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Today, while the girls were getting their hands dirty volunteering at the recycling plant, Karen and I snuck off to take a look at the other half of Galapagos – that which lies beneath the sea.
Looking at our packed itinerary we’d realised that this morning’s activity was the only one we could bear to miss, so we booked ourselves on a dive trip to Mosquera and Seymour Island.
We’d both qualified fairly recently so hadn’t been sure that we’d be allowed to dive here- the currents can be strong and the water cold, so a lot of sites are only suitable for advanced divers. Luckily we found a reputable company that happened to be taking out a Canadian father and son who also were novices, and we were able to join them.
First we moored off Mosquera, a tiny reef of lava covered in sand, in between Baltra (where the airport is) and Seymour Island. After a quick weight check and briefing we entered the water ‘James Bond’ style and descended.
Our first encounter was a stingray resting on the bottom. Gradually we got down to 20 metres and swam along to peer off the edge of the reef into the deep. The water was about 15 degrees but we were warm in our thick wetsuits and swam along taking in pufferfish, angelfish, sea stars, bright blue nudibranchs (always a favourite of mine) and garden eels.
After about 40 mins, I was disappointed to find that I had reached the safe reserve of 50 bar of air, so Karen and Ryan, one of the other divers, had to come up with me. But the disappointment abated when we were joined in our (slightly too fast) ascent by two sea lions. They really are like the dogs of the sea; spinning around, copying us and generally larking about.
I knew we might see sea lions but its amazing to have one swim right up to your face at breakneck speed before veering off and upwards at the last possible moment. And it was something else when we ended playing fetch with one sea lion who stole Karen’s fin, dropped it and then grabbed it again just in time for Ryan to rescue it!
Not so amazing for Karen was the choppy water up top. Like Darwin, she struggled valiantly against seasickness, and recovered just enough to come down on the second dive at Seymour point. This one was tougher than the first with what felt to me like a fairly strong current. We pushed on, perhaps too hard as again I used my air pretty quickly, but not before we had all marvelled at a flock of about 25 beautiful manta rays passing overhead.
As we reached the point, the current slowed and we paused by a cave to watch a few white tip reef sharks napping in their sheltered spot. White tips are small (for sharks) – maybe 1.5 metres long – and they feed at night, so we were perfectly safe- just fascinated to get a close look at them through the mouth of the cave.
Karen and I ascended together and this time took care not to be distracted by sea lions and did a proper safety stop. Unfortunately the rolling waves near the surface did not do anything for Karen’s sea legs and she was feeling decidedly peaky as we hit air. To her dismay we surfaced a good way from the boat, and had to bob around for a bit before they picked us up and we struggled out of the water. But we made it, and the colour returned to Karen’s face just in time for her to attempt to eat some lunch as we sat up front in the sun watching sea lions, pelicans – and in Karen’s case – the horizon.
Diving out here is certainly not for the faint hearted (or delicate of stomach) but very rewarding and the only way to really see the other half of Galapagos. Just as on the surface, under water is teeming with life that is astonishingly happy to get up close and personal!
Post script – I have just managed to post this after a lengthy power cut which meant I had to type in the dark wearing a natty little head torch. I really hope this is not going to delay dinner – after all that exercise my stomach is growling.
“I am very anxious to see the Galapagos Islands, — I think both the Geology & Zoology cannot fail to be very interesting.”
— Charles Darwin, Letter to his sister, Catherine in August 1835.
Hi I’m Amy Sanders, or amyplatypus if you prefer, (to distinguish myself from t’other Amy – Amy T). I’m joining the trip as the Wellcome Trust representative.
I managed all of our Darwin year initiatives, of which Survival Rivals is one, so it will be a real treat to be able to be part of the group, setting off just over 3 years after I started working on the project.
Having got over my minor (ok, major) passport-related panic earlier this week, and tied up as many loose ends at work as I can manage, I think I am almost ready to leave for Heathrow.
Like everyone else, I am really looking forward to seeing the wildlife – the big stuff – seals, tortoises, boobys, frigate birds, sharks, penguins, and of course the finches and mockingbirds that we heard so much about at university.
Being a recovering entomologist, I’m also wondering what the smaller things will be like? Are there insects anywhere near as bizarre as the reptiles and birds, or are the littler critters so transportable that they are much the same as the mainland?
What will it sound like at night? What will the stars be like?
I’ll be fascinated to see how the islands are managed – are they still shooting goats from helicopters? Will not being a World Heritage site have an effect on the conservation of the archipelago? How do the thousands of people who live there feel about all this? Are they sick of people like us nosing around?
Hopefully we’ll be able to answer some of these questions over the next 2 weeks.
Most of all I’m looking forward to seeing what Jess, Charlotte and Eleri and Becky make of it all. I remember my first proper expedition when I was a couple of years older than they are. I went to Kibale Forest, Uganda and it was a pretty life-changing experience; seeing in the wild what you’ve only heard about, and meeting the people for whom it’s all just a part of the everyday. I loved it, despite spending a month there and never seeing a single bloody chimp.
I hope the Galapagos wildlife lives up to its more people-friendly reputation!