Tortoise Tales from the Galapagos Islands

AUTHOR The Ecoventura Team

Over the last few months, much of the globe has battened down the hatches with the usual movement of tourists and travelers slowing to no more than a trickle. The Galapagos Islands closed to visitors and our expedition yachts, along with hotels and vessels across the planet, returned to harbour to see things through.

Whilst life has felt like it has been put on hold for many of us, for the wildlife with whom we share this beautiful planet, life has continued more or less as before. And, with so few people visiting the world’s tourist hotspots, nature has thrived as beasts large and small have started exploring areas they would normally avoid.

There have been reports of pelicans roaming the streets of London, flamingos reclaiming the wetlands of Mumbai and wild boar descending from the mountains to sample the delights of Barcelona. Puma have been spotted in Santiago, Chile, jaguar in Tulum, Mexico, and lions on the roads in South Africa. More benignly, deer have been snapped in subway stations in Japan.

And here on the islands that make up the stunning Galapagos archipelago the same phenomenon has been happening and we’re happy to report several good news stories whilst you’ve been away.

Wildlife reclaiming the streets… and the beaches, and the trails

In the absence of tourists in the towns of the Galapagos, the resident sealions have moved in. Never ones to shy away from humans anyway, the sealions have become even more emboldened, shuffling in groups down the streets of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal island. With less activity on the water, pods of dolphins have been spotted venturing into some of the towns’ harbours to explore.

To track the extent to which wildlife behaviour has changed during the lockdown that has been in place in the Galapagos, scientists from the Galápagos Science Centre, the Charles Darwin Foundation – which Ecoventura have been proud to support for several years – and San Francisco de Quito University have been monitoring 24 of the islands’ tourist zones.

Whilst the studies are ongoing, the research to date has shown that, as well as the occasional foray in to the towns, the beaches themselves are more full of life than ever before too.

Furthermore, research suggests that ground-nesting seabirds, such as the iconic blue-footed booby, have also made the most of the reduced footfall, nesting on trails and in other previously well-trodden areas.

Diego heads home

Whilst things have been quiet on the tourist front, conservation work to protect the pristine environment and the host of endemic and iconic species that call the Galapagos home has been continuing at pace.

Thanks to the sterling work of rangers and volunteers of the Galapagos National Park, the big news is that Diego, a 100-year old giant tortoise who has played a huge role in saving his species from extinction, along with 25 other tortoises, has been returned to his homeland of Española Island after 80 years away.

Photo credit: AFP for Gulf News. Rangers and Volunteers introduce the tortoises to their new home

Diego’s tale is a remarkable story of a species brought back from the brink – before the breeding programme of which Diego played a starring role began in the 1960s, only 15 of his species – Chelonidis hoodensis – remained in the wild. The programme has since produced over 2,000 tortoises, with Diego believed to have sired more than 800 himself. As a result, the programme is often considered one of the most successful captive reproduction and breeding programs ever undertaken anywhere in the world.

Photo credit: AFP for Gulf News. Diego hitches a lift from a Galapagos National Park ranger as he returns home to Española

The tortoises will continue to be monitored by rangers, but the success of the breeding programme means it can now be wound up and, after all these years, Diego can enjoy some well-earned rest.

Photo credit: AFP for Gulf News. Diego is released. After 80 years away, he returns home to enjoy his retirement

As the Galapagos reopens to visitors, it is incumbent on all of us to respect the wildlife, travel as responsibly as possible and do what we can to support the conservation of the ecosystems we visit. At Ecoventura we’re proud to support several conservation organisations and have recently been awarded a Platinum badge from the Charles Darwin Foundation in recognition of our ongoing commitment to the scientific research and community outreach that this amazing organisation carries out in the Galapagos.

Back in March we celebrated Earth Hour, whilst in April Earth Day celebrated its 50 year anniversary. Both served as poignant reminders of the fragility of the planet we all share and served as initiatives that aim to spark global conversations about protecting nature, combating climate change and halting biodiversity loss. Given what has happened in recent months, this seems as urgent as ever.

So whilst we are excited as can be that the Galapagos is reopening, perhaps now is the time to think about how we can all do things a little bit differently to minimise our own ecological footprints. After all, every one of us has a role to play in protecting this wonderful planet of ours.