Galápagos UNFORGETTABLE encOunters

Sitting on a volcanic hotspot 1000 kilometers west of the Ecuadorian coastline, the Galápagos islands are in a continuous state of renewal and decline. To the west of the archipelago, volcanic activity generates new land, these islands slowly move east and, over millions of years, erode and sink back into the western Pacific Ocean. Eventually their under water remnants will violently collide with the South American continent snd contribute to the great mountain range we call the Andes.

The islands' location puts them in the path of four great Pacific currents. The strong westerly south-equatorial current is joined by the warm Panama current, and the much colder and nutrient rich Humboldt and Cromwell currents. The islands and channels around them funnel these currents, bringing with them a plethora of marine life. In the far north-west, near Darwin Island, under a magnificent natural bridge known as Darwin's Arch, the currents bring sharks. Huge schools of hammerheads aggregate here, making a magnficient site for intrepid scuba divers.

Nearby, the currents also encounter Wolf Island, between them, the sites at Wolf and Darwin reward the effort required to travel to such a remote location with opportunities to see hammerhead and Galápagos sharks in very close proximity.

The westernmost Fernandina, is an awe inspiring sight. Wrought by fire, Fernandina is, at around 30,000 years old, the youngest island in the archipelago, and is still an active volcano. It has erupted at least 23 times in the last 200 years and stands a mile high. The landscape here is in stark contrast to other islands. It looks barren and desolate. Instead of cliffs, the sides of the volcano slope gently down to a foreboding rocky foreshore. A big swell crashes onto sharp basalt boulders. Here be dragons....

Moving east, Isabela Island is the largest in the archipelago. It was formed by five seperate volconoes that area still active. The most recent eruption being Wolf volcano in 2013. Isabela is large enough to separate the impact of the cold easterly currents from warmer currents. Hence the west side has cooler waters than the east and this results in a significant difference in marine life. To the west there are flightless cormorants, penguins, oceanic sun fish, red lipped bat fish and the endemic dorid nudibranch and Galápagos bull head shark.

To the east, the wamer currents attract huge oceanic manta rays and their smaller cousins the mobula.

Further east again, the islands are now middle aged. The volcanoes are extinct, and some have become lakes. The warmer water attract more tropical species and while lone hammerheads are still sighted, divers see white tipped reef sharks, eagle rays, endemic snake eels and a variety of tropical fish including surgeonfish, grunt, moray eels, sally lightfoot crabs, and masses of barberfish that clean the many pelagic visitors.

Because the water temperature is so variable, there is not a lot of coral. Instead barnacles occupy vacant spaces on the rocks and take the role of filter feeders in the food chain. With such large numbers of barnacles, there also comes a number of vacant shells as barnacles die. This has opened a niche that the Galápagos barnacle blenny has evolved to fill.

Throughout the archipelago, the Galápagos sea lion can be seen frollicking in the waves, interacting with snorkellers, or hunting its favourite food, the black-striped salema that school in enormous numbers.

And there are lots of turtles as well... the endangered green turtle is often seen while diving or snorkelling. The lucky visitor may also see a rare hawskbill.

Chelonia mydas
Chelonia mydas
Chelonia mydas
Eretmochelys imbricata

Of course there is a lot more to Galápagos than what is under the water. Frigatebirds soar high, boobies nest in trees and ledges, gulls roost in the cliffs, and storm petrels skim the water surface. All hunt on the plentiful ocean.

Mockingbirds and finches remind us how Charles Darwin first had the idea of evolution by natural selection.

And we mustn't forget that on these islands, it is reptiles that reign on land, here marine and land iguanas soak up the suns warming rays, lava lizards scarper out of the way of walkers, and the famous Galápagos tortoises roam free.

Galápagos offers wildlife enthusiasts the unparalleled opportunity to see a vast array of species in the wild, and do so at close quarters. The number and quality of encounters is amazing... this place is truly unique and must be protected and cherished.

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Created By
James Robins
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