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11/2-13/5 2010

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 The Islands of Galapagos.

 Galapagos is a group of islands, 972 kilometres west of Ecuador. There are four larger islands with settlements: Isabella, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Floreana. The fourteen smaller islands; Fernandina, Santiago, Marchena, Espanola, Pinta, Santa Fe, Genovesa, Pinzon, Darwin, Rabida, Wolf, Seymour Norte, Bartolome and Baltra are 100% national parks along with the 107 even smaller islets and rocks. In total more than 125 islands with a landmass of 7,880 km2

 The islands are located at the Galapagos Triple Junction. It is also on top of the Galapagos hotspot, a place where the Earth's crust is being melted from below by a mantle plume, creating volcanoes. The oldest island is thought to have formed between 5 and 10 million years ago. The youngest islands, Isabela and Fernandina, are still being formed. Even older islands have been driven out to the east and been warn down and engrossed by the sea. Some indigenous species might have evolved on these islands. The whole group of islands are moving around two centimetres a year toward the east on this giant conveyor belt. 

 Most islands have several names. The first given by buccaneers, generally after other buccaneers and British noblemen. Then there are the Spanish names. I try to use the Spanish names, although I write in English. Some of the synonyms on the larger islands:

The Galápagos Islands     Archipiélago de Colón, Islas de Colón or Islas Galápagos
Abingdon Pinta
Albemarle *Isabella
Barrington Santa Fe
Bartholomew *Bartolomé
Beagle Beagle
Bindloe Marchena
Brattle Turtuga
Charles *Floreana, Santa María
Chatham *San Cristobal
Cowley Cowley
Culpepper Darwin ?
Duncan Pinzon
Endeby Endeby
Hood Espanola
Indefatigable *Santa Cruz
James Santiago, San Salvador
Jervis Rabida
Nameless Sin Nombre
Narborough Fernandina
North Seymour Seymour Norte
Plaza Plaza
South Seymour *Baltra
Tower, Bird Genovesa
Wenman Wolf
Real small Less than 1 km²
Daphne Major Daphne Major
South Plaza Island Plaza Sur

 Unfortunately, I have no chance to visit all islands, and to get an impression of which might be the most interesting, I done some research. Then I figured the most interesting might be out of my reach. Anyway, here are some facts, and those marked with a star* are those I actually visit:

 *Baltra,South Seymour is currently not within the boundaries of the Galapagos National Park, because it is anThe large one. Click to enlarge. official Ecuadorian military base. Baltra is a small flat island covering 1,9 km2, located near the centre of the Galápagos. The island is very arid and vegetation consists of salt bushes, prickly pear cactus and Palo Santo trees.
 The Galapagos Land Iguana is the subject of an active re-introduction campaign on the island; it became extinct on Baltra in 1954. However, in the early 1930s, Captain G. Allan Hancock had trans-located a population of Galapagos Land Iguanas from Baltra to Seymour Norte, a smaller island just a few hundred metres north of Baltra. The iguanas survived and became the breeding stock for the successful Charles Darwin Research Station captive breeding program. During the 1980s iguanas from Seymour Norte were brought to the Darwin Research Station as part of this project and in the 1990s land iguanas were reintroduced to Baltra. As of 1997 scientists counted 97 iguanas living on Baltra 13 of which were born on the islands. Currently it is not uncommon to see iguanas either crossing the main road or on the runway at the airport.

 *Bartolome, Bartolom is a volcanic islet just off the east coast of Santiago Island. It is one of the "younger" Click to enlarge.islands in the Galápagos archipelago. This island, and Sulivan Bay on Santiago island, are named after naturalist and life-long friend of Charles Darwin, Sir Bartholomew James Sulivan, who was a Lieutenant aboard HMS Beagle.
 With a total land area of just 1.2 km² and a maximum height of 114  meters, this island offers some of the most beautiful landscapes in the archipelago. The island consists of an extinct volcano and a variety of red, orange, green, and glistening black volcanic formations. Bartolome has a volcanic cone that is easy to climb and provides great views of the other islands. It is famous for its Pinnacle Rock, which is the distinctive characteristic of this island, and the most representative landmark of the Galápagos. It is possible to snorkel with the penguins, marine turtles, white-tipped reef sharks, and other tropical fish.

 Darwin is named in honour of Charles Darwin. It is among the smallest in the Galapagos Click to enlarge.Archipelago with an area of just one square kilometre. Darwin is the remains of an extinct volcano that reaches 165 meters above sea level. With no dry landing sites, Darwin Island's main attractions are found in the Pacific Ocean, which is teeming with a spectacular variety of marine life.
 The island’s waters attract Whale Sharks from June to November, as well as Hammerhead, Galapagos Silky and Blacktip sharks. In addition Green Turtles, Manta Rays and Dolphins can be found. The island also supports a large bird population, including Frigate Birds and Red-footed Boobies.

 Espanola, Hood is located in the extreme southeast of the archipelago and is considered, along with Santa Fe, one of the oldest, at approximately four million years. It is 60 km² with a height of 205 meters. A popular tourist stop, Española is the most southerly island in the Galápagos Archipelago. It is about a ten to twelve hour boat trip from Isla Santa Cruz. Tourists come to see the albatrosses and the mating dances of blue-footed boobies..Click to enlarge.
 However this island is dying, slowly becoming a rocky, barren land with little or no vegetation. But this does give large bays, with sand and soft shingle which attracts a healthy number of Galapagos Sea Lions.
 Two spots are especially popular with visitors: Bahía Gardner, which has a lovely beach; and Punta Suárez, of interest because of its varied bird-life. This island has its own species of animals, such as the Española Mockingbird, which has a longer and more curved beak than the one on the central islands; the Española lava lizard; the Marine Iguana, which has red markings on its back; among others. Here there are also boobies, Swallow-tailed Gulls and other tropical birds.

 Fernandina, Narbrough is the third largest, and youngest, island of the Galápagos. The island Click to an active shield volcano that has been erupting since April 11, 2009. It has an area of 642 km² and a height of 1,476 meters, with a summit caldera about 6.5 kilometres wide. The caldera underwent a collapse in 1968, when parts of the caldera floor dropped 350 meters. A small lake has intermittently occupied the northern caldera floor, most recently in 1988.
 Due to its recent volcanic activity, the island does not present much plant life and has a mostly rocky surface. Visitors to Fernandina Island will be taken to see only the outskirts of the crater for safety reasons. Punta Espinoza is a narrow stretch of land where hundreds of marine iguanas gather in large groups on black lava rocks. The famous Flightless Cormorant inhabits this island as well as penguins, pelicans and sea lions. Two types of lava flow can be observed, Aā and Pāhoehoe. Mangrove forests also abound on the island.

 *Floreana, Charles was named after Juan José Flores, the first president of Ecuador. It is also called Santa Maria after one of the caravels of Columbus. The island has an area of 173 km² and a maximum height ofClick to enlarge. 640 metres. It is one of the islands with the most interesting human history and one of the earliest to be inhabited.
 At Post Office Bay, since the 18th century whalers kept a wooden barrel that served as post office so that mail could be picked up and delivered to their destination mainly Europe and the United States by ships on their way home. Cards and letters are still placed in the barrel without any postage.
 Pink flamingos and green sea turtles nest from December to May on this island. The "joint footed" petrel is found here, a nocturnal sea bird which spends most of its life away from land. At the “Devil's Crown”, an underwater volcanic cone, coral formations are found. At Punta Cormorant, there is a green olivine beach. Here are see sea lions and a short walk past a lagoon to flamingos, rays, sea turtles and Ghost- and Sally Light Foot crabs; Grapsus grapsus.

 Genovesa, Tower or Bird occupies about 14 km2, and its maximum elevation is 64 meters. The horse-shoe shaped island has a volcanic caldera whose wall has collapsed, forming the Great Darwin Bay, surrounded by cliffs. Lake Arcturus, filled with salt water, lies in the centre, and sediment within this crater lake is less than 6,000 years old. Although no historical eruptions are known from Genovesa, there are very young lava flows on the flanks of the volcano.Click to enlarge.
 This island is known as Bird Island, because of the large and varied bird colonies which nest here. There are an abundance of frigate birds and it is the best place to see Red-footed Boobies, Masked Boobies, Swallow-tailed Gulls, Storm Petrels, tropical birds, finches, and mockingbirds.
 Prince Philip’s Steps is an extraordinary steep path that leads through a seabird colony full of life, up to cliffs that are 25 meters high. At the top, the trail continues inland, passing more seabird colonies in a thin Palo Santo forest. 
 Leaving the forest, you can overview a rocky plain. The Storm Petrels here are different from any others in the world because they fly around during daytime. To avoid predators, they only return to their nest holes at night. The smallest Marine Iguana in the archipelago lives here.
 In Darwin Bay there is the possibility to either dive along the inner wall or go to the outer wall, which is less protected. Another possibility is to dive from the outside of the volcano through the channel into the caldera.

 *Isabela, Albemarle is the largest island of the Galápagos with an area of 4,640 square kilometres, and length of 100 kilometres nearly four times larger than Santa Cruz, the second largest of the islands. It have an altitude of 1,707 meters. This island was named in honour of Queen Isabella of Spain, who sponsored the voyage of Columbus. Click to enlarge.
 As one of the youngest islands, Isabela is located near the Galápagos hotspot. At approximately one million years old, the island was formed by the merger of six shield volcanoes - Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin, Ecuador, Sierra Negra and Wolf. All of these volcanoes except Ecuador are still active, making it one of the most volcanically active places on earth. Two of the volcanoes, Volcan Ecuador and Volcan Wolf (the island's highest point), lie directly on the equator.

 The island is primarily noted for its geology, providing excellent examples of a geologic occurrence that created the Galapagos Islands including uplifts at Urvina Bay and the Bolivar Channel, tuff cones at Tagus Cove, and Pulmace on Alcedo and Sierra Negra, one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

 Isabela is also interesting for its flora and fauna. The young island does not follow the vegetation zones of the other islands. The relatively new lava fields and surrounding soils have not developed the sufficient nutrients required to support the varied life zones found on other islands. Another obvious difference occurs on Volcan Wolf and Cerro Azul, these volcanoes loft above the cloud cover and are arid on top.
 Isabela's rich animal, bird, and marine life is beyond compare. Isabela is home to more wild tortoises than all the other islands. Isabela's large size and notable topography created barriers for the slow moving tortoises; apparently the creatures were unable to cross lava flows and other obstacles, causing several different sub-species of tortoise to develop. Today tortoises roam free in the calderas of Alcedo, Wolf, Cerro Azul, Darwin and Sierra Negra.
 Other noted species include penguins, cormorants, marine iguanas, boobies, pelicans and Sally Lightfoot crabs abound. Galapagos Land Iguanas and Darwin's finches, Galápagos Hawks, Galápagos Doves and very interesting lowland vegetation. The west coast of Isabela in the Bolivar Channel is the best place in Galapagos for viewing whales and dolphin.

 Marchena, Bindloe has an area of 130 km² and a maximum altitude of 343 meters. There aren't any visitor's sites on this island, although it is possible to dive in the waters around Marchena on organised tours. Click to enlarge.Most visitors only see it if they sail around the northern part of Isabela on the way to Tower Island, its nearest neighbour about 70 kilometres due west.
 Like many of the Galapagos volcanoes, Marchena has a caldera. Its caldera is roughly elliptical and measures seven kilometres by six kilometres , within the range of caldera sizes of the large western volcanoes. Marchena's caldera is unusual, however, in that it has been almost completely filled with young lavas, some of which has spilled over and down the sides. The oldest lavas are 500,000 years old.
 Another reason why Isla Marchena is so famous is that, although it is uninhabited, it was embroiled in the ‘Floreana Mystery’. Here the dead bodies of Rudolf Lorenz and the captain of the ship he was on, washed up mysteriously on the shore of the island and were mummified naturally as there were no natural predators found here.

 Seymour Norte, North Seymour is a small island just north of Baltra. The whole island is covered with low, bushy vegetation. The island is named after an English nobleman, Lord Hugh Seymour. It has an area of 1.9 km² and a maximum altitude of 28 metres.
 North Seymour has a visitor trail approximately two kilometres in length crossing the inland of the island and exploring the rocky coast. The stock for the captive breeding program of the Galapagos Land Iguana is descended from iguanas which William Randolph Hearst trans-located from Baltra Island to Seymour Norte in the 1930s.
  This island is home to a large population of blue-footed boobies and swallow-tailed gulls. It hosts one of the largest populations of frigate birds.Click to enlarge.

 Pinzon, Duncan has no visitor sites and a permit is required to visit. It has an area of 18 km² and a maximum altitude of 458 meters.
 This marks the geographical centre of the Galapagos Islands so it is surprising that neither of the Galapagos Islands' two main tree species occur on the island. In the humid zone a unique species of the daisy tree is found.  Pinzòn island is invaded with a tree called the Red Sand Tree. It is a tree imported by Zimbabwe.
 The island is home to giant tortoises, sea lions and other endemic species. Click to enlarge.

 Pinta, Abingdon has an area of 60 km² and a maximum altitude of 777 meters.
 The elongated island of Pinta is the northernmost of the active Galapagos volcanoes. Pinta is a shield volcano with numerous young cones and lava flows originating from NNW-trending fissures.

 Pinta is the original home to Lonesome George, perhaps the most famous tortoise in the Galapagos Islands. It is also home to Swallow-tailed Gulls, Marine Iguanas, hawks, fur seals and a number of other birds and mammals. The most northern island in the Galapagos, at one time Isla Pinta had a thriving tortoise population.Click to enlarge.

 Rabida, Jervis Island named in honour of the 18th-century British admiral John Jervis. The island has a total area of 4,9 km² and a height of 367 metres. The island has red sand beaches and a saltwater lagoon are inhabited by flamingos and a bachelor sea lion colony. The landscape is studded with small volcanic craters along sharp slopes and cliffs. In addition to flamingos and the bachelor sea lion colony, pelicans, White-cheeked Pintails, boobies, and nine species of finch have been reported. The rich wildlife attracts a number of tourists cruises, but not me.

 *San Cristobal, Chatham is the easternmost island in the Galápagos archipelago, and one Click to enlarge.of the oldest geologically. It has an area of 558 km2 and its highest point rises to 730 metres. The capital of the archipelago, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (City map), lies at the south-western tip of the island.
 This island hosts frigate birds, Galapagos Sea Lions, Galapagos tortoises, blue and Red Footed Boobies, tropical birds, Marine Iguanas, dolphins, Swallow-tailed Seagulls. Its vegetation includes Calandrinia galapagosa, Lecocarpus darwinii, trees such as Matazarna; Lignum vitae. In the waters nearby are sharks, rays, and lobsters.
 The largest fresh water lake in the archipelago, Laguna El Junco, is located in a crater in the highlands of San Cristóbal, in the southern half of the island. The lake harbours a large population of birdlife, but reaching the lake requires a short uphillClick to enlarge. walk. Nearby, La Galapaguera is a breeding station and sanctuary for giant tortoises.
 Island tourism sites nearer the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno include the Cerro Tijeretas, a nesting colony for frigate birds and a statue of Charles Darwin, marking the original site where he first disembarked in the Galápagos Islands during the voyage of the Beagle, on 16 September 1835. La Loberia, a colony of sea lions, lies about ten minutes by bus from the town.
 Local boat tours also take visitors to two popular nearby dive sites. Léon Dormido /Kicker Rock represents the remains of a lava cone, now split in two. Isla Lobos, sea lion island is also a nesting site for Blue-footed Boobies.

 *Santa Cruz, Indefatigable is one of the Galápagos Islands with an area of 986 km² and a maximum height of 864 metres. Named after the Holy Cross, its English name (Indefatigable)Click to enlarge. was given after a British vessel HMS Indefatigable. Santa Cruz hosts the largest human population in the archipelago at the town of Puerto Ayora (City map). Situated in the centre of the archipelago, Santa Cruz is the second largest island after Isabela. Here are some small villages too, whose inhabitants work in agriculture and cattle raising. This island is a large dormant volcano. It is estimated that the last eruptions occurred around a million and a half years ago.
 As a testimony to its volcanic history there are two big holes formed by the collapse of a magma chamber: Media Luna and Los Gemelos. Most interesting to me is the Charles Darwin Research Station and a Giant Tortoise Preserves.
 Large populations of Giant Tortoises are found here. Wild Tortoises roam free crashing through the mist covered guayabillo, pega pega, and grasses of the humid zone. Flycatchers, finches and owls fill the Scalesia forests near Los Gremlos. Almost every bird found in the archipelago has been seen within the many life zones on Santa Cruz.
 At Black Turtle Cove there is a site surrounded by mangroves which sea turtles, rays and small sharks sometimes use as a mating area. Cerro Dragon, known for its flamingo lagoon, is also located here and along the trail one may see Galapagos Land Iguanas foraging.

 Santa Fe, Barrington is a small island of 24 km²  and a height of 259 metres, which lies in the centre of the Galapagos archipelago, to the south east of Santa Cruz Island. Geologically it is one of the oldest, since volcanic rocks of about four millionClick to enlarge. years old have been found. The vegetation of the island is characterized by the presence of a dense forest of the largest species of the giant Opuntia cactus.
 Santa Fé is home to two species endemic to the island: the Barrington Land Iguana; Conolophus pallidus and the Santa Fe Rice Rat; Aegialomys galapagoensis bauri. The visitor site is a wet landing located in Barrington Bay on the north-eastern side of the island. Large numbers of sea lions are found on the beaches in the bay, occasionally hindering peregrination to the two trails leading from the beach.

 Santiago/San Salvador, James consists of two overlapping volcanoes, has an area of 585 km² and a maximum height of 907 meters, on the north-western shield volcano.
 Sullivan Bay is especially fascinating for those who are interested in geology and volcanology. You can walk over the un-eroded, black lava flow covered with lava bubbles and tree-trunk moulds in the surface. There are two small beaches where turtles come for nesting.Click to enlarge.
 Cousin's Rock is a well known dive site and is situated off the east coast of Santiago. It is a triangular rock that rises about ten meters out of the water and is made up of many layers of volcanic rock.
 Marine Iguanas, sea lions, fur seals, land and sea turtles, flamingos, dolphins, and sharks are found here. There are a large number of goats and pigs, animals which were introduced by humans to the islands and have caused great harm to the endemic species. Darwin Finches and Galapagos Hawks are usually seen as well as a colony of Galapagos Fur Seals. At Sullivan Bay, a recent (1897) pahoehoe lava flow can be observed.
 Puerto Egas, south of James Bay and west side of Santiago, is one of the best sites. There is a long, lava shoreline where eroded rock formations house an excellent variety of wildlife. Marine Iguanas bask in the sun while Land Iguanas scatter around feeding on exposed algae. The tide pools contain many Sally Lightfoot crabs, which attract other types of hunters. Following the trail fur seal lions are found. Puerto Egas is not only a good spot for taking pictures but also perfect for snorkelling and seeing many species of tropical fish.

 Wolf, Wenman is a small island named after the German geologist Theodor Wolf. It is situated north west of the main Galapagos Island group, and has an area of 1.3 km²  and a maximum altitude of 253 meters.Click to enlarge.  Wolf Island is the remains of an extinct volcano that reaches a maximum 253 meters above sea level. The island is remote from the main island group. The Galapagos National Park does not allow landing on the island, however it is a popular diving location.
 Wolf Island is the southerly island on the lineament. The volcano that formed Wolf Island is now extinct with last eruptions believed to have been 900,000–1,600,000 years ago, meaning the last eruptions occurred before the last eruptions on Darwin Island.
 The marine life of Wolf Island includes: Schooling Hammerhead, Galapagos and occasionally Whale Sharks, as well as Green Turtles, Manta Rays and other pelagic fish. Birdlife on the island is abundant with Frigate; Red-footed Boobies and the Vampire Finch; Geospiza difficilis septentrionalis (subspecies of the Sharp-Beaked Ground Finch) is found on the island as well as other species.

 Daphne Major is a volcanic island just north of Santa Cruz Island and just west of the Baltra. It consists of a tuff crater, devoid of trees, whose rim rises 110 metres above the sea, covering an area of 0,32 km².
 Though easily accessible to most visitors to the Galápagos, the national park service has highly restricted visits to this island, and it is primarily used for scientific research.
 Daphne is home to a variety of other birds including Galápagos Martins, Blue-footed Booby, Masked Booby, Short-eared Owls, Red-billed Tropicbirds and Magnificent Frigate Birds.

 Plaza Sur is a small island off the east coast of Santa Cruz. It has an area of 0.13 km, and a maximum altitude of 23 meters. Despite its small size it is home to a large number of species and it is famous for its extraordinary flora. That is why this island is very popular with visitors. On the steep banks it is possible to see a great number of birds such as nesting Red-billed Tropicbirds and Swallow-tailed Gulls, but most of all, enjoying the beautiful view from atop the steep banks or strolling along the base of the cliff is an extremely pleasurable experience. Very attractive are the beautiful prickly pear cactus trees and of course the large colony of Galapagos Land Iguanas. Depending on the season, the Sesuvium ground vegetation changes its colour from intense green in the rainy season to orange and purple in the dry season.

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