200 Years Ago


Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England on 12 February 1809. Twenty-six years later he was plying the waters of Galapagos aboard the H.M.S. Beagle gathering information on flora and fauna (15 September-October 1835).  At that time, Galapagos had no permanent human residents. For many years, the Islands were simply a stopover for seal hunters, whalers and buccaneers, who kept goats on the islands as a readily available food source for the next time they passed through. During this time, the famous Galapagos tortoises were also considered an ideal food source. They could be stacked alive on the ship for months at a time, ensuring fresh meat for as long as they survived. In fact, galapago means saddle in Spanish, and the Islands get their name from the shape of the shell of the Saddleback tortoise. Darwin visited San Cristobal, Floreana, Isabela and Santiago, but never set foot on Santa Cruz, now the most populated of the Galapagos islands.


If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature,

but by our institutions, great is our sin. –Charles Darwin

Generally, people think of the Galapagos as a pristine place with unique plants and animals. Though much of the islands remain relatively undisturbed, there are also thriving communities with more people than one might expect. As of 2005, there were an estimated 27,000 people living on the islands. Four islands are inhabited. Santa Cruz, the most populated island, is where the majority of the tour boats begin their excursions. The capital of the Galapagos is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal, the second most populated island. Isabela has approximately 2000 people and Santa Maria, more commonly called Floreana, has an estimated 80 people. Ninety-eight percent of the population is from mainland Ecuador and two percent is from other countries. The population growth continues to average approximately 6.4% per year with everyone living on ~116 square miles out of a total terrestrial area of ~4,960 square miles.


Over the years, tourism in Galapagos has dramatically increased. In the early 1960s, 2,000 tourists visited Galapagos and, according to the Galapagos Conservancy, in 2008, there were more than 173,000 visitors. Since 1991, the number of tourists visiting the islands has grown 9% each year. The Galapagos tourism sector, originally offering smaller nature-based Darwin type tours, has developed into a multinational cruise ship and adventure tourism industry. These days there are also ships holding up to 500 passengers that ply the Galapagos waters.  In the last fifteen years the tourism industry has increased its income 14% each year. The estimated total value of tourism coming into Galapagos is $418.8M, with only, 15.5% of the full value of tourism reaching the local resident. The eight largest boats received half of the total gross income coming in for all of the tour boats combined. Without available credit, business development training and ongoing assistance, it is extremely challenging for local residents to own and operate a successful tour business.

In 2007, the Galapagos was placed on UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) list of world heritage sites in danger. The challenges the Galapagos face are complex and multi-faceted and will need to be approached using an interdisciplinary strategy, which simultaneously considers economic, social and conservation needs.

Once, we separately asked twelve of our Puerto Ayora (from the largest populated island of Santa Cruz) high school-aged soccer players, if they knew what the Charles Darwin Foundation did? Only one player said that he knew they did something related to science and conservation and the others had no idea. I wonder what Charles would say? The long-term future of Galapagos really lies in the hands of the future generations living on the islands.


It always makes me happy to see that some of the blog entries receiving the most hits are Final Fiesta Day and Los Kioskos (both about the culture of Galapagos), indicating that people are also interested in Galapagos’s human side. Improving the Galapagos K-12 educational infrastructure and implementing consistent long-term environmental, science, language, technical trade and micro-enterprise skills programs will result in a more environmentally conscious community and skilled workforce. As Senegalese naturalist Baba Dioum said, “In the end we will protect only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”


How paramount the future is to the present when one is surrounded by children.

–Charles Darwin


Boersma, P.D., H. Vargas, and G. Merlen. 2005. Living Laboratory in Peril. Science, Vol. 308, Issue 5724, 925 (13 May).

Epler, B. 2007. Tourism, the Economy, Population Growth, and Conservation in Galapagos. Charles Darwin Foundation: Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, Galapagos. Accessed online on 12 December 2009. http://www.galapagos.org/2008/index.php?id=97

Galápagos Connection: Darwin in Galapagos. Accessed online on 12 December 2009. http://www.galapagosconnection.net/page_darwin.html

Kerr, S., S. Cardenas, and J. Hendy. 2004. Migration and the Environment in the Galapagos: An Analysis of economic and policy incentives driving migration, potential impacts from migration control, and potential policies to reduce migration pressure. Wellington: Motu Economic and Public Policy Research.

Ospina, P. and C. Falconi, ed. 2007. Galápagos: Migraciones, economía, cultura, conflictos y acuerdos. Quito: Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar, Programa de Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo, Corporación Editora Nacional.

Watkins, G. and F. Cruz. 2007. Galapagos at Risk: A Socioeconomic Analyis. Galapagos Conservancy. Accessed online 10 December 2009. http://www.darwinfoundation.org/files/library/pdf/2007/Galapagos_at_Risk_7-4-07-EN.pdf


Intertidal Gumdrops

Actinia edena

Beachcombing is especially fun when one stumbles across something new and unusual. These odd little red wine-colored gumdrops clinging to this coastal rocky outcropping are known as beadlet anemones (Actinia equina) and are found in various intertidal regions of the world including the central coast of Ecuador. The anemones I saw in the past were doughnut-shaped with retracted tentacles that were more visible, so anemones did not immediately come to mind when I saw these along the Manabi coast. When exposed to air, beadlet anemones retract their tentacles completely to conserve moisture and protect themselves. Underwater, their plant-like tentacles resembles succulent leaves.

Sea anemones are unusual creatures belonging to the invertebrate Cnidaria phylum. Cnida, also known as nematocysts, are stinging cells characteristic of animals in the Cnidaria phylum, which includes jellyfish and corals. These stinging mechanisms are used for protection and to stun and capture prey.

Beadlet anemones are aggressive little creatures that are easily provoked. A mere brush of another anemone’s tentacle will cause the anemone to expose specialized surface protrusions, known as acrorhagi or blue beads, which release stinging cells (nematocysts) as soon as they come into contact with their neighbor. This attack is often repeated until the beadlet anemone’s neighbor drops off the rock. Visible wounds appear as a result of such attacks.

These soft gelatinous polyps are carnivores and scavengers, eating crustaceans such as small crabs and copepods as well as dead larvae and crustacean remains. Beadlet anemones are found in the northeastern part of the Atlantic and in waters with a minimum salinity of 2.8% and temperatures ranging from 2˚F to 28˚C.

Guayasamin’s Chapel of Man

Whenever I am in Quito, I make a point to visit the Guayasamin museum. Oswaldo Guayasamin was an Ecuadorian expressionist painter, sculptor and designer, who lived from 1919-1999. In February 2007, I wrote a general overview of the museum with a focus on the Guayasamin Foundation. During my visit this past July, I concentrated on the museum’s most recent addition, Guayasamin’s Chapel of Man, La Capilla del Hombre in Spanish.

After presenting the Chapel project to UNESCO, in 1989, Guayasamin received support and funding to construct the Chapel of Man next to the Guayasamin Foundation in the Bellavista neighborhood of Quito. Construction began in 1996 and the Chapel was inaugurated in 2002, three years after Oswaldo Guayasamin passed away. The Chapel of Man is an attractive structure dedicated to the men and women of the Americas and the eternal flame inside the Chapel represents peace and human rights. A quote by Guayasamin reads, “Mantengan encendida una luz que siempre voy a volver,” which means, “Keep a light burning for I will always return.”

The Chapel of Man takes one on an unsettling journey through Ecuador’s turbulent history. Guayasamin’s paintings illustrate the pain and sadness of having lost friends and colleagues in insurrections and political upheavals throughout South America. The Chapel’s contemplative environment and Guayasamin’s impressive larger-than-life paintings are emotionally moving and stir an inquisitive mind. A quiet afternoon walking through the Chapel refreshes my memory of Latin American history, the root of Ecuador’s continuous struggles and challenges.

I cried because I didn't have any shoes until I saw a child without feet.

I cried because I did not have shoes until I saw a child that did not have feet. -Oswaldo Guayasamin

Ever Wonder Where Cashews Come From?

I love cashews, but, honestly, I never thought about how they grow, until my neighbor reached into the back of his produce-filled pickup truck and handed me an unusual gala apple-colored fruit with a little black nose sticking out of the top. The cashew apple is actually not considered a true fruit, but a pseudofruit. Of course, even after taking a bite, cashews didn’t immediately come to mind. When my neighbor told me that in some parts of the world people only eat the nuts, it became obvious that the little black nose was actually more cashew-shaped.

Cashew trees, Anarcardium occidentale, are native to Brazil and belong to the Anarcardiaceae (Sumac) family. Other well-known members of this family are the pistachio and mango. The word cashew is derived from the Brazilian Tupian language’s word for the plant, acajú. The Portuguese call it caju. In the 16th century, the Portuguese introduced the cashew tree from their Brazilian outpost to Mozambique and India to control erosion. The cashew’s commercial value wasn’t realized until the 19th century, when it started being planted in various tropical regions, including other parts of South America. More than 90% of the world’s cashew supply comes from Vietnam, Nigeria, India and Brazil. The United States, Netherlands and Germany are the primary cashew nut importers.

In Ecuador and Central America, the cashew apple, marañon in Spanish, is squeezed for juice or eaten fresh. In the El Salvadorian kitchen, it is commonly used in salads mixed with other fruits, such as apples and mamey. Generally, the seed (cashew nut) is discarded. In the United States and Europe, cashew nuts are commonly served alone, roasted and salted, as a tasty snack. In Thai cuisine, cashews are added to chicken and the Indian cultures mix cashews into salads, vegetables and lamb dishes. The cashew apple, which reminds me a bit of a persimmon, is also delicious, but the nuts are still my favorite.

Guayaquil Malecon 2000

Guayas River water hyacinths

Most mornings, I take a brisk walk along the Malecon 2000. This lovely riverfront promenade, flanking the western side of the Guayas River, is the crown jewel of Guayaquil. It begins at the Crystal Palace, the former southern Guayaquil marketplace turned exhibit hall, and ends up at the MAAC (Museo Antropológico y de Arte Contemporáneo), located at the foot of the northern hillside neighborhood of Las Peñas. This recent waterfront restoration project transformed what was once one of the seediest areas of Guayaquil into the safest outdoor public area in the city. On any given day joggers, couples, friends and families enjoy the calm, relaxing riverside environment bordering the busy downtown area.

Water hyacinth foliage

Certain times of the year, tiny islands of water hyacinths float up or down the river, depending on the tide. As you walk along the promenade, there are numerous gardens with lush tropical plants and brightly colored flowers shaded by majestic trees. During the rainy season (January-May) the tree canopies offer a dry place to wait as the occasional downpour passes overhead.

red cannaDeli juice cart orange and yellow canna

On weekends, the malecón, which means sea front promenade, is bustling with families walking, sitting, playing and exercising. There is a fitness circuit, a playground and a variety of open areas, where tai chi regulars meet. Vendors sell water, juices and soda from their brightly colored carts, while young ladies stand inside the big round red and white Pinguino stands selling ice cream. There is an outdoor food court at the southern end of the malecón and an indoor one at the northern end. The typical international and national fast food chains are represented, including the nicest McDonald’s I have ever seen. Actually, it looks more like a bistro with its sleek contemporary wood and metal tables and chairs and large glass windows overlooking the river.

Guayas Learning Ship

The Guayas Ship School (Buque Escuela “Guayas“) is docked at the Navy Yacht Club on the malecón . Guayas is the name of the province where Guayaquil is located. Built in 1977, in Bilbao, Spain, the “Guayas” sailboat acts as the Ecuadorian Navy’s world ambassador, having visited 60 ports in 25 countries and traveled the equivalent of 16 times around the world (340,000 nautical miles). The ship’s many voyages have often included outstanding students and foreign officials.

Little observer Guayas River rower Walking along the malecon

The Henry Morgan, also docked at the malecón, is a pirate ship replica that offers 50-minute tours up and down the Guayas River. This sailboat was built specifically as part of the Malecon 2000 project and was named after the infamous pirate, Captain Henry Morgan. Though Morgan never made it to Guayaquil, he represents the many pirates that plied the Ecuadorian waters throughout history.

Malecon sky
I grew up on an island connected to the mainland and another island by three bridges. One bridge, in particular, always had workers suspended from it, painting and doing maintenance. We called them the bridge people. Here, there are the malecón people. There is a reason why the esplanade is immaculate and the gardens always lush and beautiful.

Everyday, the maintenance workers are fixing, staining or sanding the wooden planks and railings, sweeping up any litter, emptying the trash bins, power washing the brick and stone and feeding and watering the plants. There are even recycling stations with clearly marked barrels and interpretive posters explaining the benefits of recycling.

Palacio de Cristal

Designed by French engineer/architect Gustave Eiffel and constructed in 1907, the Crystal Palace was once known as Guayaquil’s busy southern marketplace where vendors sold vegetables, fruit and fish, among other things. Today, it is used for expositions, flower shows and a variety of public or private events. Early mornings, usually Saturdays or Sundays, the workers are seen cleaning up from the previous night’s festivities.

rose petals
The lovely state of the art MAAC (Museo Antropológico y de Arte Contemporáneo) has an ongoing detailed exhibit of the rich Pre-Colombian coastal Ecuadorian history. Another exhibit hall presents varied works of Ecuadorian artists and the MAAC theater regularly shows films and documentaries.
MAACMAAC fountain
The Fundacion Malecon 2000 was established in 1997 to oversee the development and maintenance of the malecón. The Guayaquil waterfront revitalization project began in 1996 and was completed in October 2003 with the construction of the Teatro IMAX, located next to the MAAC on the northern end of the Malecon 2000.
Malecon 2000


Hi, my name is Manteñito and I’m a Nazca Booby. Sometimes, the other fledglings call me Big Bird. I’m pretty outgoing and enjoy getting to know new people. When the photographer took my photo I followed her down the trail and tried to start up a conversation, but my parents wouldn’t stop yelling at me until I returned. Oh well, when I get older, and can fly, I will be able to do what I want.

My parents and I live on the Escalera Trail on La Plata Island, located approximately twenty-four miles northwest of Salango, a small coastal fishing village on the Ecuadorian mainland. The Escalera Trail is a fairly urban area, as far as bird habitats are concerned. Our species always lives in colonies. Most of my relatives live on La Plata Island, either on the Machete Trail, to the west, or the Escalera Trail on the eastern part of the island. I also have quite a few relatives living in the Galapagos. The Escalera Point area is fairly quiet, so we do well here. Occasionally, we see people, but not as often as our cousins on the Machete Trail, which is the trail most tourists take on La Plata Island. The Machete Trail is only a 2.5-hour walk as opposed to Escalera’s 3.5 hour walk.

You’re probably wondering how we got our name. The “booby” part originates from the Spanish word bobo, which means fool or clown. We are an easy-going, comical type of species and our parents do this funny mating dance. All of these reasons are why they call us bobos. Nazca is a region and town in southern Peru named after the ancient Nazca culture that occupied that area between 300 B.C. and 800 A.D. It also refers to the Nazca tectonic plate under the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean, to the west of South America. The northwest corner of the Nazca Plate includes the Galapagos Islands. We are named “Nazca” Boobies, because our species is located primarily in the Nazca Plate region.

Sula granti is out Latin name. For a long time, we were considered a sub-species of the Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra), but, recently, we were declared our own species. One physical difference is that we have orange beaks and the Masked Boobies have yellow beaks. Our genus name, Sula, means “valley of the birds” in the Honduran dialect of Usula. We belong to the bird family Sulidae, which is made up of boobies and gannets. We all live near the coast and are called plunge-divers because we drop down from the sky like a missile and dive anywhere from three to six feet into the water to catch our meal. Our efficient diving technique allows us to catch the fish before they even know what hit them. “Granti” probably refers to the name of a researcher who studied us. By the way, humans also have a Latin name, Homo sapiens. Homo means man and sapiens means wise or knowing.

My Older Cousin

The Nazca species is fairly united and generally lives in colonies near the sea, but fishes further offshore than, say, the Blue-footed Boobies. Our parents build our nests inland on flat unvegetated ground. So, when there are heavy rains and the plants grow like crazy, like earlier this year, real estate is at a premium. Many adults build their nests on or very close to the trail. Fortunately, the tourists are usually considerate and walk off the trail through the vegetation, around us.

After we are dropped out in the form of an egg, our parents take turns keeping us warm until we emerge, approximately forty-two days later. Of course, when we hatch we don’t know how to fly, just like humans aren’t born walking. During the time we are learning how to fly we are called fledglings, similar to how human babies are called toddlers, while they are learning to walk. In order to fly, we need to takeoff from the edge of a cliff. So, there are many well-worn paths leading to cliff edges.

Me and My Mom

Our moms usually lay two eggs. One egg is a backup, known as an “insurance” egg. If the first-born is healthy and isn’t snatched up by a local predator, such as a sea gull, it is the only chick fed and nurtured by the parents. The second hatchling only has the opportunity to live if the first-born doesn’t survive. If the first-born makes it, our unfortunate sibling is abandoned and left to die. It’s a jungle out there and, in our world, it really is survival of the fittest. On a brighter note, both our parents are dedicated to raising whoever remains until we are capable of being independent. Generally, we require 100-120 days of constant care before we can venture out on our own. As with humans, there is a high divorce rate among the Nazca species. Over 50% of Nazca females eventually end up with another mate after a few breeding seasons, so we have lots of stepbrothers and stepsisters.

Me and My Parents

Curiously Delicious Caimito

Caimito Inside

The other day my neighbor brought by lemons, oranges and caimitos (Chrysophyllum cainito) from his orchard. I already envisioned the fresh squeezed juice from the lemons and oranges, but the caimitos were something new. My curiosity got the better of me, so I immediately sliced one in half and scooped out the slippery fruit inside with a teaspoon. The skin is inedible. It had such a unique and delicious flavor that I continued until I finished all three. The property where I am living also has caimito trees, but they aren’t ready to eat yet.

A caimito (pronounced “kai-mee-toe,” with an emphasis on the “mee”) looks like a dark fig on the outside, but then, when you slice it open, it resembles a white creamy plum with a black coffee bean-like seed inside. The taste reminds me of cherimoya. The white sappy substance is probably responsible for making your lips sticky. It’s not an unpleasant stickiness, but more like a tacky tape feel, which goes away after a few lip smacks. The caimito belongs to the tropical Sapotaceae family and is also known as a star apple. When cut in half transversely, rather than lengthwise, the white part of the fruit reveals a star shape.

Unripe Caimito