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An American's Guide to Galápagos: Punta Pitt's Sea Lions

Punta Pitt
On San Cristóbal Island's far northeastern point is a spectacular sea lion colony at a landing beach called Punta Pitt.  This spot is best known among tourists as the only visitor site of the Galápagos archipelago where is possible to see the three different species of boobies (Blue-footed, Nazca or Masked, and Red-footed) and the two species of Frigatebirds (Magnificent and Great) and all nesting in the same area.  Here there is enough food to avoid competition between them. Punta Pitt is also known among visitors for its spectacular views, as the high volcanic tuffs provide excellent scenic viewpoints.  
For me it was all about the lovely yellow-sand beach and the huge sea lion colony that calls this beach home.  I was mesmerized by the sea lion's socializing, swimming, napping, scratching and in general adorableness.  I could stay here for days observing sea lion society.  So while others were hiking the barren volcanic cliffs in search of sea birds I spent my day swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, and photographing these sea lions. 
I arrived by boat, as did most Galápagos tourists in the past.  But there is a growing land-based Galápagos tourism business and there are serious concerns that such tourism may threaten these fragile and irreplaceable island ecosystems.  More about land-based Galápagos tourism below.  

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Throughout this post are some of my photos and videos of a day at Punta Pitt.  A visit to Punta Pitt is a very rare and exceptional treat.

Is Land Tourism Threatening the Galápagos?

Revenue from tourism has helped protect parks on the islands, tour operators say, but they are worried that popular land-based trips could harm beaches and wildlife.
Is the growth of land-based tourism in the Galápagos, the Ecuadorean islands in the Pacific Ocean, a good thing for its wildlife and ecosystems or is it harmful?

According to the International Galápagos Tour Operators Association, a group of 35 tour operators, it is both.

In February, the group sent a letter to Ecuador’s tourism minister, Enrique Ponce de León, to express its concern that the growth of land-based tourism in the Galápagos Islands has the potential to harm its much-photographed landscapes and beaches as well as its famous wildlife such as giant tortoises, sea lions and iguanas. 
The letter asked Mr. Ponce de León to limit and more carefully regulate land tourism; as of late May, the tourism minister had not responded to the letter, according to the association’s executive director, Matt Kareus.

Cruises traditionally have been the most popular way to explore the Galápagos. Mr. Kareus said that from the early 1970s to the early 2000s, most tourists to the islands were on cruises. However, ship-based tourism is a tightly controlled industry because Ecuador’s government has placed a cap on the number of berths (beds) allowed on the Galápagos cruise ship fleet.

“Unlike cruises, land-based tourism is loosely regulated, and because of that, this segment of the tourism industry is growing dangerously fast,” Mr. Kareus said.
According to statistics from Galápagos National Park, the number of visitors to the islands increased by 39 percent between 2007 and 2016 to 225,000 from 161,000. During that same period, the number of visitors on land-based tours jumped 92 percent to 152,000 from 79,000. At the same time, ship-based tourism decreased by 11 percent from around 82,000 visitors to around 73,000.


Galápagos travel experts and locals say that land tourism is rising so rapidly because hotel development has exploded on the islands in the past decade. A 2007 study from the Charles Darwin Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes wildlife research, reported that there were 65 hotels on the islands in 2006. In 2017, that number increased to 317, according to the Galápagos Tourism Observatory.
Andrew Balfour, a Galápagos native and the general manager of Pikaia Lodge, an upscale 14-room hotel on Santa Cruz Island, in the heart of the Galápagos archipelago, said that many of the new properties are budget-friendly and attract a large number of tourists. “You see hotels here that are extremely inexpensive, and that never used to exist,” he said. (Historically, the Galápagos have been an expensive vacation destination.)


Dr. Andrea Smith, an environmental scientist who has worked in the Galápagos, said that new hotels require new roads, infrastructure and sewage systems and involve shipments from the mainland. “The more shipments you have, the higher the risk of invasive species, and these are a major threat to the fragile ecosystem,” she said.
More people have moved to the Galápagos to work in land-based tourism, and this increase in population is also a threat to its wildlife, Dr. Smith said, because a larger population requires more infrastructure. According to the Ecuadorean National Census of 2010, 25,100 people live in the Galápagos, and the population on the islands grew by 60 percent from 1999 to 2005.

The tour operators’ association emphasized that it does not want to ban land-based tourism in the Galápagos. “We are not saying ‘don’t come here,’” said Jim Lutz, the president of the tour group’s board and the founder and president of Vaya Adventures, a Berkeley, Calif., company that sells Galápagos trips. “We are saying let’s control how many people can come.”


Mr. Lutz said that tourism has helped the Galápagos thrive: in past decades and centuries, pirates and whaling ships exploited the islands, especially by stealing its wildlife.

“There are stories of how whaling ships would come and fill their ship holds with the giant tortoises who live on the islands,” he said. Tourism protects the islands, according to Mr. Lutz, because the money generated from visitors allows for the monitoring and protection of Galápagos National Park and the Galápagos Marine Reserve, which he said is expensive and complicated.
The Silver Galapagos luxury liner anchored at Punta Pitt
Zodiacs monitor passengers who are snorkeling with sea lions
in the cove at the Punta Pitt beach.
He encourages travelers who are seeking a beach getaway or want to go fishing to consider destinations other than the Galápagos. “These activities exist in many places, and you don’t need to go to the Galápagos to get them,” he said. “The islands are a place for those who are interested in ecotourism.”
The waves were not bad but there was a terrific swell around these
nameless rocks at Punta Pitt. We joked that if we were not rescued by a zodiac
then it was a success.  Most were.  I was not.
Marc Patry, a member of the association’s board and the owner of the Ottawa travel company CNH Tours, which sells Galápagos trips, also said he welcomes land-based tourism to the islands but added that it should be high-quality tourism. “We want a small number of travelers, and they should care about sustainability,” he said.


Overtourism isn’t an issue limited to the Galápagos: Venice, Italy, is among the cities that have been affected by overcrowding from tourism. In December, the World Travel & Tourism Council and the consulting firm McKinsey & Company released a co-authored report, “Coping With Success: Managing Overcrowding in Tourism Destinations,” which looked at the impact overtourism can have.

“Overtourism is becoming more of a problem because the number of travelers globally is increasing,” said Rochelle Turner, the tourism council’s research director. “Tourism can grow, but it needs to do so in a way that’s safe.”
As with any popular destination, the Galápagos should have a long-term plan in place to manage land-based tourism, Ms. Turner said. That plan should involve economists, scientists and nongovernmental organizations. “In an ideal world, these groups would work together and come up with a strategy to protect the environment and the local people and grow the tourism industry at the same time,” she said.

A version of this article appears in print on June 3, 2018, on Page TR2 of the New York edition with the headline: Land-Based Tourism in the Galápagos Prompts a Warning.

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The Best and Worst of the Tony Awards 2018

June 11, 2018
Ari’el Stachel gave a heartfelt speech about struggling with his identity as he accepted the prize for best featured actor in a musical.Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Here’s a look at the most memorable moments — for better or for worse — of the 2018 Tony Awards, compiled by our chief theater critics, Ben Brantley and Jesse Green; the editor and reporter Joshua Barone; and the theater editor, Scott Heller. As Mr. Brantley put it on Sunday night, “This is the best advertisement for theater on network television in a long time, if not ever.”

Best: Love for the Losers

Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles’s opening number at the Tony Awards was an anthem for losers.Theo Wargo/Getty Images North America, via (Credit Too Long, See Caption)
The disarming opening number by the hosts Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles — in which they joked about never winning awards themselves — beautifully balanced modesty and affection for performing and set the tone for the evening. Their double piano act was a sendup of their own mainstream mellifluousness, self-satirizing and sentimental all at once.

Worst: No Love for the Writers

Jack Thorne, who won a prize for writing “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” was drowned out by the orchestra as he tried to give his speech.Lucas Jackson/Reuters
The people who are actually most fundamental to the creation of the works the Tonys honor were the most ruthlessly sidelined on the broadcast itself. That David Yazbek created the best score of the year for “The Band’s Visit” went unnoticed by television audiences. And Jack Thorne, who wrote “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” never got to speak from the stage. Even Lin-Manuel Miranda noticed, urging “Justice for @JackThorne” on Twitter. (You can watch Mr. Thorne’s offstage remarks here.)

Best: The Personal as Political

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School performed “Seasons of Love” in one of the ceremony’s emotional high points.Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
The show rose to a strained moment in American history with warmth, grace and a vindication of theater’s special skill for bringing people together.
Ari’el Stachel, a surprise winner as best supporting actor for his performance in “The Band’s Visit,” spoke movingly about the power of living one’s ethnic identity honestly onstage. His castmate Tony Shalhoub, accepting a Tony as best actor in a musical, spoke of his father’s arrival at Ellis Island (from Lebanon) 100 years ago.
The politics were personal, mediated by a love of theater. There was no greater example than watching the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students sing “Seasons of Love” from “Rent.”

Best²: Calling Out the President

Robert De Niro’s language was muted for CBS viewers.Michael Zorn/Invision
The one discordant note was also the note people are still talking about: Robert De Niro’s expletive-dotted castigation of President Trump, delivered before introducing Bruce Springsteen’s performance. Late in the show, it blew the lid off a slowly simmering pot, and brought down the house.

Best: Doing It Her Way (of Course)

Glenda Jackson accepting her prize for “Three Tall Women.”Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Accepting her prize as best actress, the ever-flinty 82-year-old Glenda Jackson referred to her director Joe Mantello as John. She went on to praise him for being a “worthy opponent” in the rehearsal room.

Worst: Doing It His Way (Unapologetically)

John Tiffany, the director of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” encouraged audience participation from the stage.Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
The “Cursed Child” director, John Tiffany, asked the whole audience to sing “Happy Birthday” to his boyfriend. Even on television, you could see the birthday boy turn a deep shade of beet. (Mr. Tiffany’s postshow defense: “When else am I going to get the chance to get all of Radio City to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to my boyfriend? Wouldn’t you do that?”)
The “Blow High, Blow Low” number showed off Justin Peck’s award-winning choreography for “Carousel.”Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
It’s good when shows choose to represent themselves for their truest and most important qualities, rather than simply patch together catchy moments. “Carousel” opted not to do a medley or even a well-known song, instead staging the rousing dance number “Blow High, Blow Low.” And “Omar Sharif,” from “The Band’s Visit,” was a gorgeous showing of a gorgeous song, and beautifully shot — with enough close-ups of both performers to get the emotion past the TV screen.

Worst: C’mon, It’s Lifetime Achievement!

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Chita Rivera received awards for lifetime achievement. But their speeches were relegated to the preshow ceremony.Michael Zorn/Invision
When Oprah Winfrey and Meryl Streep received their lifetime achievement awards at the Golden Globes, they gave long, headline-making speeches. At the Tonys, Chita Rivera and Andrew Lloyd Webber got a shared montage with three-second snippets of their greatest hits. They deserved more, and better.

Best: The Last Word

Ms. Rivera ended her speech with a quip.Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Off camera, Ms. Rivera’s remarks were delicious, and she ended with a promise: “There’s still some salt left in this shaker!”
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