Isabela Island forms over 50 per cent of the total land mass in Galapagos. We had the opportunity to explore four visitor sites on Isabela. Even though they are on the same Island and not far from each other, they are very different from one to another. This Island has the best places to see one of the largest populations of marine iguanas, penguins, cormorants, hawks, and finches that are endemic to Galapagos only.
Early in the morning we had a dry landing onto the youngest of the Galapagos islands known as Fernandina. Punta Espinoza is the only visitor site on this island. It is a stunning place covered with black lava flows and large colonies of Galapagos marine iguanas. During our walk we spotted young Galapagos hawks practicing their hunting strategies and being curious about our presence in this still pristine area. Visiting Fernandina is like travelling back in time to how Galapagos used to be, before introduced species appeared. From a distance we could see one of the most active volcanoes in the world, “La Cumbre,” the mother shield volcano that created the whole island of Fernandina. Primary succession could be seen where pioneer species such lichens and lava cacti are just getting established for the first time on this new terrain. Along the trail we were lucky to spot a western Galapagos racer snake, a couple of Galapagos flightless cormorants, and male marine iguanas engaged in territorial disputes. Afterward, during our snorkeling activity, we swam a couple of Galapagos penguins and we spotted Pacific green sea turtles and marine iguanas feeding on algae. In the afternoon, we embarked on a Zodiac ride along the coast of Isabela Island, exploring Punta Vicente Roca. We saw plenty of Pacific green sea turtles in the shallow waters, fur seals lying on the rocky shores, and even a couple of Galapagos penguins resting on rocks. These Galapagos penguins are the northern most penguin species in the world and their population is small, so to spot them was a delightful opportunity. After the Zodiac ride, we celebrated the crossing of the equator line with a glass of champagne on the upper deck of the National Geographic Endeavour II while enjoying a beautiful sunset.
Our day begins as we approach the fog-covered islands that make up Anacapa. This is the only Channel Island with a name derived from its native Chumash name, Anyapakh, meaning “mirage” or “ever-changing.” As the surge moved the water and fog sirens from the east end lighthouse rang, we could not agree with this description more. We explore the island along the cliffs and coastline by Zodiac. It’s heartwarming to see the number of brown pelicans in the area, knowing they faced extinction from the use of DDT just a few decades ago. We are in awe as they glide above us on their way to forage for fish below. Our Zodiac turns the corner to find rafts of curious juvenile California Sea Lions, many that approach us to get a closer look. At the same time our dive team, Katie Mills-Orcutt and Jim Coyer, explore the kelp forests right below us. They find teams of kelp forest fish, hearty lobster, and their own playful pinnipeds. One sea lion mimics Jim’s bubbles as they stare at each other on the sea floor. On our way to Santa Cruz Island, our guest speakers from the National Park Conservancy Agency, Sarah Gaines and Ryan Valdez, remind us of the diligent work and passion it took to protect and restore these islands. From the eradication of rats and grazing animals, to the marine reserves that make up over 20 percent of the coastline, these islands hold a unique window into the history and biodiversity of our national parks. We finish our afternoon at Santa Cruz Island’s, Prisoner’s cove. Many of us hike through the woodlands while others explore the restored marshland along the rocky beach. Both groups marveled over the endemic island scrub jays as they foraged through the trees in the late afternoon light. Yet another day well spent exploring the unique wildlife and ecosystems these Channel Islands have to offer.
Our first full day in the Galapagos starts well with high energy and optimism. After breakfast we are in the Zodiacs, heading out to the island’s landing to be welcomed by several species of birds, crabs and sea lions. In the interior of the loop trail, the nesting sea birds are abundant. Frigates are nesting, and for that the males inflate their red gular sacs to the size of soccer balls that are then displayed to females for mating. Some sit on the eggs and are already raising young. A few blue-footed boobies also are nesting. Most have young mature enough to learn to fly and dive for fish. The interactions among all of the inhabitants here are quite interesting and sometimes even unpredictable. Sea lions here find areas with sand or vegetation to rest. Land iguanas draw water and eat from succulents like the local prickly pear cactus. Marine iguanas sunbathe, gathering heat before they enter the water for algae foraging. Later after a couple of hours of navigation, we anchor at Rábida Island, unique for the abundance of iron in its rocks, giving the appearance of rust. Here we snorkel to enjoy the other equally beautiful and sublime world of the Galapagos, its underwater life. Fish of all varieties, shapes and colors. Sea lions, rays and sharks abound. The land shows a magical beauty, the beauty of its noble occupants. Sea lions are the stars of the show along with greater flamingos that we see in flight over the sea to land on a brackish water lagoon in search of shrimp – their main food and what gives them their pink coloration. With plenty of photos and memories gathered, we end the day with the sun falling behind the volcanoes of large Isabela: our next destination.
Santa Rosa Island was the backdrop of a morning that can only be described as explosive biodiversity. It was 6:15 on the bow as the ship slowly approached a long stretch of rippling surface water. As we floated closer, we could see the water churning with leaping California sea lions. Cormorants, gulls, and shearwaters circled above them. Then there was a surprise blow and fluke of multiple humpback whales. Finally, from the direction of the island, a pod of common dolphins made a beeline to the feeding waters. Anchovies are the suspected boil of fish and the cause for commotion. We, the observers, were there to see it at its peak...all before breakfast. Our morning excursion to the island led us up the pier to the old barn and cattle ranching equipment of years gone by. Santa Rosa being nicknamed “The Cowboy Island,” and the site of “the most admired cattle ranch” of the twentieth century. Just outside the paddock, we came upon two endemic Channel Island foxes exploring the grasses for their own breakfast. Guests had wonderful views of the endemic mammals and continued with their hikes. Some passengers opted for small boat tours viewing the massive sandstone cliffs that are unique to this island. After the day of exploring, all were ready for cocktail hour and a relaxing evening.
Joining us on any expedition means signing up for adventure; and the reward for your curiosity is inevitable—the most exhilarating experience of pure discovery possible.