Beneath the surface of the Galapagos

We’ve just past the half way point of the first ever Galapagos field course and so far, it’s been incredible! Last Monday we all gathered at the University of San Francisco Quito campus on San Cristobal after over 1300 collective hours of travelling to finally reach the island of San Cristobal. That evening we were introduced to our host families who we’d be staying with for the next two weeks. Staying with a local family is a great way to get immersed in life in a foreign country, but it can be challenging! The families here are lovely, however most do not speak any English so daily communication becomes a fun game of charades! It is surprising how much Spanish you can learn just from being surrounded by it, even when you knew absolutely nothing before.

Our cohort of 35 students are split into four supergroups to do our daily activities. Over the last week we have been mist netting Darwin’s finches, analysing their blood in the lab, beaching cleaning, establishing plots and using drone surveys for invasive and native plant assessments. All have been amazing experiences and we have learnt so much about conservation and research in the Galapagos. But my absolute favourite has to be our day snorkelling at Kicker Rock; a known place for incredible marine and avian life.

We sailed out at 8:30am, following the coastline of San Cristobal towards the giant rock emerging over 100m out of the water. Within five minutes we were joined by Galapagos petrels and shearwaters; quite a rare sight! We also spotted some nazca and blue footed boobies, occasionally launching themselves into the water for fish. Boobies can dive at up to 60mph so have protective, clear eyelids to minimise the impact of the water whilst still allowing them to see.

As we got closer to Kicker Rock the marine life became better and better. An abundance of green turtles and sea lions were seen from the surface. The rock gives protection for the many younger fish and sharks before they move on to the open ocean. As well as this, the mixing of different currents creates and an abundance of food, and so attracts many marine creatures to the site.

As soon as we jumped in and looked down there were shoals of large fish and Galapagos sharks swimming below. We continued swimming through the channel between the rock above them, and then out of the blue (quite literally) an eagle ray emerged less than 5 meters away! It was swimming pretty slowly so we were able to follow for a while. What a magical experience! As we circled Kicker Rock we must have seen over 20 turtles too! Everywhere we looked we’d see a turtle!

Other groups had just as much success. Spotting shoals of eagle rays, hammerheads, bottlenose dolphins bow riding and even a huge ray (manta or mobula) leaping from the water! Luckily the waters around the Galapagos are marine protected areas so the wildlife has at least this level of protection against fishing and exploitation. However, there are always exceptions with illegal fishing and shark finning boats, mainly from international waters.

People tell you that in the Galapagos the wildlife is everywhere you look…and it really is! We are incredibly lucky to have a field course here and are loving ever minute of it! Stay tuned for more info about our adventures!


By Abi Gwynn- a final year Zoology student and blog writer

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Twitter: @Nomad_By_Nature

am769    January 17th, 2018    Galapagos

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