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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Galapagos Islands: Urbina Bay & Land Lizards

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URBINA BAY ON ISABELLA ISLAND

Urbina Bay is located on the island of Isabella which is the largest of the Galapagos Islands. As well as being the biggest it is also the youngest island. With five of the six volcanoes still active it is one of the most volcanically active places on earth. Isabella Island is known for its geology and the Urbina bay, where we visited today, was an area created recently by a sea floor uplift.

Some of our zodiac landings, like Urbina Bay this morning, are wet landings. Generally on a sandy beach these were the moments that made me most nervous. I had to jump out of the boat with the big 500mm lens without falling or splashing water all over the camera equipment. Thankfully we were really lucky on this trip and didn’t ruin any of our equipment.

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IT WAS A WET LANDING AT URBINA BAY

Uplifts occurs when the molten materials beneath the surface shifts. In 1957 the shore of Urbina Bay was uplifted 15 feet making the shoreline shift ¾ of a mile further out to sea. The marine life and reef near the shore was left high and dry.

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THE CORAL WAS LEFT HIGH AND DRY

We took a long walk over the through this odd terrain to observe evidence of this natural disaster which offered us the unique experience of hiking through the remains of the sea floor.

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THE PATH WOUND THROUGH WHAT WAS ONCE OCEAN FLOOR

Boulder sized brain coral heads can be seen near the area that was once the beach. These large stands of coral were extremely large and varied.

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THE LARGE CORAL WAS SO BEAUTIFUL AND IT WAS EVERYWHERE

Some of the coral was as large as a car. Brain coral only grows about an inch a year… so you can only imagine how old the coral below is.

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MR. ROGUE NEXT TO THE VERY LARGE ANCIENTLY OLD BRAIN CORAL

There have been extensive tests done by scientists on large coral cores. Coral has growth rings similar to those of trees that can be used to date past events. Climate changes, water temperature, rainfall and El Nines can be predicted by taking a x-ray a of a small slice of a coral cores. I love vacations like this one; to go out and see the world in person, I always come home more enlightened about the world than when I left.

The paths on the hike we took were literally littered with land iguanas. They were everywhere. This island contains some of the largest land iguanas in the islands. The Land Iguana is endemic to the Galapagos.

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THESE GUYS WERE HUMONGOUS

With a length of three to five feet and a weight of up to twenty five pounds these guys were the largest lizards I have ever seen! Since they are cold blooded they absorb heat by sprawling out in the sun.

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LAND IGUANAS LIKE TO SUNBATHE

Each iguana has its territory which it will defend and sleep in burrows to conserve body heat. Find an iguana and you should be able to see their burrow close by.

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A LAND IGUANA’S BURROW

They are primarily herbivores but some have been known to east bugs. Because fresh water is limited the iguana gets most of its water from the prickly pear cactus.

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IT IS HARD TO LIVE IN A LAND WITH LITTLE WATER

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THE PRICKLY PEAR IS 80% OF A LAND IGUANA’S DIET

When Charles Darwin came to the islands he wrote about the abundance of the land iguanas:

“I cannot give a more forcible proof of their numbers, than by stating that when we wer left at Santiago Island we could not find a spot free from their burrows on which to pitch our single tent.”

However with whalers, settlers, the military and the introductions of domesticated animals that were either left or abandoned effected the iguanas with devastating results.

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ON THE VERGE OF EXTINCTION

On some islands like Santiago Island that Darwin camped on the iguana is extinct and on other islands they are nearly gone. It is sad to see how these once plentiful animals are now so few. In the past 40 years conservation efforts have been started and built upon. Captive breeding programs and the eradication of wild dog packs and goats have led to a successful increase in Land iguana populations. The future looks good for these huge lizards.

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THE LAND IGUANA POPULATION IS NOW STABLE I AM GLAD FUTURE TRAVELERS TO THE GALAPAGOS WILL SEE THESE IN THE WILD

There are seven different subspecies of lava lizard. The males can be brilliantly colored to a molted grey to speckled copper.

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LAVA LIZARD MALE

The females generally are smaller with a bright red throat. Since the lava lizard can change colors when it feels threatened color patters are varied between the species and even within a species making them difficult to identify.

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LAVA LIZARD FEMALE

The Galapagos Islands were created by volcanic activity and are 605 miles away from the coast of Ecuador. Some of the wildlife on the islands flew or swam to the islands calling them home. Others like plants had to make their way by more interesting means. Some plants scientists’ theorize ended up on the islands through birds.

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COTTON PLANT YELLOW FLOWER

Birds carry seeds in their stool which they could have released on shore or seeds can travel caked to the mud of feet or attached to feathers. Some plant spores are light enough to arrive on wind currents even at such a vast distance.

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CACTUS FLOWERS

Also strong currents swirl around the Galapagos Islands. Scientists believe vegetation floats broken off from South America could have carried plants and even small animals and bugs. Vegetation floats have been documented seen floating far out to sea away from any land.

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COTTON PLANT NAMED SO BECAUSE THE SEEDS LOOK LIKE SMALL PODS OF COTTON

After walking through the interior of the island the path lead us on a coastal route back to the zodiac. Most of the coast of the Galapagos islands is a combination of sand and lava rock.

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THE TYPICAL GALAPAGOS COAST

I have to say it again the naturalists were so amazing. On every island there was something else fascinating to learn. There was a pile of bones on this island, the remains of a sea turtle that had passed. The bones were old and practically petrified but it was neat to see how the shell constructed together.

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SEA TURTLE BONES

The beach was covered in sea shells and interesting invertebrates like this sea urchin skeleton. I really wish I could have brought one back with me but on the islands it is strictly prohibited to remove even the sand. At least I have my memories and a beautiful picture is a good compromise.

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I CAN’T TAKE IT HOME BUT I CAN CON MR. ROGUE INTO TAKING A PHOTO OF IT

2 comments:

lilmansworld said...

what an incredible trip! I feel like I need a vacation from your vacation. Florida is alllll I need but thanks for taking me from the chair to the islands!

Donna said...

i just returned from the Galapagos, ... 2yrs after your trip. you will be happy to know it is alive and well. we saw a lot of Land Iguanas at Urbina. i just can't get enough of it .... your photos are beautiful !

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