Date: Thu, 8 Feb 2018 12:14:44 +0100
By Jordi MIRO

Puerto Ayora, Ecuador, Feb 8, 2018 (AFP) - With its iconic giant tortoises, crested black iguanas, huge ocean manta rays and a veritable menagerie of other cool creatures, the Galapagos Islands are one of the most beautiful places you will probably never visit.  Why not?

Who wouldn't want to go to a white sand beach and soak up some sun alongside a lounging iguana, or surf in waters with those lumbering tortoises swimming beside you and a rainbow of tropical fish below?   But in order to protect the flora, fauna and ecosystems of this Pacific archipelago that inspired Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, Ecuador is in the odd position of having to turn away perhaps millions of would-be tourists each year.

Keeping a tight lid on tourism is the way the South American country has preserved this volcanic string of 19 large islands, dozens of islets and rocky outcroppings.   Authorities wage this fight as world tourism grows and grows -- it was up seven percent last year -- and they must resist the temptation to let in hordes of visitors, their pockets bulging with dollars.   "The Galapagos are the crown jewel, and as such, we have to protect them," Tourism Minister Enrique Ponce de Leon told AFP. "We must be drastic in caring for the environment."

- Welcome, sort of -
With a network of small hotels and ferries running between the islands, the Galapagos -- about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) off the coast -- is an eco-tourism destination that is among the most select spots in all of the Pacific.   Flights from Quito or Guayaquil cost about $400 round-trip, and a one-week stay ranges from $2,000-7,000 per person.   The flow of tourists has risen to 245,000 per year and authorities say that's pretty much the limit: the maximum the islands can withstand without harming their various ecosystems.   "The environmental, social and biological features of this place -- which is like no other -- forces us to set a limit, to manage tourism in terms of supply, rather than demand," said Walter Bustos, director of the Galapagos National Park.

- Restrictions galore -
Preyed on in the past by pirates and whaling ships, the Galapagos these days confront illegal fishing, the effects of climate change and the arrival of intrusive species such as dogs, cats and rats brought over from the mainland.   The national park was created in 1959 to protect 97 percent of the islands' land surface, and in 1978 UNESCO classified the archipelago as a World Heritage Site.   A marine reserve spanning 138,000 square kilometers (53,280 square miles) was also established.

And a 38,000-square-kilometer marine sanctuary in which all fishing is banned was set up between two of the islands, one called Darwin and the other Wolf. Those waters are home to the highest concentration of sharks on Earth.   The islands depend on imports from the mainland and have limited sources of water, so authorities make sure the human population does not grow. These days, only 26,000 people live on the four islands that are in fact inhabited.   By law, Ecuadorans from the mainland are treated as foreigners on the Galapagos. And to obtain permanent residency, such people have to have been married to a local for at least a decade.

For years, the authorities have been limiting construction and promoting the use of renewable energy sources and electric cars. Plastic bags are banned.   On the island of Baltra, which is the main port of entry, the airport runs exclusively on solar and wind power.   "The challenge is to manage tourism in a sustainable way, one that preserves the ecosystems and generates profits. We must not view tourists as the devil," said Juan Carlos Garcia, conservation director of the World Wildlife Fund in Ecuador.

- Open skies -
But of course, limiting tourism here is of no help to the broader Ecuadoran economy, which operates with dollars as the official currency.   And these have been lean years for hard currency in oil-producing Ecuador because of low global crude prices and accumulation of lots of debt. Tourism and mining have emerged as lifesavers.   Last year, visitors to this fabulously diverse country boasting volcanos and thick Amazon jungle shot up 14 percent compared to 2016, totalling 1.6 million. But that is small compared to other countries in Latin America.

President Lenin Moreno's idea is for tourism is to prop up the economy, even more than oil.   For that reason, he decreed an open-skies policy a few months ago to free up air traffic and bring more tourists to Quito and Guayaquil.   And many of these travelers will want to go to the Galapagos. The state-owned airline TAM has announced more flights to the islands.    Will the island authorities be able to withstand this pressure?   "We need to stress quality, and have those who come now stay longer -- have them tour the rest of the country, offering them package deals," says the tourism minister.
Date: Mon, 25 Dec 2017 18:45:48 +0100

Quito, Dec 25, 2017 (AFP) - A Christmas Eve explosion at a restaurant in Ecuador's capital killed two people including a child, and injured 12, authorities said on Monday.   The incident left a seven-year-old boy and an 82-year-old woman dead, according to the mayor's office in Quito, updating an earlier toll of one fatality.

The blast occurred at 11:11 pm on Sunday (0411 GMT Monday) when leaking gas ignited, the mayor's office said.   Authorities added that the victims were dining in the restaurant at the time of the explosion.   It also left about a dozen cars with windshield and body damage, and caused windows to vibrate within two blocks of the area.
Date: Mon, 19 Dec 2016 12:04:48 +0100

Quito, Dec 19, 2016 (AFP) - Several strong earthquakes rattled Ecuador's north-western coast in the pre-dawn hours of Monday, leaving some areas without power but with no reports of casualties.   The South American nation is still recovering from a devastating 7.8-magnitude quake that killed 673 people in April and left some 6,000 injured.

That quake flattened homes and buildings up and down a long stretch of Ecuador's north-western Pacific coast, reducing picturesque resort towns to rubble. Hardest hit was the city and province of Esmeraldas.   "5 quakes over magnitude 4 in Esmeraldas," President Rafael Correa wrote early Monday on his Twitter account.   He added: "zones without electricity. Damage is being evaluated. Classes suspended in the province. Have courage!"

The strongest early Monday quake was cantered near the tourist resort of Atacames, in Esmeralda province, and struck at 0700 GMT.   Ecuador's Geophysical Institute initially said the quake was of magnitude 5.9, but later downgraded it to 5.8.   The US Geological Survey, which monitors earthquakes worldwide, said the quake was of magnitude 5.4.   The Geophysical Institute did not issue a tsunami alert, but warned that earthquake aftershocks could be expected.   Ecuador's national emergency service said that no damage was reported to the country's largest oil refinery, which is located in Esmeraldas province.
Date: Tue, 9 Aug 2016 09:30:27 +0200

Quito, Aug 9, 2016 (AFP) - A 4.6-magnitude earthquake late Monday caused light damage to buildings on the outskirts of the Ecuadoran capital Quito, but there were no immediate reports of casualties, officials said.   Seismologists said the quake, which struck shortly before midnight, was cantered about 10 kilometres (six miles) northeast of Quito and had a depth of some five kilometres (three miles).   "At present, minor damage has been reported to some homes" outside Quito, the city's mayor Mauricio Rodas said in a tweet, adding that some neighbourhoods also reported power outages.   The South American nation is still recovering from a devastating 7.8-magnitude quake that killed 673 people in April and left some 6,000 injured.
Date: Mon, 11 Jul 2016 08:56:24 +0200

Quito, July 11, 2016 (AFP) - A strong 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck northern Ecuador late Sunday in the same area devastated by a powerful and deadly quake in mid-April, the US Geological Survey said.

Its epicenter was 42 kilometers (26 miles) south of the town of Propicia -- located next to the quake-devastated coastal town of Esmeraldas -- and 153 kilometres northwest of the capital Quito, the USGS said, revising earlier figures.   The quake, which struck at 9:11 pm (0211 GMT Monday), was preceded just minutes earlier by a 5.8 magnitude quake with an epicenter at the same spot.

The USGS revised slightly downward its initial estimate of the strength of both quakes. Earthquake monitors in Ecuador had similar readings.   Ecuador is still reeling from a deadly 7.8-magnitude quake that struck on April 16.   At least 673 people were killed in the April 16 quake, and more than 6,000 injured, according to official figures.

The quake flattened homes and buildings up and down a long stretch of Pacific coast, reducing picturesque resort towns to rubble.   Ecuadoran authorities urged calm late Sunday, and said they should expect more tremors, all aftershocks of the April earthquake.   President Rafael Correa said there would be no classes on Monday in the quake-affected area so that school buildings could be inspected for structural safety.

At least one person was injured in the quake, Security Minister Cesar Navas said, adding that the Esmeraldas oil refinery and the province's port reported no damage.   "We're going to have this type of earthquakes for a long time," said Alexandra Alvarado, head of the Geophysical Institute, in an interview with the Ecuavisa network.

Blackouts were reported in several area cities, and landslides were reported on mountainous roads.   "Another very strong one. Again the nightmare," Santo Domingo resident Marcela Arellano told AFP.   She said that in the streets "children were crying, and everyone was scared."   According to the Geophysical Institute, there have been 2,134 aftershocks since the April 16 earthquake. The strongest aftershocks came in May and was of magnitude 6.8.   The late Sunday earthquake was also felt in parts of Colombia, officials in the neighboring country said.
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