Corona del Mar High School

A unique island tour: The Galapagos

Many islands are formed by millions of years of successive volcanic eruptions in the ocean. Often times these eruptions create stunning and exotic islands such as Tahiti, Fiji, and Hawaii. Every year, their tropic scenery attracts many tourists as popular places of destination.

When we think of island tourism, we think of beaches, coconut trees, and leisurely days spent on a beach chair, enjoying the sunny, tropical scenery. However, the Galapagos archipelago offers a different type of tropical getaway. These islands don’t offer the same scenery or activities, such as parasailing and jet skiing, as traditional tourism islands. Instead, the Galapagos Islands’ unique landscapes are perfect for ecotourism. The archipelago consists of 13 main islands and seven small islands. They are primitive islands, each with their own ecosystem. They are also famous for their role in science; the Galapagos Islands were Darwin’s living laboratory of evolution.

This map shows the location of famous birds, reptiles, and other animals found on the Galapagos. For planning, this map is useful to see which islands you want to visit if you are particular about what animals you want to see. (Courtesy of ncnoah.com)

Most of the animals that live on this archipelago are unafraid of humans. These animals have been isolated for many years, and humans never really entered their food chain. Because of this, I was able to come in close contact with the animals on the island (and take great pictures too). Some of this special wildlife that we found on the Galapagos Islands included the giant Galapagos tortoise, the marine and land iguanas, and unique birds such as the blue-footed booby and the frigate bird. Here are a few animals I saw during my time on the Galapagos Islands:

Giant Galapagos Tortoise

One of my favorite animals I saw in the Galapagos was the giant tortoise. I couldn’t believe its size when I first laid my eyes on it! The giant Galapagos tortoise has an average weight of 400 pounds, height of five feet, and lifespan of over 100 years. Its short neck has evolved to adapt to its grassy habitat, where food is right in front of its face. When we went to the highlands, we got to see the tortoises eat, roam, sleep, and carry on with their daily routine, admiring their domed shells. We had to keep two meters away and could not touch the tortoise.

This tortoise, which lives in an environment where food is higher up, has evolved to have a longer neck. Such natural adaptations of species to their environment are what Charles Darwin studied on these islands. Its shell looks like a saddle, hence its name, the saddleback tortoise.
At Isabela Breeding Center, tortoises are bred. Once the population is substantial enough, they are released into the wild.
Marine Iguana
Marine Iguana
Land iguana

Another animal I saw were iguanas. I saw many while walking on beaches. The marine iguana may look ferocious, but, in reality, it is very tiny and vegetarian. It subsists on seaweed, which it collects from the ocean. The marine iguana has a longer tail than the land iguana, which it uses to swim. A cold-blooded animal, it likes to hang out under the sun on rocks, absorbing heat, making its dark-colored skin an advantage. An interesting trait of the marine iguana is its salt glands, which filter out excess salt. The iguana sneezes out salty ocean water, causing its nose—where the salt glands are located—to be white. During mating season, the male’s skin turns red and green to attract the females.

Blue-footed booby

The blue-footed booby is a popular bird that people love to watch. The birds swoop down in groups to the ocean’s surface to hunt fish. They are famous for their mating dance.

It is very easy to catch sea lions, with their adorable faces, sleeping throughout the islands; it sometimes seems that they never wake up. Although the sea lions here look similar to the ones in California, they are a different species.

Sally Lightfoot crabs

Sally Lightfoot crabs are usually found on seaside rocks. These bright, sunset-colored crabs like to eat plants and the occasional dead animal. In the early stages of life, the crabs are dark in color.

Male Frigate bird (Courtesy of animalspot.net)

The most noticeable feature of the male Frigate bird is, of course, its strawberry-red gular pouch. When inflated, the pouch attracts females for mating. Frigate birds can stay in the air for several months to avoid contact with water, as their wings are not waterproof.

Two ocean currents, the South Equatorial Current and the Peruvian Current, currently impact the Galapagos. These currents cultivate rich, diverse marine life, and thus making it a visual paradise for scuba divers, who may view all sorts of animals, big and small, such as hammerhead sharks, turtles, spotted eagle rays, and thousands of species of fish. However, it is not easy to dive there, as the currents create visibility and water temperature problems.

Currently, the Galapagos Islands are facing problems from invasive species and human threats. The government tries to maintain order in the ecosystem. It is important when traveling on the islands to be a good tourist by following the rules, not getting too close to the animals, not feeding them, and not littering. That way, humans and nature can enjoy the harmonious relationship on these isolated islands.

For more pictures, please watch the video below: