Reaching the Galápagos Islands, the legendary archipelago 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, had once—a mere 10 years ago—felt like a journey to the end of the earth. No longer. Opinion was divided when I told friends where I was headed. “Stunning. It changed my life,” said one. “The Galápagos? It’s over—ruined,” said another. “Don’t bother.” Indeed, in 2007, UNESCO put the Galápagos on its list of world heritage sites in danger. Cruise ships, carbon miles! Was it wrong to go? Why not just stay home and watch Planet Earth? The answer surprised me.
© Brown W. Cannon III
I was making this trip under the auspices of Lindblad Expeditions. Lars-Eric Lindblad has been called the father of ecotourism because his expeditions in the 1950s to destinations like Easter Island, the Amazon and the Galápagos were run under the philosophy of experiencing a place, appreciating it and leaving it untouched. In 1979, his son Sven founded Lindblad Expeditions, a ship-based extension of his father’s trips. More recently, the company has created local conservation and philanthropic initiatives to help combat the impact of large-scale tourism. And last year, Lindblad Expeditions partnered with Chefs Collaborative, a U.S. nonprofit network of more than 5,000 eco-minded members, to launch Chefs-at-Sea. The goal of the program: to teach passengers sustainability lessons that they can bring back home.
Joining me onboard in the role of teacher was Bruce Sherman, an F&W Best New Chef 2003 and the chef-owner of the Chicago restaurant North Pond. Sherman is one of a handful of big-deal chefs—among them Michel Nischan of the Dressing Room in Westport, Connecticut, and Barton Seaver of Blue Ridge in Washington, DC—giving cooking demonstrations and lectures on Lindblad sailings. A program on sustainable seafood, on the face of it, seemed paradoxical: Observe the beauty of marine life, then eat it? But Sherman later explained that learning about sustainable ingredients in the Galápagos is as valuable as learning about them in Illinois. “It just seems more exotic,” he says.