January 9, 2020 By Dennis Cox
FLOREANA ISLAND – Charles Darwin, after his visit to the Galápagos Islands in 1835, was inspired to conceive his theory of evolution by natural selection based primarily on his observations of the unusual animal life here – such as the land iguana, the giant tortoise, mockingbirds, land snails, and the many types of finch. Since the publication of Darwin’s book, “Voyage of the Beagle,” in 1839, the ecological, evolutionary and biogeographic processes influencing the origin of the flora and fauna of the Galápagos has been of great interest to people worldwide. The archipelago has deservedly earned the reputation as a ‘living museum and showcase of evolution’ as each island has its own signature type of bird, reptile or other species. Only on Genovesa Island can red-footed boobies be found, for example.
The Galápagos Marine Reserve, situated at the confluence of three major eastern Pacific currents and influenced by climatic phenomena such as El Niño, has had major evolutionary consequences and provides important clues about species evolution under changing conditions. The direct dependence on the sea for much of the island’s wildlife is evident.
The islands of Galápagos are extremely isolated in the Pacific, the world’s oldest ocean, like specks in a vast blue sea. One thousand kilometers from the South American continent, the 19 main islands, 42 islets, and over 250 rocks constituting the Galápagos archipelago are situated near the edge of the Nazca tectonic plate. The archipelago formed over millennia as the plate moved southeast over a hotspot where magma vented from below the earth’s crust (it now moves 5 inches per year toward South America). Over the last twenty years on the volcanically active islands there have been five major eruptions. Ongoing seismic and volcanic activity continues to the northwest on Isabela Island, by far the largest of the five major islands, and its close neighbor Fernandina. As the current location of the hotspot, Isabela has five active volcanoes with the most recent major eruption recorded in 2015.
Geological evidence indicates that previous volcanic islands to the east are now submerged in the sea extending to the South American continent, with the earliest having been thrust under the South American plate where they lie deep beneath the Andes. Ultimately this may be the fate of Floreana, an island formed long ago that has lay dormant for three million years.
Another busy day of activities began this morning with Zodiac cruises to two beaches on Floreana at Punta Cormorant.
Wet from intermittent showers, the “Green Beach” (due to olivine crystals in the sand) and “Flour Sand Beach” (made up of coral) were not as colorful as expected. Nevertheless, bright red Sally light-foot crabs in a pool below a cliff face had not lost their brilliance. Walking along the beach, a few blue-footed boobies were spotted and observed while the males attempted romancing the females.
And on a walk to the nearby Flamingo Lagoon, one of the largest on the islands, around four dozen of the 345 resident pink flamingos were spotted from a distance. The flamingos are recent arrivals originating in Florida and were blown by the winds to the Galápagos after a stopover in Venezuela.
On two snorkeling trips today — in the morning and afternoon – sea lions, dolphins, sea turtles, and a couple of small sharks were spotted among the array of tropical fish. While life is abundant in even the most desolate parts of the Pacific, water of the Galápagos Marine Reserve teems with activity. To the delight of the snorkelers, it’s like swimming in an aquarium, surrounded by a kaleidoscope of friendly companions.
Later in the afternoon — following taking turns kayaking — a visit was made to Post Office Bay, location of a wooden barrel placed by the crew of an 18th century whaling ship and site of a landing area for some of the first colonists. Visitors place their post cards in the barrel, addressed but without postage. They then sort through the cards to see if there is one at an address that could personally deliver.
Cover photo: Interesting reading on sun deck solarium Sea Star Journey / Dominica ©Dennis Cox/WorldViews
Photos by Dennis Cox / WorldViews, All Rights Reserved
Dennis Cox is All Things Cruise Writer and Official Photographer
Editor’s Note: Latin Trails offers cruises of the Galapagos Islands with two 16-passenger yachts for six-day cruises, plus a small catamaran for day trips. Certified naturalist guides onboard each cruise will share their local knowledge of the area.
To learn more about Latin Trails and to book a Latin Trails yacht cruise, go to https://allthingscruise.com/browse-cruise-lines/latin-trails/