The Galapagos Islands and National Park are located on the equator at 0° latitude and approximately 90° longitude. It’s located in the Pacific Ocean about 600 miles west of Ecuador. There are 19 islands in the Galapagos Archipelago. Fray Tomas discovered the islands in March 1535 accidentally because he was headed to Peru but at a certain point, there was no wind, and the ship drifted off course to the archipelago. There were no native people when the islands were first discovered. In the early 1800’s through the early 1900’s, different colonies were established but failed. It wasn’t until the Second World War when the American Air Force built an airport to defend the Panama Canal that more people began to live in the Galapagos. In 1994 it is estimated that 20,000 people populated four of the primary islands: San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabela. The islands of the Galapagos are special because of the animals. Charles Darwin made the islands famous because he wrote a book called “The Origin of the Species” published in 1859 based on his travels to the Galapagos in 1835. His famous book was a study of evolution or natural selection based mostly on what he learned studying the finches. The tame animals that make the Galapagos interesting to visit today include: turtles, tortoises, boobies, marine and land iguanas, penguins, flamingos, cormorants, sea lions, and sea horses. I am most interested in the Black Marine Turtles and the Galapagos Penguins.
There are eight species of marine turtles in the world but only four species have been seen in the Galapagos .The most common turtle is the Black Marine Turtle. The turtles came from Baja California. Only four other turtles have been seen in the Galapagos: the Leatherback, the Olive Ridley, the Hawksbill, and the Green Turtle. I got to see these black turtles and green turtles up close while snorkeling. They swam slowly and gracefully feeding on marine algae. The turtles were much larger than me. I also got to see really cool huge tortoises at the Tortoise Breading Center of Villamil. I learned that when tortoises lay eggs in the wild only 5 to7 live but in the breading center, almost all of the 120 laid eggs survive. The tortoise populations are now replenishing after their numbers were destroyed by pirates and whalers.
The black turtle feeds on ulva. Ulva is a sort of algae that comes from the leaves of a red mangrove. Male turtles happen to be smaller than the female black turtles and male turtles also have claws to attach themselves to the female to procreate. Males and females can begin to procreate around the ages of 20 to 25 years of age. The mating season starts when the turtles feel that it is hot outside. The turtles lay eggs in January threw June. The adult’s shell is 84 centimeters long.
The females usually lay eggs during the night. She digs a hole for a while till it’s deep enough. She lays about 80 to 120 eggs close to the size of ping-pong balls at the very bottom of the nest, and then she buries them with sand. It takes about 55 days for them to hatch. The babies are soft and about 4 centimeters long. If the temperature is 30°C when the eggs are in their nest, every single egg will be female. But if the temperature is less than 30°C, they will be male. The black turtles’ worst predators are sharks and orcas in the water. Crabs, and the beetle Trox Suberosis prey on the eggs. If the eggs hatch in the day, the baby turtles can’t see and they can’t find the water because the sun is too strong. The adult female turtles tend to lay their eggs at night so that the babies hatch at night.
The Galapagos penguin is related to the Magellan Penguin. The Magellan Penguin comes from Southern Chile. It’s also related to the Penguin of the Falkland Islands near Antarctica. The penguins came to the Galapagos Islands by the Humboldt Current. On the islands there were 13,000 penguins measured in 1982-1983. The penguins swim with their front fins and steer with their back fins. Penguins swim really fast underwater and jump out of the water when they are happy. When they travel on land over rocks, they jump from rock to rock. Before jumping it stretches its neck forward as if studying the terrain.
During the mating season, the Galapagos penguins preen each other’s heads and also slap themselves gently with the front flippers. They nest in cavities where eggs will be laid three to four days apart. On Fernandina Island, egg laying occurs in September. Incubation lasts for 38 to 40 days. Penguins are very shy animals so they nest in groups. They sleep on land and look for food during the day and return to shore in the late afternoon. In the early morning you can see them between 5 and 7 am. Penguins form a wake behind them just like ducks. In 1982 to 1983 the Galapagos lost 77% of the population, but since 1985 their number has slowly been returning to about 2 to 3000 penguins. Their predators are Red Crabs, Rice Rats, Galapagos Snakes, Short-Eared Owls, and Galapagos Hawks. I got to see many penguins from a distance in my kayak and when I was snorkeling in Los Tuneles, I got a chance to swim up close to 7 penguins, which were sunning themselves on the rocks.
The island we visited was Isabela, the largest in the archipelago. It has five volcanoes and the most northern volcano, Volcan Wolf, erupted while we were visiting on the island. We didn’t feel it or hear it because the lava flow and ashes flew northeast. Puerto Villamil where we were anchored is located on the southeastern corner of the island in Turtle Bay. We got to visit Volcan Sierra Negra. It was incredible to see because it’s the 2nd largest active crater in the world after the crater in Yellowstone Park. The last time Sierra Negra erupted was in 2005.
I thought our stay on Isla Isabela in the Galapagos was super amazing because of all the animals, the great food and the interesting culture: everyone riding bikes, sandy roads, open shops, and friendly people. But I really wish I could have been able to visit a different island too.