Espanola Island - Punta Suarez & Gardner Bay

Trip Start Dec 10, 2009
Trip End Dec 26, 2009

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Flag of Ecuador  , Galapagos Islands,
Sunday, December 13, 2009

12-13-09 Espańola (Hood) Island – Punta Suarez & Gardner Bay

We were up early 6 AM wake up, 630 breakfast, 715 take the pangas to Espańola Island. It was a dry landing and then we walked 2.5 miles on rocky uneven volcanic ground. We were advised to stay 5 feet away from bull and nursing sea lions.

The crew is very nice and accommodating. When there was no hot water for showers this morning, I just called the front desk and asked for help and it was fixed within 5 minutes. Poor Lorin took a cold shower as she didn't realize it wasn't working until she got in.

We had scrambled eggs, corn fritters, and fresh fruit for breakfast. Muesli, corn flakes, granola and juice are also available and the wonderful Ecuadorian coffee is available 24/7.

On the way we saw a sea turtle coming up for air and floating on the water. It was exciting. We had a dry landing to a desert paradise with Galapagos Sea Lions and Sally Lightfoot Crabs greeting us. There were baby sea lions all over the place. In fact there was a baby sea lion nursing right off the trail – see pic.

Marine Iguanas are everywhere too. They are are the only sea-going lizard in the world and are black with a mottling of red and green. The young ones are mostly black. There must have been 100 iguanas within the first 200 feet we walked. It was crazy. Luckily they sit around on the rocks and don't move very much, or you would step on them.

The iguanas also gather in big piles or clusters and sort of sleep on top of each other to conserve heat. Most of the iguanas we saw were 1 to 3 feet long, although they can grow up to 5 feet long. Since they go into the ocean to feed on the seaweed, they excrete and spit the salt water out while they are resting. It's quite surprising when you are observing an iguana that is just sitting there and all of a sudden it spits a bunch of sea water out, sort of like a very wet sneeze. Of course it isn't spitting at you, just spitting out the salt water to get rid of it. We had to be careful and walk around the animals as they are on the path and in the path often.

We walked down the path a little further and saw both juvenile and adult Nasca and Blue Footed Boobies. One of the youngsters was playing with a stick, throwing it in the air and trying to catch it, just a foot off the path. It was quite entertaining watching it play.  

Within the first 5 minutes on Espańola, we saw a Galapagos Hawk and at first it was on the lighthouse that was near the landing, so you could not see it very well, but then it flew down to the salt bushes and we were able to walk right up to it and be within 3-5 feet of it. Imagine 15 people standing right in front of a 15 inch tall hawk taking pictures. All it did was look at us and shift around a bit, preen a bit and stare down through the bush to look at a Hood Mockingbird it was trying to figure out how to catch and then it stared at us some more. It was phenomenal. I have never been that close to a wild raptor in my life, especially being able to observe it for 10 minutes.

We had to be careful of the mockingbirds as they are quite curious and have learned that the visitors carry fresh water (a very rare commodity) in their bottles. Our guide cautioned us not to drink our fresh water around them as they will try and drink out of your water bottle if it is opened, even while you are drinking. They might even land on you, which could be quite surprising.

There were baby sea lions swimming near the shore and we were able to get close and observe them playing with each other. A Galapagos Heron (Lava Heron) was also on a rock in the shallows fishing.

The Boobie are still nesting and we were lucky enough to see a Blue Footed Boobie with a young hatch-ling. They look so helpless and vulnerable when they are a few days old. We also saw a Nasca Boobie sitting on two eggs and trying to adjust them in the nest. It was fun to be so close and watch it pick up pebbles and sticks and move the eggs around with its beak so it was in just the right spot so it could sit on them again.

Over by the cliffs we saw some American Oystercatchers nesting in an area where there was tumbled gravel. They are an endemic species and have disproportionately large legs and toes.

The Waved Albatross Colony at Point Suarez was quite amazing. The birds are so big and clumsy! We observed a couple of juveniles trying to walk and it was quite a comic. Their huge webbed feet have a hard time finding solid ground, so they walk around like they are drunk. The curly fuzzy brown feathers on the heads of the fledglings look like short brown hair that just won't behave.

With a wingspan of 7-8 feet and a weight of 7-11 pounds, the Waved Albatross is the largest Galapagos bird. We were lucky to see them this visit as the come to Espańola to nest and the fledglings and their parents are usually gone from the Galapagos by the end of December.

We hiked out to the cliffs and got to see the huge blowhole on the coast. Jorge, our guide, told us that when the tide goes out and the blowhole is not functioning, the Marine Iguanas climb down into the hole to feed on the algae. When the tide comes back in the iguanas get shot into the air if they don't crawl out fast enough. Unfortunately it was high tide when we were there, so we didn't get to see the flying iguanas.

We headed back to the Evolution, got our snorkeling gear and had lunch. Then we sailed to Gardner Bay and went panga snorkeling. The snorkeling was fantastic. We saw many different kinds of fish and the sea lions there were very playful and loved to swim and play around us. The water was a little rough, but not horrible and the half wet suits worked well. Lorin's prescription dive mask worked wonderfully and she was able to see the fish and sea lions very clearly.
After snorkeling we were a bit tired, so we decided to pass on going to the beach with everyone else. We stayed on the ship, relaxed and caught our breath. After everyone returned from the beach, there was a bit of free time before tomorrow's briefing and dinner

Galapagos Islands – Then & Now:

European discovery of the Galápagos Islands occurred when Spanish Fray Tomás de Berlanga, the fourth Bishop of Panama, sailed to Peru to settle a dispute between Francisco Pizarro and his lieutenants. De Berlanga's vessel drifted off course when the winds diminished, and his party reached the islands on March 10, 1535.
The voyage of the Beagle brought the survey ship HMS Beagle under captain Robert FitzRoy to the Galápagos on September 15, 1835 to survey approaches to harbors. The captain and others on board including his companion the young naturalist Charles Darwin made a scientific study of geology and biology on San Cristóbal (Chatham), Floreana (Charles), Isabela (Albemarle) and Espańola (James) Islands before they left on October 20 to continue their round-the-world expedition. While visiting the Galapagos Islands, Darwin collected the famous finch specimens which were the foundation of his theory of evolution. The finches, specifically their beaks, continue to evolve. On Daphne island the finches have recently evolved larger beaks in order to break the seeds of the non-native plants introduced to the island..

Rats, cats, goats, and other introduced animals have done incredible damage to the the islands as they compete with the native plants and animals in these fragile and isolated ecosystems. Most of the non-native species have been eradicated on the uninhabited islands, but still exist on the islands where people live.

In addition, big cruise ships have brought introduced species to the Galapagos as they go to Panama or other South American ports for maintenance and are not inspected or cleaned before they re-enter the marine reserve.

Lobsters and sea cucumbers have been over-fished and their populations have been declining. A lobster fishing season has been established and there is a moratorium on collecting sea cucumbers. New fishing permits are also limited. Shark fin fishing was also a problem. It takes 50,000 to 70,000 sharks are destroyed in order to gather 1 ton of shark fins. This type of fishing is now illegal.

The number of people that visit the Galapagos Islands, the second largest marine reserve in the world, has ballooned over the past two years. According to recent estimates, 140,000 people visit the Galapagos each year. The number of cruise ships also increased dramatically and is negatively impacting this fragile and unique ecosystem. Fresh water is very scarce on all the islands and costs 4$ per gallon. The Galapagos Park Service has recently limited the number of cruise ships and no new licenses for cruise ships are being issued. Immigration to the Galapagos by Ecuadorians or others is also restricted.
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Kathy H. on

Great photos and interesting descriptions. The ship looks incredible. Thanks for sharing.

Anne F. on

Wow! I really enjoyed the photographs and your blogging made me feel like I was right along with you. Thanks!

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