Right now, I am on the roof of the boat Daphne off the coast of Bartholomew Island in the Galapagos. Today was our first full day of the class field trip in the archipelago. We just spent sunrise to sunset hiking and snorkeling with animals amidst beautiful beach, volcanic, and underwater landscapes.
Here is a breakdown of the day:
6:30am – Nature walk around North Seymour Island
10am – Snorkel around North Seymour Island
2:30pm – Snorkel around Pinnacle Rock at Batholomew Island
4:30pm – Sunset hike to vista point on Bartholomew Island
The boat is our home base, where we eat and sleep. Dinghies, or pangas, deliver us to shore every time we go on shore for a nature hike or closer to the coast for a snorkeling session. Ernesto, a resident Ecuadorian who has been a naturalist of the Galapagos for over 25 years, is our fearless leader. A portly man who is dependably silly but also very serious about protecting the Galapagos, Ernesto is always eager to share with us his extensive knowledge about the islands. I have not yet discovered the full range of Ernesto’s expertise, but it at least includes ecology, geology, evolution, social issues, and risk management (more on that later). We now trust Ernesto to always respond honestly (when he’s not joking) to whatever we ask, even if the answer is not always what we want to hear.
We have experienced and learnt so much in such a short period of time, so I have to make a disclaimer that what I write about in this blog about the Galapagos will be describe a miniscule part of this entire adventure. One of my favorite parts of the first day was snorkeling around North Seymour Island. While we were on the boat preparing for snorkeling, two huge Galapagos sharks began swimming around our boat right near the ocean surface. The larger shark looked to be over 2 meters long, and if my arms were a half meter longer I could have reached out and touched the shark from the boat deck. Although we had been told that we would be looking for these cartilaginous fish during our upcoming snorkel session, seeing these sharks by the boat got me even more nervous and excited – the winning emotional combination for a thrilling experience.
Rob (one of our professors) checking out a couple of the white tipped reef sharks.
The pangas dropped us off and we swam with the current around North Seymour. We immediately saw fancy fish and coral on volcanic rock. I love how what you see when you snorkel is always a surprise – you have almost no idea what you are going to see from the surface. An entirely new ecosystem surrounds you when you jump in the water with some goggles and fins. It wasn’t long before I saw a 5 foot shark swimming about 20 feet deep. I ended up seeing about ten total of these white tip reef sharks throughout the rest of the dive, and at one point a shark was just a few feet underneath me. I had a phase in 3rd grade when sharks were my favorite animals because I realized how awfully they are portrayed by the media. Swimming with sharks sounds pretty ballsy, but in reality it should be just like swimming with any other fish. Regardless, this is definitely going on my list of the coolest things I have done in my life.
Throughout the rest of the trip, we swam with many more marine animals including sea lions, turtles, bioluminescent jellyfish, manta rays, and penguins. Snorkeling was definitely a highlight. Such hard work for a class.
PS: Ketaki and Lori, two of the other bloggers, were also in this evolution class and they'll also be writing about the trip, so be sure to check out their posts too!