The Happy Couple

by cheri block

Meet Harvey and Helen, two marine iguanas (yes, marine iguanas). My professor,  Carter A. Hunt, sent me this photograph yesterday from the Galapagos Islands, along with his gracious suggestions for my latest long paper. I have been reading about the Galapagos since early April and have just finished my sixth book on the topic.

I had no idea that the Galapagos now are home to over 30,000 people, that invasive species such as feral cats, donkeys, and goats  threaten the habitat of the 13 species of giant tortoise, of penguins (yes, penguins  at the equator) and of flightless cormorants (yes, flightless).

I had no idea that the Charles Darwin Research Center and other agencies participated in a program to eradicate 130,00 feral goats from Isabella and Santiago Islands in 2005 and were successful.

I had no idea that a number of devout Christians go to the Galapagos in tour groups and somehow come away still believing in Creationism.

One only has to think about the concept of a marine iguana to understand evolution and adaptability.

My paper is not about animals, birds, or amphibians but rather concerns the tension between development and conservation in the production of shade-grown coffee, a topic that fascinates me because I had never  considered my morning cup of coffee for anything other than its taste. When I visited Peet’s or Starbuck’s Coffee, I never thought about terms like Fair Trade, organic, or shade-grown. Shame on me.

Carter A. Hunt and William Durham, my professors, tell me that even on the Galapagos Islands, a sustainable shade-grown organic coffee farm exists.

I contacted Robert A. Rice, a geographer and one of the leading proponents of Bird Friendly Coffee (R) who works at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center in Washington D.C. He has graciously provided me with pathways to understanding shade-grown coffee–what it is, where it is grown, who grows it, who buys it, and what it does and does not do for the environment.

These topics and more have prevented me from finishing my story about gratitude and where it went.

I do apologize.

About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
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29 Responses to The Happy Couple

  1. Rosemary Feeley Foreman says:

    Oooh, I love all things Galapagos!!! What a great tidbit…!!! I have a friend who wants to go in the fall… I am tempted!!! Thanks for our Saturday morning “Bonne Journee’!!!”

    • Cheri says:

      I understand going to the Galapagos is a trip that should be well-researched. One of the problems with eco-tourism is that some ships/tours/tour operators/etc. are not particularly concerned with the environment at all. Many of the Galapaguenos are poor, having fled mainland Ecuador for a place that several early explorers there said, “…was not for human inhabitance.” I am considering going with Stanford in July 2013 but not sure I want to see the results of humanity there…

      • Rosemary Feeley Foreman says:

        I had heard only of the National Geographic Society’s trip. The Stanford one would be amazing!!

  2. Great post! Those are the sorts of topics that are supposed to distract us from what we intended to do.

    • Cheri says:

      Thanks Tom. I’ve been very busy trying to get up to speed about the Galapagos. Nothing like a little homework to force the issue.

  3. Richard says:

    I had always imagined the Galapagos a remote natural laboratory in pristine condition. It surprises and disappoints me that that is not the case. Is this so for all the islands? What protections are in place? Is the finch variation intact? What is the significance of the shade-grown coffee farm there – is there a threat from non-friendly coffee?

    Yet again feral humans are bent on destruction. Only another factor in the evolutionary process, I suppose.

  4. Cheri says:

    From what I understand, the human carbon footprint (complete with bordellos, trash, uneducated ruffians and the like) is prevalent on several of the islands. Most of them are too rugged and waterless for people. UNESCO protects the Galapagos, but in my view, the real problem lies with the inept and corrupt governance of Ecuador which has had 7 or more leaders in 14 years..or something like that. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that Latin America has a history of corrupt governance, generally speaking. I haven’t read the book out in the last ten years titled “Darwin’s Finches” but my professor Durham says it’s terrific. One intriguing bit I read and heard in lecture is that there have been evolutionary changes in finches’ beaks in only 1-2 years after an El Nino year. In 1-2 years! We usually think of evolution as glacial…

    There is no threat from sun-grown coffee and its production by-products because the topography is too harsh. I was surprised to learn coffee was grown there but again, I knew ZERO about the Galapagos before taking this class.

    I’d love to photograph the blue-footed booby, who stamps his foot as part of the mating process. I understand that almost all of the species that are afraid of humans do not feel that way in the Galapagos. A hawk will land on your arm.

    But, because of increased eco-tourism with the multiplicity of camera flashes, when approaching the penguins on the shore, visitors find that the penguins now turn their backs.

    Tui De Roy’s book on the Galapagos is stunning. Informative, up-to-date, and visually alluring.

    • I visited the Galapagos a few years ago and my pessimistic view is that it has just turned into a big tourist draw. It’s about as much about nature as an exhibit at Disneyworld but without people picking up the litter. Jump off the boat, harrass an iguana or a seal, get a picture you can post on Facebook and then go shopping. Our guide was a native and a naturalist and told us a lot about what was happening. He said that he once killed a feral cat and the people in his tour group freaked and complained to the company and the tourist board. He said they told him to make sure no one was looking the next time.

    • Richard says:

      “… We usually think of evolution as glacial …”

      So resistant are we to the idea of change and variation in species that it is easy to persuade us that characteristics of living things arise over long periods. In reality, it is the variation in individuals and their struggle to survive in an environment of competing organisms and amid geological and climatic change which drives evolution. One generation is enough for natural selection to do its work, the more so in large populations. It sometimes takes time, of course, for these tiny changes to become perceptible to us, but not always as long as we might imagine. Evolution would not take place if the environment were not, on average, relatively less changeable – individuals simply wouldn’t survive at all. Beyond that, the laws of change remain constant throughout.The large number of species tells us that evolution itself has been going on for a long time rather than that individual changes are slow.

      Human selection, much of it unconscious, also demonstrates the how speedy change can be – it is the same mechanism.

      Some humans want to preserve the environment as it is, others blindly to exploit it, yet others believe there is a compromise. Which, I ask myself, are more likely to prevail and survive? There is no room, alas, for sentimentality, though there may be for altruism.

  5. Cyberquill says:

    I read these marine iguanas don’t venture too far from shore when they go for a swim. So technically, they’re more like coastguard iguanas.

    • Richard says:

      A very commendable observation, all the way from Austria.

    • Cheri says:

      Thank you for this informative comment and making the relationship between natural selection and human selection. Alas, I tend to agree with Tom’s observation, based on two books: Plundering Paradise by D’Orso and Galapagos at the Crossroads by Bassett. Both books were too chatty for me but aptly characterized the many “characters” who have landed on the Galapagos.

    • Cheri says:

      I think you are very funny. Good one.
      I’ll be in Germany soon. Can I email you for translation if things get dicey?

  6. Richard says:

    If, Cheri and Thomas, by “environmentalist” we mean one who seeks to preserve the environment, the term is vacuous. The environment is always there. It is the medium through which evolution by natural selection functions by means of survival and extinction.

    Aware that a globally successful species has its own destruction written within it, the “environmentalist” seeks to preserve the status quo: to halt or reverse the evolutionary process, to deny the very reason for “bio-diversity”.

    If the planet is becoming inimical to our species, how much more important it is that there should be selection for individuals who can survive those rigours. Perhaps they are those feral tourists; perhaps those tourist groups carry the genes, modified over the next five billion years, to take intelligent life beyond the confines of Earth as it is consumed by an expanding Sun; perhaps the descendants of shade-grown coffee will prevent the necessary adaptations through caffeine-poisoning.

    Moral issues (and human-induced climate-change is an example of a quasi-moral issue) are irrelevant to overriding natural forces.

    I just wonder – that’s all.

    • imagenmots says:

      You posit a real problem and there is no easy solution to it. I guess we can only hope that trying to better things we do not mess them up further. But then only one who does nothing does not commit errors…but his inactivity is, of itself, his biggest error. (Forgot who said that, but she or he was bloody right..)

      • Richard says:

        Risk has to be calculated, Paul.

        If in doubt, do nowt ! Change will happen whether we intervene or not. There is courage in restrain as well as in action.

        • potsoc says:

          “Courage in restrain…” in as much as it is not synonimous with letting go and doing nothing when something can be done. Let`s not go back to Munich.

          • Richard says:

            Hitler and Nature are on a somewhat different scale, Paul ! 🙂 Nature’s laws are already in charge and will remain so.

            I heard of a theory once that Chamberlain deliberately bought time at Munich.

  7. potsoc says:

    I also heard that theory about “buying time”; in hindsight he bought more time for Hitler than for England and us.
    As for Nature it sure has it’s laws and operates happily without us. However our actions can have a good or a bad influence on our surroundings and that part we can do something about otherwise why bother to cure sicknesses, wear spectacles or put on hearing aids? Cutting the Amazon rain forest or draining marshes are certainly not according to Nature’s laws for instance.

    • Richard says:

      You may well be right, Paul. It all depends what is in the long-term good. We are the product of Nature’s laws and they are very much with us.

  8. Richard says:

    The marvel is, Paul, that despite all-pervading natural laws we appear able to direct, by simple acts of will, in a limited way and in accordance with those laws, all the forces of Nature.

    As you point out, that same will may nurture and create or starve and destroy. Discriminating between these is the foundation of morality. I must apply the faculty of reason in making my choices, not impulse and emotion, for they are poor guides to conduct – as the rise of the Third Reich demonstrates.

    This does not mean that I should deny emotion or reject its delights, just that I should endeavour to subject my decisions to rational judgment.

    There are, of course, times when reason alone fails us and we are forced to leap in the dark, as happened in 1939. Those times are rare, though, and come only after long deliberation. Winston Churchill’s conclusions were reached after a lifetime of reflection, painstaking research and analysis and the experience of having made some disastrous decisions; he knew the risks and unknowns that war with Germany involved. Man travelled to the Moon in full knowledge of the risks but only after careful and cautious preparation.

    Much atrocity is committed as a result of a misunderstanding of Darwin’s work and the belief that it is universally applicable in areas that Darwin never intended. Here, though, the environmentalist may be working against the very mechanism for survival. Or maybe not – and that is the dilemma which gives pause for thought.

    • imagenmots says:

      This takes us back to Shakespears “To be or not to be?”. Otherwise said “TO act or not to act?”
      See what Cheri can do with two lizards!

  9. Rosemary Feeley Foreman says:

    Hi there!! I’ve missed hearing from this blog…
    I found this trip on the REI website….just FYI….Happy Summer….and hope we can solve the mystery in the fall??? I hope to head to France (seul?) and rent a car and putter around for 3 weeks….Septembre!!! Bon vacances!

    • Cheri says:

      Hi Rosemary,
      Thanks for the link and for checking in. I have been traveling and also doing so much homework for school that I haven’t felt like writing. I’m taking a little blog vacation. Your trip to France sounds lovely; as you know, September is a perfect time to be there.

    • Richard says:

      I followed that link, Rosemary. I had no idea that tourism was so highly developed on the islands. How directed are these trips towards the geological and biological interest?

      Reminds me, must get myself a pair of those azure socks.

      • Rosemary Feeley Foreman says:

        Hi Richard…the classes I have taken onsite at REI have been amazingly respectful & intelligent, and i would imagine the REI crowd on this trip would expect no less. I have always admired the management of REI; although I now am going to let go of any plans to ever see the Galapagos Islands…and focus on parts of Europe I haven’t seen yet (which means most of Europe..)…and immerse myself in le sud de France to catch up on my (desperate) search of French fluency….
        Bons vacances, tous le monde!

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