. Known for fierce resistance to oil exploitation on their lands, the remote community of Sarayacu has so far succeeded in keeping the oil companies out.

    Throughout Latin America, scores of indigenous peoples have demonstrated that marginalized populations can organize and mobilize effectively enough to topple governments-as they have done in Ecuador and Bolivia-despite their lack of material resources and political power.

    A new characteristic of Latin American politics is greater collaboration among countries with the goal of breaking dependence on the North. In the past, countries were largely in competition for U.S. markets and development aid. Now they increasingly focus on complementing the strengths and weaknesses of one another, and seeking common solutions to their shared problems.

    One example is the newly formed South American Community of Nations (CSN, in Spanish), an attempt by the 12 countries of South America to create an “area that is integrated politically, socially, economically, environmentally, and in infrastructure.” Because the initiative is new, it is unclear whether it will simply become a trading bloc that improves the region’s competitive position in international markets, as is the case with the Southern Common Market (Mercosur). Alternatively, it could establish minimum social and environmental standards and the infrastructure not only to link to international markets but also to trade within Latin America.

    Similarly, in a radical departure from a traditional market-based approach, the Morales government has developed a “People’s Trade Agreement,” an innovative economic alternative based on principles of fair trade, labor, and environmental protections, and active state intervention in the economy to promote development.

    Although still in an embryonic stage, “it is unique,” says Jason Tockman of the Bolivia Solidarity Network. “It has both a strong resonance with the alternative visions for social, economic and political integration proposed by the region’s social movements, and the weight of state authority.”

    The response to President Bush’s visit to five Latin American countries in March is yet another sign that Latin Americans are choosing their own path, independent of the United States and its political and economic interests. Along Bush’s route, thousands of people in the streets carrying colorful signs and “Bush Out” banners sent a clear message: people’s movements are alive and well in Latin America, and they aren’t falling for the White House’s attempt to repackage the same unpopular U.S. policies under the guise of poverty alleviation.

    At the same time, Chávez was able to gather and rouse into a fervor an estimated 40,000 people at an anti-Bush rally in Argentina, where he announced that Bush was a “political cadaver”-alluding to the president’s increased irrelevance in Latin America.

    After two centuries of the United States treating Latin America as if it were its backyard, organized popular movements across Latin America are changing the dynamics of the hemisphere. By electing more popular governments in eight countries and by organizing tens of millions of people, they have put up strong resistance to the U.S. agenda of corporate-led globalization, and they have created real alternatives on the ground. These efforts, combined with the Venezuela-led effort for alternative regional integration, not only provide the strongest counter-weight to the U.S. agenda anywhere in the world, but also offer multiple paths towards a better future for millions of people in the Americas.

    Nadia Martinez was born and raised in Panama. She co-directs the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies ( in Washington, D.C. Her focus is on Latin America, where she works with environmental, development, human rights, and indigenous organizations.


  3. US Searches for New Anti-Drug Air Base


    The Associated Press

    October 05, 2007

    The United States is moving cautiously to find a new air base for anti-drug surveillance in South America in the face of vocal opposition to the idea in Peru and Colombia.

    Defense Secretary Robert Gates met Friday with Peruvian Defense Minister Allan Wagner, who told reporters a day before Gates arrived here that the topic would not come up in their meetings.

    Both Peru and Colombia have offered to talk to the Pentagon about a new base location, a senior U.S. defense official said earlier this week, but he also noted that it wasn’t on Gates’ agenda Friday.

    Gates has said the Pentagon is still looking at alternatives for a new air base site, and no proposals have been made to anyone yet.

    Ecuador President Rafael Correa said in August that the U.S. should move its anti-drug flights to Colombia after the lease runs out on the Manta air base in his country in 2009. Correa, who took office in January, has said repeatedly that he won’t extend the agreement that lets the U.S. military use the base for surveillance flights.

    After leaving Colombia earlier this week, Gates told reporters that the issue did not come up in his discussions with defense and government officials there.

    Gates is on a five-day, five country swing through the region, and has met with leaders in El Salvador, Colombia, Chile and Peru. He is also planning a visit to Suriname on Saturday.

    The senior defense official, who is traveling with Gates and spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, had initially said that Colombia and Peru had agreed to discuss the issue. But he stressed that any talks would be very preliminary and there are no ongoing negotiations.

    He added that any decisions will depend on the governing bodies in each country. Officials have also been reluctant to rule out the possibility of continuing to use the Manta base, despite Correa’s blunt, public rejections.

    Gates was presented with military honors by the Peruvians. He was awarded the Military Order of Ayacucho, the highest defense medal given to civilians.

    The medal is the named after the Great battle of Ayacucho in 1824, a key fight in the final campaign against Spanish rule in South America. It marked the defeat of the last viable Royalist army in South America.

    Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.


  4. Wildlife: Unique wildlife thrives in the high cloud forests of Ecuador

    Sunday, July 20, 2008

    By Scott Shalaway

    When I began planning my recent trip to the Galapagos Islands, it seemed silly to travel that far and not see some of the mainland. So I added an optional, two-day extension in Ecuador’s cloud forest.

    After flying back to Quito at the end of the island cruise, 23 members of the group boarded a bus for a 3 1/2-hour bus ride to Cabanas San Isidro on the east side of the Andes Mountains. It was a harrowing trip on twisting mountain roads in the fog, rain and darkness.

    When we checked into our cabins, we noticed that the sky had cleared. Myriad stars shimmered like diamonds against the blackness of space. Galo Real, our guide, enjoyed the sight as much as we did.

    “We don’t often see the stars here in the cloud forest,” he said.

    San Isidro sits at an elevation of about 6,400 feet in the midst of the cloud forest, where it’s always humid and often foggy and rainy. The area is one of the many headwaters that drain into the Amazon River basin.

    After settling into our cabins, we walked a short distance to the dining area. Galo was stationed along the way shining a spotlight on the top of a tall snag. Perched in plain view was San Isidro’s “mystery owl.” It’s about the size of a barred owl, but its markings are black and white. Similar in appearance to the black-banded owl, which is found only below 3,000 feet, many visiting ornithologists believe it represents a new species. Galo told us that DNA testing is underway to determine its identity.

    We met at 5:45 a.m. that first morning at San Isidro and quickly got good looks at rufous-bellied nighthawks in flight. As the sky brightened, olive-backed and montane woodcreepers, smoke-colored pewees, and pale-edged flycatchers foraged for moths at an overhead security light.

    The most conspicuous song of the morning was a loud musical whistle, reminiscent of a Carolina wren. The gray-breasted wood-wren was the only bird of the trip that I learned to identify by ear.

    Hummingbirds whizzed by frequently, but their identification had to wait until later in the day when we could spend some time at the feeders. Meanwhile we gawked at the spectacularly marked crimson-mantled woodpeckers, Inca jays and northern mountain-caciques.

    The highlight of the morning came just before breakfast. We followed a man carrying a container of earthworms onto a dark jungle trail. After a few whistles, a chestnut-crowned antpitta appeared on the trail and began feasting on the worms. We got to watch this one for at least two minutes.

    I can’t begin to describe everything we saw during our 36 hours at San Isidro, but I must at least mention the hummingbirds. Scores of at least eight species made it difficult to focus on any individual bird. My favorites were the large collared Inca, which showed its true dark iridescent markings, the chestnut-breasted coronet, and the long-tailed sylph, a emerald green beauty with a long flowing tail. I thought I was in hummingbird heaven.

    The next day, however, after being rained out during our morning walk, I discovered that hummingbird heaven is found at Guango Lodge. On our way back to Quito, we stopped at Guango for lunch, but between the bus and the dining room were about 25 nectar feeders. And each was swarming with hummers, including a species with a name I can’t get out of my head. The tourlamine sunangel is as beautiful as its name suggests.

    But my favorite cloud forest bird was the sword-billed hummingbird. Its bill, a full 4 inches long and distinctly up-curved, is longer than its body. Hovering at the feeders, it seemed to struggle to get that enormous bill into the feeders’ ports. But whenever it did, it stole the show. Everyone marveled at the sword-bill.

    A final stop at a lake on the Papallacta Pass at 13,500 feet produced an Andean teal and Andean gulls. The next morning, after a 3 a.m. wake-up call at the Quito Marriott, it was off to the airport and back to Pittsburgh. What a trip!
    Scott Shalaway is a biologist and author and can be reached at RD 5, Cameron, WV 26033 and

    First published on July 20, 2008 at 12:00 am


  5. Galápagos Islands: Is there room for humans in ‘nature’s laboratory’?

    As Ecuador enforces tighter migration limits on the islands, tension grows over how to balance human development with ecological conservation.

    By Sara Miller Llana | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

    from the March 25, 2009 edition

    Galápagos Islands, Ecuador – Jairo Montenegro grew up in the northern sierras of Ecuador, in the tiny town of Tulcan. He had never set foot on a boat. But in 2001 he moved to the Galápagos Islands, 600 miles off the mainland coast, to work as a crew member on a cruise liner.

    In doing so he joined a wave of Ecuadoreans relocating to these remote islands in an economic exodus fueled by high-paying tourism jobs. Mr. Montenegro earns $780 a month on the crew – a small fortune compared with the $120 per month he pocketed as a hotel concierge at home.

    But now, in an effort to conserve the islands, officials are tightening migration laws. They have put residency requirements on Ecuadoreans that are, in some ways, as tough as those on foreigners trying to gain citizenship in the United States. Even children born to parents on the islands are not automatically granted permanent residency unless their parents also are permanent residents.

    Since the new regulations were put in place, nearly 1,000 have returned to Ecuador, many involuntarily. And in the year of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, whose voyage to the Galápagos cemented his theory on evolution, the controls have touched off a storm of protest, angering locals who say they are treated as illegal immigrants in their own country and raising questions about balancing human development and ecological preservation.

    “The Galápagos belongs to Ecuador,” Montenegro says. “Instead, authorities go looking for people in discos, listen to the way we speak in stores to see if we are from somewhere else, as if we were criminals.”

    Population surge

    Nearly all of the sea, coasts, and mountains that make up the Galápagos belong to the national park. Residents can only live within 3 percent of the territory. But within that space, the population has surged.

    Santa Cruz is the most populous Galápagos Island. Its main town, Puerto Ayora, resembles any other Latin American city with food stalls, tire shops, and public phone centers lining the streets. Ten years ago about 10,000 people called this city home. Now, because of migration and high birthrates, the number has nearly doubled.

    In 2007, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) placed the Galápagos on its list of endangered World Heritage Sites because of overcrowding – they say the islands have a total of 30,000 residents now – and the threats posed by tourism, invasive species, and illegal fishing.

    Many are surprised to learn that people actually inhabit “nature’s laboratory.” Despite its isolation, however, which allowed for the evolution of finches, blue-footed boobies, and playful sea lions that show little fear of tourists, humans have had contact for five centuries here.

    New residents continue to arrive, taking advantage of well-paid jobs in tourism, which grows unabated – quadrupling from 1990 to 2008, to more than 170,000 visitors last year. Tourists and residents require more food and fuel each year, and the boats and planes that bring them here also bring with them mosquitoes, flies, rats, and plants that overrun the island’s endemic species. According to Ingala, the regional planning office, from January to September of last year, about 5,500 tons of cargo arrived by ship.

    “Migration and tourism are among the biggest threats to the Galápagos,” says Eliecer Cruz, a former governor of Galápagos who now works with the World Wildlife Fund. Both contribute to invasive species, such as blackberries, which strangle native plants and destroy ecosystems.

    Stricter enforcement

    Rules on migration were carved into a special law in 1998, but the regulations to enforce them were not signed and implemented until 2007, Mr. Cruz says. With the new rules, residents without the proper residency or work permits were notified they would have to leave. Those who have not complied have been sent home involuntarily with the national police. Checkpoints have become a norm here.

    “It’s much stricter now than it was before because of overpopulation,” says Luis Ordonez, an inspector general with the national police in an interview in Quito. “Now, it’s as hard to go there as if you were going to the US.”

    All of this has not made the head of Ingala, which also oversees migration, well loved. “I know it is hard to see a family member have to leave,” says Fabian Zapata, who says the agency was forced to hire a night guard while the new rules were being created because of threats that locals wanted to burn down their offices. “But it is the only way to conserve the islands.”

    Locals get around the rules as they can, marrying natives for resident cards. That’s what Montenegro did – though he insists it was for love. He says he has friends who have taken jobs in the highlands, as opposed to in the port, to hide from officials. Twenty percent of the population was believed to be living here without the proper documentation, before the migration regulations took effect.

    Some locals agree with the restrictions. Paolo Jimenez moved here from mainland Ecuador two years ago. He has the proper paperwork now, but when it expires, if it is not renewed, he says he’ll go home. “This is not just any place,” says the taxi driver. “There is a responsibility.”

    Balancing development, conservation

    The 2007 UNESCO warning drew plenty of attention to the islands conservation problems. But Edgar Munoz, director of the Galápagos National Park Service, says the international community cannot forget that people live here.

    Learning how to balance environmental needs with development is a global challenge, and one question that officials say is a daily struggle.

    “The people cannot look at the Galápagos as if it were inside a glass enclosure not to be touched,” Mr. Munoz says. “Still we have to learn how to live with the least impact possible.”

    Conservationists are tackling this problem daily. Cristina Georgii, who carries out the education and sustainable development program at the Charles Darwin Foundation in Santa Cruz, works with the school system to incorporate course work on sustainability into the public school curriculum.

    The government is seeking to woo fishermen into tourism jobs, so that depleted stocks, such as sea cucumbers, can be replenished. The UNESCO report says that up to 300,000 sharks are caught illegally each year in the waters of the Galápagos for the booming Asian demand for shark-fin soup. Ingala has also launched a job bank to place locals into positions, so that employers don’t petition to bring workers from the mainland.

    These are small steps, and much bigger ones are needed, conservationists say, including a commitment from the government to conserve the islands, but Cruz says he feels hopeful that with Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, who ushered in a new constitution last year that enshrines the rights of nature, there is more of a commitment to the Galápagos than ever before. President Correa had highlighted the threats facing Galápagos before the UNESCO warning. “If [Correa] can’t do it, no one can,” says Cruz.


  6. New policy evolves to help protect a marvel of nature

    Ecuador decides to limit population of Galapagos Islands

    By Simon Romero , New York Times News Service Published on 10/5/2009

    A migrant goes through a trash dump in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos Islands, in September. The burgeoning human population of the Galapagos Islands, which doubled to about 30,000 in the last decade, has unnerved environmentalists. They point to evidence that the growth is harming the ecosystem that allowed the islands’ more famous inhabitants, among them giant tortoises and boobies with brightly colored webbed feet, to evolve in isolation before mainlanders started colonizing the archipelago more than a century ago.

    Puerto Ayora, Galapagos Islands – The mounds of reeking garbage on the edge of this settlement 600 miles off Ecuador’s Pacific coast are proof that one species is thriving on the fragile archipelago whose unique wildlife inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution: man.

    Tiny gray finches, descendants of birds that were crucial to his thesis, flutter around the dump, which serves a growing town of Ecuadoreans who have moved here to work in the islands’ thriving tourist industry.

    The burgeoning human population of the Galapagos, which doubled to about 30,000 in the last decade, has unnerved environmentalists. They point to evidence that the growth is already harming the ecosystem that allowed the islands’ more famous inhabitants – among them giant tortoises and boobies with brightly colored webbed feet – to evolve in isolation before mainlanders started colonizing the islands more than a century ago.

    The growth has become enough of a threat to the environment that even the government, which still welcomes growth in the tourism industry, has begun taking the politically unpopular step of expelling hundreds of poor Ecuadoreans from a province that they feel is rightfully theirs.

    By limiting the population, officials hope to preserve the natural wonders that bolster one of Ecuador’s most profitable sectors: tourism. But the new measures are also feeding a backlash among unskilled migrants who say they feel they are being punished while the country continues to enjoy the tens of millions of dollars that tourists bring to Ecuador, one of South America’s poorest nations.

    ”We are being told that a tortoise for a rich foreigner to photograph is worth more than an Ecuadorean citizen,” said Maria Mariana de Reina Bustos, 54, a migrant from Ambato in Ecuador’s central Andean valley, whose 22-year-old daughter, Olga, was recently rounded up by the police near the slum of La Cascada and put on a plane to the mainland.

    The first settlers came to the islands to live off the land; working as fishermen and ranchers and farmers. Now, most of those who make the short flight from Quito, the capital, or sneak on the islands in boats, are lured by different sorts of riches: the relatively high wages they can earn as taxi drivers and maids or workers in the islands’ growing bureaucracy.

    For decades, the country’s leaders did little to prevent people from coming here, partly to build the tourist industry and, then, to ensure the government had a presence among the pioneers. There seemed to be something of a natural limit on growth: The country had put aside 97 percent of the archipelago as a park.

    But as tourism and migration grew over the last decade, pressure began building within the archipelago’s scientific and environmental community and abroad for Ecuador to act on curbing the island’s population. The United Nations put the Galapagos on its list of endangered heritage sites in 2007.

    Scientists here said people have already done significant damage, pointing to fuel spills, the poaching of giant tortoises and sharks and the introduction of invasive species – including rats, cattle and fire ants – that threaten animals endemic to the Galapagos.

    Even seemingly benign human activities – like owning a pet – can have outsized consequences here.

    ”With people come cats, and with cats come threats to other animals found nowhere else in the world,” said Fernando Ortiz, coordinator of the Galapagos program for Conservation International.

    Conflict is built into the rules that allowed Galapagos to be colonized in the first place, despite a lack of fresh water in the archipelago. Technically, residency is granted to a limited number of people, including those born here and their spouses, people who arrived before 1998, and those with temporary work permits. Police, known in local slang as the “migra” – for their role in tracking down illegal migrants, set up impromptu checkpoints throughout the islands. But the same government that pays the police’s wages also offers subsidies that started when Ecuador was interested in building the population. One subsidy allows gasoline to cost about the same here as on the mainland. Another allows residents to fly between the islands or to Quito for a fraction of what foreigners pay. Loopholes also flourish. For instance, a black market in residency thrives in which migrants marry established residents to obtain coveted identity cards.

    The result: Puerto Ayora’s streets beckon with discotheques, food stands and souvenir shops. On the outskirts, a billboard with the image of Leopoldo Bucheli, the pro-development mayor, celebrates a project called El Mirador that is clearing an area on the edge of town to build 1,000 new homes.

    The government’s somewhat schizophrenic view of life here is echoed by the sentiments of the people. Margarita Masaquiza, 45, an Indian from Ecuador’s highlands who arrived here at the age of 14, abhors the government’s expulsions.

    ”We built this province with our own hands, so, yes, it pains us to see our countrymen deported like animals,” said Masaquiza. “After all, we are indigenous Ecuadoreans, how can we be illegal in our own country?”

    But when asked how she felt about the impact of new migrants on her four children and four grandchildren, Masaquiza adopted a different tone.

    ”We must preserve opportunities for our families,” she said.

    Most people in Galapagos live on San Cristobal, an island where a penal colony functioned decades ago, and Santa Cruz, where Puerto Ayora is located. Development is spreading to other parts of the archipelago, as well. Isabela, the largest of the islands, offers a glimpse into the Galapagos frontier.

    Despite its streets of sand, Puerto Villamil, Isabela’s main town, looks not unlike a Phoenix subdivision circa 2007. Laborers work feverishly on 200 new cinderblock homes on the town’s edge. Only about 2,000 people live in the town, but it boasts one of the Galapagos’ highest rates of population growth, about 9 percent a year.

    ”I earn $1,200 a month here, while I could only earn $500 a month on the continent,” said Bolivar Buri, 26, a construction worker born in Puerto Villamil who made a small fortune this year when he sold an empty lot for $8,000 that he bought six years ago for $600.

    But even in the island’s less spoiled areas, there is little doubt that this is not the land that Darwin left.

    On the road from Puerto Villamil to the drizzle-shrouded crater of Sierra Negra volcano, subsistence hunters on horseback scan the forest for wild pigs, a species introduced by mariners over a century ago. White cattle egrets, another introduced species, fly overhead.

    One recent day, Manuel Lopez, a cowboy and migrant from the mainland who tends a herd under the volcano’s mist, emerged from a forest thick with guava trees.

    He paused under the equatorial sun; his gaze narrowed.

    ”If it is God’s will, I’m on this island to stay,” said Lopez, 36.

    ”We must be in Galapagos for a reason,” he said, prodding a visitor to reply. “Yes or no?”


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