In Search of Wildlife on the Galapagos Islands

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I woke at six AM to the sound of sea lions grunting outside, their booms echoing across the deserted beach. It was time to catch my boat to Floreana Island, where I had planned to go diving in search of penguins and turtles. On the way to the ferry port, I was distracted by bright red lobsters, low-flying frigatebirds, and the occasional slow plodding Galapagos tortoise.

The Galapagos Islands is the melting pot of nature; home to giant tortoises, Boobies, marine iguanas, penguins, sea lions and fur seals, it can sometimes feel like a zoo gone wrong. Most of these birds, animals and vertabrae are also completely native to the islands – the Galapagos penguin, the Galapagos tortoise, the Galapagos sea lion, the Galapagos shark… Nobody quite understands how the archipelago of 18 islands, almost eight hundred miles from the nearest mainland of Ecuador, South America, is host to so many endemic species. Currently, the most popular scientific theory is that many of the original species (that eventually evolved into the variations we see today) came to the islands via floating vegetation and debris carried by sea currents. This somewhat intriguing image could potentially explain how the Galapagos Islands came to be home to such a large variety of unique and uncorrelated species.

As a result, my life on the islands was never boring during the month I was there. The best of entertainment could be found from the sea lions. We were told never to approach these dangerous animals, yet they happily waddled right up to us every day. Once whilst surfing on San Cristobal island, a pup flopped onto my board with me, much to my alarm. When snorkelling for penguins in Floreana, there they were again, dive bombing towards us. If you ever hear a strange noise when on these islands, whether it’s barking, grunting, squealing, wailing, belching, brawling, bleating or even whinnying, don’t be afraid – it’s likely to just be a friendly sea lion. And it’s not just the mammals that are friendly. Birds, without fear, will land inches away. Land and marine iguanas will crawl over your leg, completely unfazed. The tameness of creatures on the Galapagos is not incredibly unusual; it is a trait often seen on islands across the world due to an absence of predators, which gradually leads to an evolved population of fearless animals.

Yet this tameness leads to difficulties as new species are increasingly introduced to the islands. Imported animals such as cats, dogs and rodents have been predators to the fearless species on the islands, and have seriously disrupted the ecosystem of the archipelego. The World Heritage Committee have labelled invasive species as the most pressing challengefacing the islands. Although there are signs of improvements in some areas, the 150,000 tourists visiting the Galapagos Islands per year is a constant challenge to its environment and infrastructure. With the launch of new tourism and ‘voluntourism’ initiatives, hopefully the ecosystem of the Galapagos islands can continue to persevere and flourish alongside its visitors.

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Words and photos by Dannee McGuire, Razz Travel Correspondent

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