Las Encantadas, The Galapagos Islands

by: EJ on 01/16/2015

This past November, I traveled the Galapagos Islands with my son, mother, sister and brother-in-law on the Lindblad National Geographic Endeavor with guest naturalists Robert and Birgit Bateman.   It promised to be the trip of a lifetime and so it was.  Here is a photo essay conveying some of the highlights. (photo credits: Lindsay Richards)




On the island of North Seymour, the frigate birds were mating.  Here, the male Great Frigate waits, displaying his magnificent pouch which he hopes will attract a female. 





Once he is successful, the pair will build a nest by piling sticks directly on top of the bush. Perching on that, the female will lay one or two eggs.  Both parents will care the for the chicks.  The birds were so numerous that we passed within a few feet of them, walking carefully on the designated path, but they paid us no attention.



Another iconic Galapagos species is the Marine Iguana, the only lizard that is able to forage in the sea.  It has evolved several unique adaptations to this way of life including the unsettling habit of sneezing out quantities of salt laden water to rid its system of excess salt!



The Marine Iguana has sharp claws which enable it to grasp slippery rocks underwater.  Their teeth are designed to scrap algae, their only food source, off the rocks. 





The coast of these lava rock islands are full of caves.  Here we are looking out towards the sunlight from a small cave on Rabida Island.






On the northern tip of Isla Isabela, where cold oceanic currents well up from the ocean that is over 2 kilometers deep, green sea turtles congregate.  The naturalists are not sure why they choose this particular location. Here two turtles appear to fly through the turquoise water.





Before going to the Galapagos, I decided not to do any research.  I wanted the experience to be one of surprise, rather than disappointment that I hadn't seen a particular expected animal.  As a result, I had no idea that I would be seeing either of these birds - Pink Flamingos and the Galapagos Penguin.





These little fellows swam right up to us and then dove beneath us, swimming at speeds of up to 40 km/hour.




Because Isla Isabela straddles the equator, we crossed it six times in our voyage.  The first time was at midnight on the first of December, 2014. I made sure I went to the bridge for the momentous occasion.  For the sake of the other passengers, the captain made a special loop over the equator and back at cocktail hour as well!



This is a Galapagos Mockingbird.  The finches of the Galapagos are the most famous for aiding Charles Darwin in his theories of evolution, but when Darwin visited the islands it was the mockingbirds that first caught his attention.  "Markedly different but strikingly similar"  was his comment about the species. 



A juvenile Lava Heron plays alongside a tidal pool on Isla Santiago. This island was so degraded that when the National Park was created, it was almost not included.  Since that time, Lindblad Expeditions has adopted the island and contributes to multimillion dollar conservation programs, eradicating feral animals like pigs, donkeys, goats and horses. 



These baby tortoises have been hatched in incubators at the Charles Darwin Foundation.  To protect the endangered tortoises of the islands, eggs are collected from the volcanoes and the young tortoises are raised at the research station until they are five to eight years old. At this point, their shells are hard enough to withstand predation from invasive species like rats and cats and they are returned to their original islands. 



The migrating tortoises on Isla Santa Cruz make driving interesting.  They are very slow to cross the road but if you try to shoo them, they retreat into their shells.  At over 200 pounds each, all one can do is wait for them to finishing crossing and then carry on.



And of course, no Galapagos photo essay would be complete without a Galapagos Fur Seal pup.  These wee things are waiting for their mothers to return and feed them.  They would lumber after us on the beach, hoping that the unfamiliar large shape might turn out to be their mother.  Luckily for the little ones, the mothers usually return every hour or so. Once pups mature, the mothers can be away hunting for up to a week. 



Two hundred thousand visitors come to the Galapagos each year and are regulated by the Galapagos National Park Service.  Presently, the number of visitors is growing at a rate of 14% each year.  The park and local communities have an increasing challenge to find ways to gain the economic benefits of increased tourism while still protecting this world heritage site.  It might seem that the Galapagos Islands are at the edge of the world, but the challenges facing the rest of the planet are found here too.  I returned to my home archipelago of the Gulf Islands with a new found appreciate for the uniqueness of islands.


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