We visited the most unique living museum of evolutionary
changes, and got to know a variety of exotic species exclusive to this
Archipelago! The Galápagos Islands are the perfect setting to experience the
evolutionary changes that have led to a new understanding of life on Earth.
Animals unafraid of man and so different from any others found elsewhere, make
visitors wonder about their very existence on our planet. Among the animals
found are the different species of giant 'Galápagos' tortoises that gave the
islands their name due to the similarity of their carapaces to a kind of horse
saddle called 'galapago' in Spanish. A variety of birds are found: from
blue-footed, red-footed and masked boobies, flamingos, frigate birds, and
albatrosses, to unique small penguins and non-flying cormorants, and the 14
different species of finches which served Darwin as proof for his theory of
evolution by natural selection; among others. Marine mammals such as sea lions,
dolphins and whales are also found; as well as a number of fishes. Among the
flora, the most distinctive are mangroves and endemic cacti.
The Galápagos house an incredibly high rate of endemic species.
In 1835, Charles Darwin sailed on the British ship
H.M.S. Beagle and visited the islands. His writings on the theory of the origin
of species, which shook up the scientific world, where inspired by the living
proof that he found in this unique volcanic Archipelago. His observations and
studies can be confirmed by all those who choose to make this unforgettable trip
to the fascinating and mysterious Galápagos.
The islands are located 600 miles from the Ecuadorian
coast. In 1936 they were declared a National Park to preserve the flora and
fauna of the 13 large islands, 6 minor ones and more than 40 islets. The origin
of the Galapagos Islands is volcanic. The islands appeared from lava eruptions
that came from the bottom of the ocean and that rise as much as 2600 feet above
sea level. Lava formed more than 2000 craters has continuously altered the
terrain of the region. The last significant eruption was in 1825 and since then
Isabella Island has shown some volcanic activity. Variables such as climate,
altitude and texture of the land on the islands, have made their distinct
vegetation and animal life appear.
In 1959 the Government, along with the Internationally
recognized Charles Darwin Foundation, UNESCO and other scientific organizations,
established a biological research station on the islands. This facility is also
headquarters for visiting scientists engaged in special research programs. All
tours take you to visit the Station. Scientists greet visitors while they
instruct on the marvels of the islands.
the biggest problem affecting the
biodiversity of the Archipelago are the introduced species of animals and
plants, that have meant a big threat to the native and endemic species of the
islands. Thus, a 'quarantine' is required at the entrance to the Park.
For more information about the Galapagos, you
can visit the following web site:
Charles Darwin Foundation: wvwv.darwinfoundation.org
We stayed for 4 nights onboard the Galapagos Adventure I yacht.
Cabins were air-conditioned, but we spent little time there.
We swam around the boat when anchored or were off to the beach snorkeling
on the islands. John went
snorkeling every day.
the individual islands we visisted:
We left Quito and flew to Baltra Island in the Galápagos. We met our
naturalist, John, then were bused from the airport to our yacht. John gave
us an orientation, including conservation techniques suggested by the Galápagos
We started with a cruise to the lovely Santiago
(James) Island. We were greeted with black sandy beach and fur seals.
Tidal pools reveal a profusion of octopi, starfishes, and other undersea
life. The rare fur seals that were once on the verge of extinction cavort
nearby, and we often spot oyster catchers, blue herons, and yellow-crowned
We snorkeled and swam in the warm water.
In the afternoon we came to Bartolome,
one of the youngest islands. Bartolome displays a fantastic landscape of
lava formations – including its famous signature, Pinnacle Rock. The
mangroves often hide mating sea turtles; we spotted three penguins on some rocks
by the beach.
We then landed on the
other side of the island to climb to the lighthouse on top - the elevation went
up 500 feet and there were 385 wooden steps to the top. We had a beautiful
The next day we are at
one of the most spectacular islands. This caldera of a
partially eroded volcano frames gorgeous Darwin Bay. It has extensive coral
formations where we swam and snorkeled. Bird life includes lava and
swallow-tailed gulls, and ground finches. In the salt bush forests we find
nesting colonies of great frigate birds and masked and red-footed boobies.
We next cruised to South Plaza Island where the
sea lions greet us raucously as we step ashore.
We also find land iguanas busy eating the opuntia cactus flowers and cactus pads. There
are colonies of swallow-tailed gulls, shearwaters, and red-billed tropic birds.
In the afternoon we arrive at Santa Fe (Barrington) where
we hike through a forest of opuntia cactus,
where land iguana doze, and then snorkel in clear water with coral reefs,
manta rays, sea turtles, and colorful
schools of fish. I had the opportunity to swim with a school (about 20) of
seals. They were very playful and followed us, biting on our fins and coming
right up almost nose-to-nose. What an experience!
Cruz IslandWe arrived at the town of Puerto Ayora then jumped into a pickup truck for
the short drive to the Research Center. We heard about and saw the
scientific projects and conservation efforts including a successful breeding
program for the endangered Giant Tortoise.
Once in danger of extinction, a large number of the Giant Tortoises have been
returned to their natural habitat. There is also an excellent museum. At the
station we only saw the Saddle-backed Tortoises.
On our way to Santa Cruz Island, one of the boat engines had a fuel
line that clogged and was taken out of service. We needed to arrive at the Charles
Darwin Research Center before dark. John, our naturalist, radioed to have
a smaller boat come out and take us to the center.
We returned to the Galapagos Adventure I yacht
after dark. We could not believe how many large boats and yachts were at
anchor in the harbor. Most of our landings on the smaller islands only had
one or two other boats nearby. We spent our last night on board then were bused
across the island to a ferry boat for a short ride to Baltra Island and the
airport. We then left to fly to Quayaquil then back to Quito.
Other islands that we did not visit and interesting critters that live there:
This island, formed by six huge shield volcanoes joined together by extensive
lava flows, is by far the largest in the
Galápagos. For hundreds of years the old sailing ships
stopped at Tagus Cove to supply themselves with water and giant tortoises for
fresh meat. Names and dates are carved in rock to record the visits.
Penguins, shearwaters, and many other birds thrive here.
This is the youngest and most active volcano in the Galápagos with eruptions
taking place every few years. Its steep flanks are streaked by lava flows,
only a few of which are old enough to support islands of vegetation. Punta Espinoza
reveals a stark landscape, barren except for an occasional clump of cactus and
the green fringe of Mangrove. Along the shoreline vast colonies of marine
iguanas bask in the sun, often watched over by a Galápagos hawk. There
are also flightless cormorants building their nests and sea lions playing in the
A reddish beach and steep volcanic slopes give this island a
Dormido (Kicker Rock)
Around this sheer 500-foot tuff cone formation is where
blue-footed boobies and sea lions abound.
island is best known for its colorful history of buccaneers, pirates, whalers,
convicts, and colonists. In 1793 the Post Office barrel was established by
British whalers to send letters to and from England. This tradition
continues to this day. A lagoon near Punta Cormorant is frequented by
pintails, stilts, and perhaps the pinkest flamingoes in the world.
The Galápagos' largest colony of magnificent frigate birds
is found here, as are blue-footed boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, sea lions, and
the occasional Galápagos snake.
San Cristobal Island
The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (also
called Chatham) is the sleepy capital of the Galápagos province. Ochoa Beach
boasts pelicans and other sea birds, as well as a delightful swimming beach.
In the highland farm area is El Junco, the only freshwater lake in the
Galápagos. Just off the coast of this island is where the oil spill occurred a few months before our arrival.
is one of the oldest islands. It is small and flat, with no visible
volcanic crater or vent. Gardner Bay on the eastern shore offers the
islands' most magnificent beach. It is used by a transient colony of sea
lions, and is a major nesting site for marine turtles. This island is the
nesting site of almost all the world's waved albatross, huge birds with a 6-foot
wing span. Punta Suarez is one of the most outstanding wildlife areas of
the archipelago, with a long list of species found along its cliffs and sand or
pebble beaches. Several types of reptiles, including the brilliantly
colored marine iguana and the oversized lava lizard, are unique to this island.
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