Galapagos Word Sept 2012
Let’s start with this…Sept 3-10 on the Humboldt, divers were delighted by 30 whale shark sightings in 1.5 days.
Recently a number of people have been inquiring about the legality of using strobes. It finally occurred to me the source of the mixed message is most likely the relatively new dark green informational pamphlet handed out upon arrival into Galapagos at the airports which states “Do not use flash on the wildlife. It can alter their natural way of life. Professional photographers and filmmakers have to have National Park authorization.”
From everyone I’ve checked with, the flash limitation only applies topside. No one is restricting strobes underwater. It has always been true that professionals should first have authorization.
One juicy tidbit that is kind of exciting, though nowhere near a done deal, is that the Park is considering allowing one night dive per week in an appropriate location. Everyone’s favorite night site always was Punta Vicente Roca.
Most probably know one Aggressor will retire from diving next year to serve as the day trip boat for the owner’s posh new eco hotel in Santa Cruz. And while many might snub a liveaboard that isn’t posh, I look forward to operations beginning in the new year of a liveaboard that offers great guides and a great itinerary at a far more economical price that what is currently available -the Estrella del Mar. She used to be the liveaboard operated by Explorer Ventures before the Humboldt was built. There is yet another attempting to start operations as well. We shall see. I hear the refit of one more is about to get underway. If all 3 end up with a northern itinerary, that would put a total of 9 in the water with several permits still in limbo. Unless it ends up being extended again, the deadline for putting a new liveaboard in Galapagos is Oct 2013 for those who successfully obtained a tur navegable de buceo (dive liveaboard) permit of which several do still exist. Doesn’t leave much time for those saying they intend to build new boats.
As the updated laws approach reality, happy to say at the least the rumblings of a new RMG (Marine Reserve Guide) course are in motion again. It has been 11 years since one was offered!! In older law, the RMG doesn’t actually exist and yet, all liveaboards are limited to using RMG guides or, what does exist on paper, Divemaster/Instructors who are also naturalist guides. Also seems now they don’t permit you simply to take along a naturalist guide on Santa Cruz daily dives. Now it is restricted to the same regulation as a liveaboard.
In Galapagos, the regulations are constantly shifting with those things decided rarely enforced from a land-based perspective, thus the illegal dive operations continuing to dive. There are fewer though. Even the one legal so negatively reviewed online shut down after 2 accidents a year ago, both primarily due to outsourcing to an illegal, a common thing in the past though now fewer to outsource to. Before you opt to do a daily dive tour with anyone in Galapagos, ask to see their ‘patente’, their permit. If they don’t have one, they are illegal. Illegals run the risk of being turned back if spotted by Park Rangers and it is very doubtful any will give you your money back. And 2 of the 3 diver fatalities in 2012 were with illegal daily operators.
On Isabela, the number of fishermen is greatly diminished as fishermen opt to use their small boats for tourism. WWF along with the Park sponsored a round of providing a quick path to agency status for many, some of whom have opened offices though many selected haven’t done so yet. Some think this is simply going to legalize ’substandard operations’. The reality is they would have continued operating anyway and the only way to learn how to improve is through experience. On the other hand, it has been a great pleasure to see the pride of ownership it has given several. It was a wonderful thing to hear from the mouth of an Isabela fisherman, “Now I need the animals alive.” Wow…as shocking as hearing a Republican and Democrate agree in the US.
There is strong talk (read: rumor) of a new permit, ‘pesca turistica’ which would not allow diving though pesca vivencial (artesenal fishing) on Isabela currently does. The new permit would provide fishermen with the ability to make trips to Los Tuneles and other new sites being discussed, though too far from port for all but the most intrepid travelers. Still, it’s these fishermen who know their waters better than anyone, so I expect some new and interesting opportunities for tourists on Isabela.
The generation under 30 in Galapagos, even on Isabela, aren’t so interested in fishing. Surfing is a movement among young people, not merely a sport, but a way of life. I had the privilege of attending the recent Isabela Surf Championship and seeing them in action…and I’m not just talking about riding the waves.
The day before, local participants greet participants from other islands at the dock early AM and escort them to local hotels they have arranged for free – sponsors. The local surf club coordinated a local tv ad, signage, trophies, hand pressed t-shirts to sell and award to winners, even handmade trophies. Additionally, due to the grave illness of the father of two stars of the Isabela team, Junior and Jairo Torres, t-shirts were sold to raise money, an auction was held after the awards ceremony and several left for the highlands to pick bushels of oranges in order to make gallons of orange juice sold in order to also raise funds for the ailing Don Gastion, the only source for ice on the island for a very long time, so known, respected and appreciated by all.
The morning of the event started with a beach clean up by all participants followed by gathering in a circle for a moment of silence and spiritual cleansing. Then everyone warmed up with yoga before the competition began. Beach spectators were held to the same regulations as surfers: no smoking and no drinking.
The way this community of surfers worked and played together was one of the coolest things I have ever witnessed anywhere, but especially in Galapagos where the culture is a little each to his own juego viva it seems. I need to take some time to edit photos and write a post on just the surf scene in Galapagos. God knows it deserves the cover of huge magazines, so it’s the least I can do…so more to come on Galapagos Surf.