Saturday, April 13, 2013

Galapagos Part 1..................San Cristobal


        12/4/2013


A real beaut!!
So much has been written about the geology and history of the Galapagos Archipelago, that I will not repeat anything, save the few basic elements, which go to make it so special.

The islands were formed by the earth’s inner core, the magma, bursting out of a weak spot in the earth’s crust near the equator, erupting as volcanoes.  They are drifting away from the “hotspot” on the western edge of the archipelago at a rate of 2.5cm per year! The oldest islands lie on the east, and the youngest on the west. The plant and wildlife found here originated in central south America, and is believed to have drifted across on rafts of weed when mainland rivers flooded.


 The extreme difference in climate and topography here, has led to animal and plant life adapting over millions of years, into the species now found here…. and quite different from their ancestor’s left behind on the mainland.

Charles and his menagerie
Darwin first landed on San Cristobal in 1835, aboard the Beagle, before visiting each of the other islands. He made copious notes and records of species he found, but it was not until 20 years later, that he first put forward his theory of evolution, based upon his findings here.

The confluence of 4 distinct currents, and in particular, the cold , nutrient rich Humbolt current coming up from the south, and the warmer Panama current from the north, make for a very rich sea life, and consequently, seabird life.


The Galapagos, (which in Spanish means giant tortoise) was annexed by Ecuador in 1832, and is now run as a National Park. There are ongoing breeding programs aimed at restoring the  species and population of Galapagos Giant Tortoises, after the almost total decimation caused by seafarers of old using them as a source of fresh meat on board their sailing vessels. At least 3 species of these giant tortoises are now extinct, and when old “Lonesome George” died last year, at the age of about 175 yrs, the number of surviving species dropped from 11 to the 10 that exist today! 

It is appropriate that we started our travels in San Cristobal, where Darwin first landed, and have been able to see so many of the unique species that make it so incredible.





Fur seals, which were also plundered  for their fur, are now the first species to make their presence known, firstly by the “Oh so familiar pong”( from Hout Bay days), and then by their totally fearless taking over of dinghy docks, park benches, bus shelters, catamaran sterns, dinghies,  mono hull sugar scoops, bathing platform’s, steps,  etc. They also have such big friendly looking eyes, that people sometimes forget they are still wild animals! Two yachting people have been bitten while we have been here, probably tripping over them while not looking, or getting between mum and pup!

San Cristobal has the oldest, extinct volcano, the crater making up a 6000 square meter fresh water lake. (Lake Juno) This is the reason why San Cristobal was also the first island populated by man.


Lake Juno................fresh water lake

Endemic Miconia
 The endemic bush,  Miconia, which covers much of the highland areas, is now protected and being replanted by national Parks.  This is because it absorbs its water requirements from the air, and then takes it down to its root system, unlike the invasive, water hungry exotic plants that have been introduced by man in all his ignorance. Plants such as Blackberry, Guava trees, Lantana, are spreading like wildfire, squeezing out the Miconia , becoming an ongoing challenge to control.


We visited the Giant Tortoise breeding centre, which has now released about 700 incubated and hand raised individuals back into the wild. Each female only produces 8-12 eggs. These eggs are then kept in an incubator, where interestingly, the temperature at which they are kept, determines the sex of the offspring.

At what temperature were you incubated?

Manzanilla/Machineel
No 1, “Genesis”, was the first hatchling in the program, which was started in about 2002, and is kept at the centre. It was also surprising to learn, that the staple diet of these tortoises is the Manzanilla apple, which is just the Spanish name for the poisonous  Machineel tree which we were so careful to avoid in the Caribbean!




We had lunch at a local restaurant, and then went down to the Puerto Chino beach, where we had our first sight of the Blue Footed Boobies.  Quite apart from their very pretty feet, which play a major part in their courting and mating games, the height from which they dive, and the speeds they reach when they enter the water, are quite incredible.




 On Tuesday we took a boat tour to Isla Lobos and the famous Kicker Rocks. We snorkeled with seal pups and watched a marine iguana feeding under water. At Kicker Rocks, I snorkeled, hoping to see Hammerhead sharks, but they were too deep (60ft), and the water not that clear. Nevertheless, I saw one Galapagos shark, and had a good sighting of a green turtle feeding on seaweed at the base of these enormously high rocks.

Kicker Rocks............snorkled the gap!
The gap between the Kickers



On our return trip, we stopped at a remote beach, Manglesita, where we saw rocks teaming with the distinctive “Sally Lightfoot” crabs, some marine Iguanas, and had our first sighting of a male Great Frigate Bird, displaying his bright red throat pouch, in the hope of attracting the attention of some passing female, unable to resist his charms!



We had earlier visited the “Interpretation Centre”, an educational facility for scholars and tourists alike, where the geology, history, and impact of man, and the steps for preservation are shared.  A little beyond this centre, along well laid out paved paths, we walked to the bay where Darwin first landed.  There we saw the giant statue of Darwin, alongside bronze fur seals, iguana’s and tortoises. If Darwin’s likeness was crafted as well as that of the Galapagos bronze tortoise at his feet, then the statue can only be nothing like the man he was!




  
 The main purpose of this walk was the hope of seeing a full breeding colony of Frigate Birds, but they were not at home!








We took a long walk/hike along the Loberia coastline. We came across a large colony of big and small Marine Iguanas basking on the volcanic rocks, warming up after their sea weed diving and feeding activities. Some of them were “spitting” the salt they absorb while diving, from their nostrils, like dragons!


On the return walk, we also spotted a Lava Heron.

Urchin spines make up a large portion of the beach aggregate
 There is absolutely no doubt, where Hollywood, and Spielberg in particular, have drawn the inspiration for their weird and wonderful extraterrestrial creatures found in their movies! A close up look at the Giant Tortoise heads, and the Marine Iguana’s heads, says it all!  “ET”, come Home!!!!!  ( to Galapagos!!)

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