My experience at sea allowed me to spend six nights exploring the Eastern Isles aboard Santa Cruz II, Hurtigruten’s first Galápagos cruise, which uses a Metropolitan Touring vessel that can accommodate up to 90 passengers.
During shore visits with the ship’s naturalists, we encounter playful sea lions on the Mosquera sandbar and spend time with land iguanas lounging near cacti on tiny Santa Fe Island, the only place in the world where these iguanas do exist. The birding highlights are many: nesting colonies of frigate birds on North Seymour Island, males with extensive cherry-red crops and a Nazca Booby with fluffy, snowball-white chicks on the island. Island of Española. And sublime snorkeling experiences include the chance to swim for 20 minutes at a time with giant Galápagos green turtles and white tip reef sharks. In Santa Cruz, we visit a giant tortoise restoration initiative to learn how the creature’s diversity on different islands informed Darwin’s theories of evolution.
The responsibility of protecting these sacred shores can weigh heavily on visitors. But from the smallest actions and decisions, personal responsibility can count in making Galapagos a sustainable destination. “Every tourist should think about how to reduce their carbon footprint,” says Gustavo Manrique. “Of course, you can eat salmon imported from Chile, or choose local fish instead, such as brujo [scorpion fish]fished in those waters, so the money stays local.
Actions as simple as reusing a water bottle, avoiding single-use plastic and removing non-recyclable waste from the islands upon departure should be part of the modern traveler’s toolbox. But what about the big picture? For example, how to mitigate the effect of air transport on the climate, which is essential for fragile ecosystems such as those at stake on the Galápagos Islands. The reality is that we probably need to fly less, but tourism in Galapagos is essential to fund its conservation.
Metropolitan Touring is a carbon neutral operator in the region. “Our core value is taking action against our carbon footprint and funding conservation,” says Carolina Proaño-Castro, executive director of Fundación Futuro, the nonprofit that helped Metropolitan Touring work toward becoming carbon neutral. . Every aspect of its Galapagos cruises is scrutinized for carbon efficiency, from using anti-corrosion paint to deter shellfish buildup on ships, improving fuel efficiency, to providing guests with bottles reusable metal water bottles.
Customers pay a tax calculated at $16 (£13) per tonne of carbon, which funds a tangible conservation initiative: the conservation of a 6,670-acre reserve at Mashpi Lodge in the Chocó-Andino cloud forest zone in Ecuador . The levy is also being used to help establish a biological corridor in the Chocó-Andino by purchasing more forest to conserve, allowing landowners to follow more sustainable practices.
“Just as Galápagos sharks need a migration corridor to avoid being fished, connectivity is key to adapting to climate change worldwide,” says Proaño-Castro.