On Wednesday of this week, a tourist ship named the M/S Alta ran aground, and became stuck on a reef in the Galapagos islands while entering the harbor at Puerto Ayora, along the southern coast of Santa Cruz island. The extent of the ecological damage to the reef has yet to be determined, but fortunately no one aboard was injured in the accident, which was caused, at least in part, due to a malfunctioning lighthouse that normally marks the entrance to the harbor.
The 140-foot long sailing ship is operated by Quasar Expeditions and was carrying 16 Canadian passengers, 8 Ecuadorian crew members, and an Ecuadorian National Park Guide at the time of the incident. All of the passengers were evacuated from the boat, and spent the night in a nearby, ocean front hotel, before continuing on to Darwin Station and the Santa Cruz Highlands the following day. They did cut their tour a day short however, leaving the islands yesterday, rather than today as scheduled.
As of Friday, efforts were underway to remove the Alta from the reef, but the process is a slow one, and caution must be exercised in order to contain any fuel that may have spilled. Initial reports indicated that as much as 3500 gallons had leaked into the harbor, but later reports refuted that number, saying that no leaks had been found. All the fuel will be pumped out of the ship before it is pulled off the reef and into dock for a complete inspection before it returns to service.
One of the hottest topics in sustainable travel over the past few years has been the impact of tourism on the fragile environments of the Galapagos. Fortunately, it seems that this incident will not have any long lasting effects on the region, and it seems like the Alta will be back in service shortly.