The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean.
They lie on the Equator west of Ecuador.
There are 18 main islands and 3 smaller ones.
I spent a week sailing around the southern part of the archipelago in the luxury motor vessel The Eclipse.
1. Santa Cruz Island
2. Rabida Island
3. Santiago Island
4. Isabela Island
5. Fernandina Island
6. Genovesa Island
7. Bartolomé Island
After a long journey to reach the islands, our first port of call in the late afternoon was Black Turtle Cove, on Santa Cruz Island; a complex maze of tranquil salt-water islets, surrounded by three different species of mangroves.
We set out in small pangas and search the waters for sea turtles, which we spot swimming in the green waters below us. A tranquil and verdant location and although the light is fading fast the reflections on the water are vibrant and beautiful. As we return to our ship we see pelicans and the infamous blue-footed boobies on the shore line.
We visited 7 Islands, each of them magical, with dramatically contrasting landscapes. Whether it’s the stark volcanic landscapes juxtaposed against the lush tropical forestation or the fact that most of the islands are uninhabited and home to a diverse collection of curios creatures, I feel I have sailed into the Land that Time Forgot.
The next morning we visited Rabida Island, a small island of red volcanic rock surrounding a striking red sand beach. As we approach the island in our panga we see pelicans fishing from the red, red rocks of the cliff face.
Pelican against the red cliffs of Rabida Island, Galapagos
The sun is bright and being in a panga on choppy waters crashing against the rocks is exciting, but not conducive to photography. I manage a few shots I am happy with and then spot a group of marine iguanas clinging to a rock. They are marvellous creatures like miniature dragons or dinosaurs.
Marine Iguanas cling to a rock in the Galapagos
I am so excited to have seen these Iguanas in their natural environment, stoically clinging onto the rocks as the waves lap over them. Moving in slow motion they climb all over each other and barely seem to flinch at the intrusion. For them time appears to move slowly. We land on the island and take a steep hike up the hillside to look back at the dramatic contours and contrasting colours of the green hill, red volcanic rock and sandy beach, the salt-water lagoon, and the cobalt blue sea. A view worth walking for ....
View from Rabida Island - The Galapgos
Apparently the lagoon used to be frequented by flamingos but after the last El Niño in 1983, they have not returned. It is believed that the trade winds slowed the central and western Pacific causing the warmest water to shift to the east, which in turn results in major changes in atmospheric circulation around the globe, forcing weather changes throughout the world. This is known as the El Niño effect. When the warm water shifts east, the cold water thermocline layer near South America drops lower into the ocean. The surface water temperature rises significantly and the supply of colder, nutrient-rich water is cut off. This nutrient supply is what sustains the algae, tiny crustaceans and shrimp that the flamingos feed on. Although the waters in the lagoon are now nutrient rich the flamingos have failed to return to this island in significant numbers. No information is available to explain why they haven’t returned. The impact of the El Niño, almost certainly as a result of global warming, highlights the delicate nature of these unique ecosystems that have evolved isolated from the continent but still cannot escape the effects of the ‘progress’ of man and the impact we have on the planet. Later in the morning we get to go snorkelling for the first time. Wetsuits are compulsory although the water is warm it is choppy and they do provide extra buoyancy – great for safety, tricky for diving and photography. The fish are colourful but not the most plentiful I’ve seen in the world but there is so much more than just fish. The seabed is strewn with large fat colourful starfish bigger than dinner plates. Just as I am marvelling at these a sea lion swims past and then doubles back to get a better look at me. I can’t believe my luck he swims round and round playing and creating a net of bubbles. He is so fast and graceful. It is beautiful to watch. Now I am truly in love with the Galápagos.
Sea lion in Galapagos
Starfish on Seabed in Galapagos
After lunch we made our way to Santiago Island where the trail leads to tidal pools that are home to a variety of invertebrate organisms, including sea urchins, octopus and starfish. Marine iguanas littered the volcanic rocks of the shoreline and we spotted some Galápagos fur sea lions basking on the rocks in the sun.
Marine Iguana - The Galapagos
The animals are fearless of humans and carry on soaking up the rays as I carefully approach them to take some close up photos. It is quite magical to be so close to these beautiful creatures without startling them. You can really feel like a part of their habitat and watch the intimate nuances of their behavior. I notice my breathing slows as I relax in their presence and despite my excitement there is a wonderful sense of calm.
Galapagos Fur Sea Lion
The Galápagos Islands are possibly unique in the world for the lack of human predation (not historically the case) and as a result the wildlife is fearless and generally unperturbed by our presence. It is such a wonderful feeling that I struggle to put it into words. On more than one occasion I have to back away as curious sea lions and other creatures approach me to check me out. There is no aggression, just curiosity, in much the same way as I am viewing them. It is a very enriching feeling. With all this interaction our guides take great pains to stress to us the importance of keeping a reasonable distance and not to touch the animals for fear of disrupting their behaviour patterns, for example a young playful seal pup if touched by human hands could retain our scent and be rejected by its mother and starve. Although these precious islands have become a popular tourist destination, they do appear to be well managed and at the moment conservation rather than money seems to be the key motivator, which is refreshing.
If you enjoyed this blog and would like to lean more about the Galapagos visit The Galapagos Conservation Trust, read their excellent articles and make a donation. The Galapagos Islands are not just a 'curiosity' they are an amazing time capsule that have enabled scientists to discover so much more about the world we live in, even how we came to be. They are an amazing and beautiful resource so if you can please donate to help all the good work the trust does.