Galapagos by Land
The iconic Galapagos Giant Tortoise
A New Way to See the Galapagos: By Land
Biking, Hiking, Kayaking, and Snorkeling
in the World's Biologica l Treasure House
By Stephen Hartshorne
GoNOMAD Associate Editor
Six hundred miles off the coast of South America, right on the equator, lies an archipelago created by powerful volcanoes under the ocean. The Galapagos, as it is known, is made up of thirteen major islands, six smaller ones, and many islets that are smaller still.
Located at the juncture of several seasonal ocean currents, the islands have become the home of a vast diversity of wildlife and plant life.
Tropical birds like flamingos live side by side with penguins, and the islands abound with sea lions, turtles, tortoises, iguanas, blue-footed and red-footed boobies, pelicans, frigate birds, and many other species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world.
Kayaking in the Galapagos The Famous Finches
It was here that a visiting biologist named Charles Darwin found evidence for his Theory of Evolution in the adaptations made from island to island by the now-famous finches.
This has drawn worldwide attention to the archipelago, which for centuries had been just a stopover for pirates and whaling ships. Now more than 170,000 people visit the Galapagos every year.
But the Galapagos are also home to more than 25,000 people, and it is they who face the challenge of being the stewards of this remarkable biological treasure house.
Most visitors to the Galapagos arrive on cruise ships and take zodiac boats to various spots on the shoreline, where they take snapshots of the sea lions and the blue-footed boobies and then go back to their ships.
Blue-footed Booby A Land-Based Adventure Tour
Adventure Life, a sustainable travel company based in Missoula, Montana, offers a tour that allows visitors to see all the diverse wildlife, plant life and geological diversity on an eight-day land-based tour which includes snorkeling, kayaking, hiking and biking adventures.
The tour is recommended for athletic travelers and fit seniors, and it's perfect for travelers who are prone to seasickness.
The Adventure Life Multisport Tour includes seaside hikes along the beach where visitors can see the frigate birds, boobies, pelicans, and heron, as well as Darwin's famous finches, swimming in the crystal blue ocean, and kayaking with the sea lions and marine turtles in Darwin Bay, where the famous biologist first made landfall in the Galapagos.
It also includes snorkeling among the golden and eagle rays, tropical fish and hammerhead sharks and mountain biking among the fumaroles and lava formations on the active volcanoes of Isabela Island.
Meeting the People
Biking on the Beach Vistors stay overnight in seaside villages like Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and Puerto Villamil and in Puerto Ayora, the Galapagos' largest town, and they also visit El Cafetal, a historic hacienda that harvests their own coffee beans.
In addition to the active adventures, the Multisport Tour gives visitors a chance to meet the people of the Galapagos at the inns and lodges, bars and restaurants, and the numerous conservation and interpretation centers throughout the islands.
At the San Cristobal Interpretation Center, visitors learn about the formation of the islands, the species of wildlife, and their relation to the Theory of Evolution. At La Galapaguera in Cerro Colorado, they learn about the breeding and protection program for San Cristobal's giant turtles.
The Multisport Tour also includes visits to the Galapagos Tortoise Rearing Center on Isabel Island abd the Charles Darwin Research station on Santa Cruz Island, where Ecuadorian scientists work with colleagues from all over the world on research and projects to protect the archipelago's delicate ecosystems.
A greeting from a sea lion Adventure Life, as a member of the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association, has played an active role in defining and meeting the ecological challenges faced by the people of the Galapagos.
These challenges include invasive plant and animal species that compete with or directly threaten indigenous species, overfishing, and difficulties in prosecuting violators.
The IGTOA has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars for conservation efforts on the islands and in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, which covers 50,000 square miles around the archipelago.
For example, in 2012 and 2013, IGTOA donated $50,000 to improve biosecurity at Galapagos ports to keep out invasive species and diseases by strengthening cargo handling procedures and cargo vessel standards.
Goats, introduced by whalers in the 19th century, threaten the habitat and food supply of the giant tortoises. Domestic dogs and cats prey on iguanas, young tortoises, and birds, which have no natural defense against them.
IGTOA has donated more than $100,000 to the Charles Darwin Foundation to fund programs to sterilize dogs and cats and control invasive species like goats.
Policing the Marine Reserve
Sally Lightfoot Crab As fisheries around the world become depleted, more and more fishing vessels are turning to the Galapagos Marine Reserve. In particular, the demand in the Orient for shark fins and sea cucumbers has led to overfishing of these species.
Shark finning is a particularly gruesome practice, because after the sharks' fins are removed, their bodies are thrown in the ocean while they are still alive. Unable to swim, they suffocate or are devourd by other predators.
Policing the 50,000 square miles of the GMR is a daunting task, made even more difficult by the fact that violators have to be taken 600 miles to the Ecuadorian mainland.
IGTOA has provided funds and equipment to the Ecuadorian government to improve enforcement in the GMR, providing anchorage on Shark Island to facilitate patrols in this remote area, and donating a GPS system for park rangers to use in patrolling the area.
The Ecuadorian government has also established a provincial court in the Galapagos, so cases can be tried locally.
The IGTOA provideSea lion relaxing s grants to the CDF to improve education and professional development for the people of the Galapagos and works with organizations like Ecology Project International to promote conservation leadership among young people and engage them in research and conservation projects.
IGTOA members like Adventure Life also give travelers the opportunity to support convervation efforts in the Galapagos by contributing to the Galapagos Traveler Conservation Fund.
These same travelers can further assist in the preservation of the Galapagos by raising awareness in their home communities about the need to protect this treasure house of biological diversity.
Stephen Hartshorne is the associated editor of GoNOMAD.com. He writes a blog called Armchair Travel about books he finds at flea markets and rummage sales.
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