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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Galapagos Islands: Punta Espinoza Pointe & Marine Iguanas

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PUNTA ESPINOZA ON FERNANDINA ISLAND

Some of our zodiac landings, like Punta Espinoza this afternoon, are dry landings. Generally the landings are onto black lava rock or small cement blocks making mini landing areas. The rocks/cement often were wet and slippery. I was thankful to have heavy duty hiking boots, it really made a big difference in feeling confident in my footing.

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DRY LANDING AT PUNTA ESPINOZA

At approximately 700,000 years old Fernandina is one of the youngest islands. Every few years the volcano erupts making it one of the most volcanically active islands in the world. The constant state of volcanic eruptions gave this island a unique feeling. It lacks many of the plants and animals on other islands; instead you are left on miles upon miles of bare black rock feeling like it is the end of the world.

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FEELS LIKE THE END OF THE WORLD

Today we took the third option for excursion, the extra long walk which took the long walk path and an additional segment across the lava fields. We were told to bring a ton of water and we are sure glad we did. Without any shade and a hot sun beating down on black rock made the land a furnace, but the landscape was so worth it. Since the lava fields are changing often the land is full of cracks which are fragile and can cause difficult walking conditions.

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DEEP CRACKS WERE EVERYWHERE YOU REALLY HAD TO WATCH YOUR FOOTING

Although very few species of bugs do exist on the islands we did find evidence that at least there were spiders on this island. Webs laced across the gaps of lava rock like spun silk gently rustling in the breeze.

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DELICATE COBWEBS

Some of the rock layers were beautifully colored. Funny enough it reminded me of the rich colors of the Grand Canyon.

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SOME STRIKING COLORS IN THOSE GAPS

Two types of lava formations were pointed out to us by our guide while walking through the lava fields. Ah-Ah is a Hawaiian name for lava flows that have a rough ripple like surface. The natives hundreds of years ago walked across the rock in bare feet, they called it pahoehoe because it was nice to walk on.

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PAHOEHOE LAVA ROCK WAS NICE AND SMOOTH

The incredibly spiny surface of broken jagged lava rock on the other hand was called ‘A’a (pronounced ah-ah) because of the sharp rock hurt peoples feet and that was the sound they made.

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‘A’A LAVA ROCK WAS SHARK AND JAGGED

One of the very few numerous plants on this island is the lava cactus which lives exclusively on barren lava fields.

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THE LAVA CACTUS IS A RESILIENT PLANT

Not only is it one of the few plants to survive in this dry and extremely difficult environment it is often one of the first plants to grow on a fresh lava flow.

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LAVA CACTUS ON ‘A’A LAVA FIELD

This plant is labeled as vulnerable because it only grows in the Galapagos and has a limited range. They really start the process of breaking up the rock for other plants to take root.

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BREAKING UP THE LAVA ROCK IS AN IMPORTANT FIRST STEP

After our walk across the lava fields we returned back to the coast for the walk back. Thankfully the coastal walk was cooler because those lava fields really were HOT; imagine walking on an ocean of black asphalt for an hour and a half carrying 20 pounds of camera equipment. YEA that ocean breeze felt great!

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THE COAST IS ALWAYS COOLER THAN THE INTERIOR OF THE ISLANDS

Our naturalist pointed out a skeleton of a baby whale that had been carried from the water a little ways inland by scientists and reconstructed so they could study why the whale died. Seems like it was a healthy 3 month old that got a little too close to the shore and couldn’t return to the water.

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WHALE SKELETON

Once we hit the water the Marine Iguanas were everywhere. Fernandina Island is home to one of the largest colonies of Marine Iguanas which are endemic to the Galapagos Islands.

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TOO MANY TO COUNT

The Marine Iguana has developed the unique ability among lizards to live and forage in the sea. It mainly lives on the rocky black lava shore. The lizards however are not always black. The young have a lighter colored dorsal and some adults are grey. The coloring helps them blend in with the rocks they live in as well as allow them to absorb heat quickly after emerging from the chilly water.

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DARK TO AID IN GETTING WARM QUICKER

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JUVENILES HAVE A LIGHTER COLORED DORSAL CREST THAT IS USUALLY A PALE CREAM

Charles Darwin was disgusted by the animals looks writing:

“The black lava rocks on the beach are frequented by large disgusting clumsy lizards. They are as black as the porous rocks over which they crawl and seek their prey from the sea. I call them ‘imps of darkness’. They assuredly will become the land they inhabit.”

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JUST CALL US IMPS OF DARKNESS

Marine Iguanas feed mostly on marine algae which live on the surface of rocks below the water but within reach of sunlight. Marine algae are fast growing, about an inch a week, so it can support a vast majority of iguanas in one area.

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THAT’S A TON OF ALGAE

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AN ISLAND COVERED WITH MARINE IGUANAS

In adult males the color of their scales varies with the seasons. Breeding times result in a wide array of beautiful colors from red to teal green.

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OOO YOU ARE A PRETTY MAN

The Marine Iguana eats underwater, as a result they end up swallowing a good amount of salt water. They have developed the ability to expel excess salt from nasal glands by sneezing out the salt. They can develop a coating of salt which can make their face appear white.

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EWWW HIS FACE IS COVERED IN SALT SNOT

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I TRIED TO GET A SHOT OF ONE SNEEZING, THIS ONE IS JUST ABOUT TO SNEEZE BUT THE MOMENT HAPPED A MILLASECOND LATER

On land the Marine Iguana is pretty clumsy. In the water however they are graceful. Tucking their back legs against their bodies they use their powerful tail like a whip back and forth to propel themselves. They usually stay closer to the shore, where the water is warmer. Since they have to regulate their body temperature they cannot spend too much time in the cold water. They can survive a single dive of up to thirty minutes but then need to return to land to warm up again in the sun.

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FIGHTING TO GET TO THE TOP OF THE ROCK FOR THE MOST SUNLIGHT

The Marine Iguana when too hot will sometimes lift its body off the ground to create more space for breeze to cool the iguanas belly off. When cold the iguana will flatten itself on the hot black rocks trying to absorb their heat.

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LIFTING HIMSELF UP TO COOL OFF A LITTLE

Iguanas will also huddle together for warmth.

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GET CLOSER I AM FREEZING

The sun started to set and it was finally time to return to the boat. I have said this before but the setting and rising sun are my favorite time to photo. The softer light streaming through the clouds was beautiful.

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I ADORE THIS LIGHTING

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A SEALION CROSSING THE BEACH TO THE WATER AS THE LAST OF THE SUNS RAYS POKE THROUGH THE CLOUDS

A sun sinks lower on yet another fabulous day in the Galapagos Islands. I want this trip to NEVER END!

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THE BRILLIANT LIGHT IS STARTING TO FADE ON ANOTHER DAY

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