IGTOA Returns to the Galapagos Islands for Its 2017 Member Meeting

Last month, IGTOA’s annual member meeting in Puerto Ayora brought together representatives from nine IGTOA member companies, as well as various conservation organizations and local officials for a series of interesting and productive discussions. The festivities kicked off on the evening of Wednesday, November 15 with a lively IGTOA-sponsored cocktail reception at the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS), where we enjoyed meeting and mingling with CDRS scientists and administrators as well partners and friends from the Galapagos National Park directorate and the various conservation organizations we've supported over the years. 

On Thursday morning, after a brief members-only meeting to review organizational finances and the status of current IGTOA projects, we sat down with officials from the Galapagos National Park Directorate’s public use department to discuss our concerns about the rapid growth of Galapagos tourism and to learn more about current and proposed strategies for dealing with the many challenges facing the park. The original impetus for the meeting was IGTOA’s official Position Statement on Tourism Growth in the Galapagos Islands, which our members ratified in late 2016.  We also presented information on IGTOA’s new onboard fundraising program and discussed ideas for how IGTOA and the park might continue to work together to further improve the quality of guiding in the islands. Other topics of discussion included how IGTOA members could help the park to monitor emblematic species and support the park’s Explora Galapagos program, which introduces local residents to the wonders of the national park. Finally, we discussed the possibility of formalizing an official agreement between IGTOA and the park to forward our common aims. Stay tuned for more information on these ideas as they develop. 

That afternoon, we heard presentations from some of the organizations that have requested grants from IGTOA this year, including WildAid, Island Conservation, the Charles Darwin Foundation, and Ecology Project International. We also welcomed Maria Casafont, WWF-Ecuador’s tourism program director, who presented information on Observio de Turismo, an innovative platform that allows guides to report on what they see in the national park and provides a database of critical information for park managers. Finally, Dr. Godfrey Merlen shared his vision for an educational program designed to teach visitors about the importance of inspecting their shoes and clothing in order to prevent the arrival of new invasive species in the islands. 

On Friday morning, we sat down with two of IGTOA’s certified guide trainers, Sofia DeWitt and Carolina Angermeyer, as well as Maria Casafont and Dr. Arturo Izurieta, the director of the Charles Darwin Foundation, to discuss the current status of guide training and certification programs in the Galapagos Islands and ways in which the process can be improved going forward. 

That afternoon, we set out to visit some of the projects and organizations that IGTOA provided grants to in 2016. Our first stop was the offices of the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency, where we enjoyed a demonstration of the IGTOA-sponsored K-9 sniffer unit, which is trained to detect harmful organic materials, including seeds and invasive snails, at ports of entry. We then headed off to Darwin Animal Doctors, where veterinarians, with financial support from IGTOA, provide free, humane sterilization and disease testing for local dogs and cats. After that, we visited the offices of Ecology Project International, which IGTOA has helped fund for the past five years.  We sat in on a Friday afternoon meeting of Ecology Project International’s Mola Mola Club, an eco-club for local teenagers. We learned about the various conservation and research projects that club members are currently engaged in. A few days prior to the meeting, several us had the opportunity to visit Floreana Island with representatives from Island Conservation to learn more about the Floreana Biodiversity Heritage Community Campaign, which IGTOA provided financial support to last year. 

Several of us also had the opportunity to go aboard several of the vessels that are participating in IGTOA’s new onboard fundraising program and see how it has been implemented and to discuss questions and concerns about the program with guides and crewmembers. Though the program just launched and there are still some challenges to overcome, we’re already seeing strong signs that the program has the potential to raise a lot of money to support Galapagos conservation.  

I’d like to thank all of IGTOA’s members who participated in this year’s meeting: Jim Lutz (Vaya Adventures, Board President), Jonathan Brunger (Adventure Life, Board Secretary), Jennifer Gillmore (Travel Beyond, Board Member), Todd Smith (Adventure Smith, Board Member), and Angela Corkin (Andean Discovery). 

I would especially like to thank the companies that are participating in IGTOA's recently launched Galapagos Conservation Partner Program (GCPP), our new membership program exclusively for cruise companies. GCPP representatives included Marcel Perkins (Latin Trails), Melissa Sotomayor (Ecoventura), and Roberto Caceres (Haugan Cruises).

Matt Kareus

Matt is the Executive Director of IGTOA.

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