Our Ocean Blog

What our sailors found out about the Galapagos: in their own words

We continue our reports from the Galapagos Islands with some more highlights from our sailors’ blogs.

Dena Singh, Libby

Land iguana – Photo: LIBBY

The Galapagos are a phenomenal place where the Humboldt and Panama currents intersect and create a world where tropical life coexists with arctic life.

It’s no wonder this place gave birth to Darwin’s theories and it’s a miracle that man didn’t destroy it through the years of greed, whaling, and other attempts to eradicate giant tortoises and seals from the islands.

Janet Hayes, Chapter Two

The vegetation on the islands was carried here by the winds and ocean currents with the great majority coming from the coasts of South and Central America. Vegetation rafts carried reptiles across the ocean for a minimum of two weeks before landfall.

Only the strong animals that could survive without water could withstand the journey. With the absence of predators and mammalian competitors, reptiles such as the tortoise and land iguanas survived and became the dominant land animals. The ancestors of the sea lion and the penguin arrived with the help of ocean currents and the seabirds flew to the islands. Seeds and insects were carried by the wind or arrived stuck to the feathers or fur of larger animals.

Nowhere in the world is the evolution of species demonstrated with such clarity as in the Galapagos islands. This natural laboratory captivates scientists throughout the world. Research on the flora and fauna has helped us to understand the mysteries of life on earth. Charles Darwin developed the theory of evolution by natural selection: the basis of the understanding of the origin of species.

Zeke Holland, No Regrets

Yes, those are penguins hanging out with the boobies – Photo: NO REGRETS

The Galapagos are famous for their finches, which were one of the species (actually they evolved into 13 species on the islands) that got Darwin thinking about why/how they had developed different beaks (adapting to the foods they were eating). Also I find it rather amazing that a mating pair of finches somehow made it to these islands in the first place.

Three ocean currents meet at the Galapagos – a warm one from Panama, that helped us get here quickly, the cold Humboldt current that comes up the coast of South America, and the deep ocean counter-current that flows opposite of the surface current that will push us toward the Marquesas soon.

That confluence leads to great abundance of sea life, as nutrient-rich cold waters mix with the warm.

Carol Harvey, Maggie

Carol and Giant Tortoise – Photo: MAGGIE

These islands are volcanic in origin with the east islands the oldest. It is obvious looking at them with the shapes of the lava flow and the large rocks of lava. At sea level it looks quite barren since rainfall is slight during the dry season which has just ended.

There are currently 10 different species of turtle with 3 that have become extinct.
The turtles in the sanctuary on San Cristobal weigh up to 200kg and average 60 years old. Life expectancy is between 120 and 170 years. These are land turtles that have different habits than the sea turtles. They are fed 3 times a week and given pools of water for cooling and drinking.

After the nesting period, the rangers remove healthy looking eggs and incubate them 160 days. It takes 30 days after hatching for the newborn to dig itself out of its protective coating of mud and feces. They are then placed in pens divided by age. It takes about 5 years for the shell to be hard enough to withstand predators. That is when they would be released into the wild or kept for breeding. The sex cannot be determined until about age 15 and breeding begins at 25. Everything seems to be on a long time frame which makes study difficult. “Genesis”, the first turtle raised here is only 8 years old.

Meredith Dunning, Coconut Woman

Cactus forest – Photo: COCONUT WOMAN

The Galapagos Cactus tree is a uniquely endemic adaptation of padded, spiny cactus leaves. As the cactus grows, its pads become bark, the spines fall off, and new pads begin to grow above the trunk. Yellow cactus tree trunks indicate an age of over 100 years, some of them live to over 300. So in effect, it really is a cactus tree!

In the dry season, giant tortoises gnaw their way through this tough bark and take down the entire tree, sort of like elephants. These longtime locals know the pads carry large amounts of water.

When visiting Isabel Island, we saw some of the largest cactus tree forests in Galapagos. They shared space with other trees who share a symbiotic relationship with the lichen that hangs from their branches. The lichen absorb dew and humidity, then the trees absorb the water from them. In the rainy season, the barren branches sprout leaves.

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