A place would have to be pretty phenomenal to lure someone away from the British Virgin Islands… Believe us, we know from experience! Kyle and I usually work the summer in the BVI with Sail Caribbean, and intended to do so again this summer. However, when an unexpected opportunity arose to travel to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, the traveler and biologist in us could not say no! We were sad to leave the BVI and the Sail Caribbean crew after only one month this summer, but we disembarked on our journey eager to compare the two distinctly different island chains.
Called the “Enchanted Islands,” the Galapagos archipelago (another word for island chain) is comprised of 18 islands and is almost 600 miles from the coast of Ecuador. Everywhere you look you are greeted with breathtaking volcanic landscapes, some incredibly old and others obviously much less weathered. Everywhere we went (by land or by sea) was stunningly clean and natural because the islands are so carefully protected. We weren’t allowed to go anywhere without a nature guide with us!
This archipelago is famous for the many plants and animals that are found nowhere else on earth except for the
Galapagos! Organisms that live in one place and nowhere else are referred to as endemic species. We were ecstatic to be there! Some of the amazing creatures we saw up close and personal included: Marine Iguanas (one climbed over Kyle’s head while he was snorkeling!) Galapagos Penguins (penguins at the equator??), Blue Footed Boobies (it’s a type of bird), 3 different kinds of sharks (including the Scalloped Hammerhead!!!!), nesting Albatross (8 foot wing span!), Vampire Finches (one of many species of Darwin’s Finches), Sea Lions, Fur Seals (which are actually sea lions too), and Sally Lightfoot Crabs. The animals there have no fear of humans – it was amazing to be so close to them and not disrupting their natural behavior.
The Giant Tortoises were one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. It was like going back in time to the age of the
dinosaurs. I had the same sense of awe and respect as the first time I saw a Sea Turtle up close. Some of them reach more than 800 lbs, almost 6 feet in length, and live well over 150 years. There are not very many populations of giant tortoises left, so I felt very fortunate to walk next to so many of these old souls in the wild.
Like the Green and Hawksbill Sea Turtles Sail Caribbean students see while diving and snorkeling in the BVI, the Galapagos Giant Tortoises are a threatened species (Learn about Lonesome George, the last tortoise of his species). However, thanks to the hard work of many concerned people all over the world, many sea turtle and Galapagos giant tortoise populations have actually begun to increase
and stabilize! In the BVI, the Sail Caribbean teen environmental service program(Foxtrot) volunteers for the
Conservation and Fisheries Department (CFD) to help catch and tag sea turtles. This way CFD can keep better track of how well the local turtle population is doing. Similar tagging and monitoring efforts have been taken to help the Galapagos tortoises. There’s even a program to breed captive tortoises and release them when they’re old enough. There are now more baby giant tortoises roaming wild in the Galapagos islands than there have been in a century or more!
The Enchanted Islands were everything I dreamed they would be and more. They reminded me how unique and impressive our natural world is! …And the chilly nights
reminded me how much I missed the Caribbean 🙂