Galapagos Cruise Report: Isabela Island

From the National Geographic Islander in Galápagos, Thursday, May 20, 2010

Our day started early as we navigated along the coast of Isabela. The water was calm with an azure blue color, which has no fitting description for the depth of its beauty. A light mist shrouded our landing area, making our arrival at the coast of Urbina bay interesting. We eventually were able to see the large swell from the south as it bathed the coast with a foamy haze. It is hard to imagine how natural upheavals change our earth – but this morning we were witness to the remnants of one such change. This area had a couple of square kilometers of seafloor uplifted to various heights, so as we walk we find large coral heads left high and dry with mollusks, crustaceans, and sea urchins littering the ground. Coming upon the inner reaches of this uplift, we encounter a mangrove inlet that had all of its life taken from it in this cataclysm. Here, land iguanas and a giant tortoise great us with uninterested glances. Upon our return to our landing beach, we were completely surprised to find at least 15 penguins fishing in the shallows with pelicans fighting for their share of the take. Waves crash down with this avian show riding the crest of the waves. Where else can you find surfing penguins – incredible!

At Punta Moreno on southern Isabela we arrived to a new lava flow. This flow was punctuated with sparse vegetation that is found nowhere else on earth. Pioneer species took root in this recent flow, and they will eventually break down the mineral content and allow soil to be made through decomposition. In the distance we could see greenery, and when we made our way there we found a depression that was home to an astonishing oasis holding water and abundant life. Greater flamingos and common gallinules prove that life can survive even in these desolate places. We returned to the shore and took a short Zodiac ride. These floating crafts allowed us to enter mangrove inlets that are home to an incredible range of life. At various points we were surrounded by 15 to 20 Pacific green sea turtles resting at the surface near to long mangrove roots. Deeper in the mangroves we were surprised by two flightless cormorants that were having a mating “dance” – synchronized swimming at its best. Reaching out of the water beak first then facing each other and swimming in unison – this was a delight for all to see. A glint in the deep turquoise eye of the cormorant made us feel included in this wonder and ritual of life. As the sun continued its path, we were all left content after this wonderful day.

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