23 Mar Galapagos Islands – Land and Sea Exploration
Santa Cruz Island
Ninety-Seven percent of the Galapagos Islands are part of the national park system and a certified naturalist tour guide (park Ranger)} must be with you to explore and at specific times granted for your party to be at any designated park area. Only three islands are inhabited, and even these also have restricted national park sections. Our first day we had a ranger take us around the main island. The twin craters were our first stop. These nontraditional craters were gigantic lava pits They remained full of lava until underground lava tunnels formed which provided a drainage path.
The highlight of the next day was a visit to a private tortoise reserve called El Chato where over sixty giant tortoises roamed freely. Female tortoises live to be about 120 years old, have shiny shells, and weigh up to about 500 pounds. Male tortoises live to about 200 years old and weigh up to about 2000 pounds. The females make an annual trek of ten miles each way to the southern beaches of Santa Cruz at a pace of 30 days per leg of the journey. May be that is one of the reasons they weight so much less…lol. The Ranch also had one of the few lava tunnels (inactive) still in existance.
Our Last stop of the day was at the Charles Darwin Research and Breeding Center. where naturalist strive to support and maintain the tortoise species The rangers collect batches of eggs from nest that are reported or located and through temperature controls hatch 70% females. They keep the babies for 2-4 years until they are large enough to protect themselves and have learned how to socialize, find food, and find water. Then they are released into the wild on their original island. Galapagos Island in the past was home to 15 species of tortoises. Today, only eleven remain. For about 25 years, twelve existed after Lonesome George was discovered on one of the islands. The sole male survivor and the most famous tortoise ever; efforts by scientist and geneticist were unsuccessful in saving the species. His remains (skin and shell) are entombed at the Darwin Center where his fans can still visit. The last Tortoise you see at the Center is the Saddleback Tortoise with a giraffe-like neck and saddle shaped shell. This may be more evidence of Dawin’s Natural Selection as they live on a more desert like island with little to no ground vegetation. Their long necks allow them to eat the lower leaves on the trees.
The islands are also known for their unique large lizards. First, a marine lizard which can dive down to 20 feet to obtain food. Two other large land lizards are common. A fourth species was discovered about two years ago, the Rosado Breed. Only 250 exist and they live on the inside of a volcanic crater.. Their pink and black skin is a result of being albinos.
Exploration of Black Turtle Cove resulted in photos and briefings on Rays and Sea Turtles. The Golden Rays swam just under the water surface and stay in family units. Two other rays are in the Galapagos, Manta Rays with a wingspan of 6- 8 feet which we saw skimming just below the water. out at sea and Giant Manta Rays with wingspans of 20-22 feet. The Sea Turtles were very active as it was mating season. Four or more males would swim around the female waiting their opportunity to mate. On one occasion two males became jealous and went for each other’s necks. The outing provided another opportunity to see the marvel of mother nature or God’s Creation, depending on your belief. The male turtle has an extra claw on his hand which allows him to lock onto the shell of the female to support mating.
On another island we were able to observe sea lions and Galapagos Penguins. We located a sealion cave with the family resting inside. If you look closely to the right of the photo, you will see the male standing guard over his family. The sea lions could also be found on the beaches and resting on the pavement by the ocean in the middle of towns. You could get quite close as long as you did not make them feel a threat. Galapagos Penguins are one of the smallest breeds in the world and visitors are surprised by their presence. The cold ocean currently from the Southern part of the world flow through the region and support their lifestyle.
After four days at sea discovering a world, we never knew, we enjoyed one last sunset and returned to Puerto Ayora. Our bucket list vacation was everything we dreamed of and more. Photos and words don’t fully describe the sense of amazement brought to you by the Galapagos Islands!!!