Galapagos Islands: GenovesaGreat Darwin Bay
Darwin Bay: That’s Not Sand!
We returned to Genovesa’s shores after our volcano snorkel adventure and were greeted by Darwin Bay’s gorgeous, white, sandy beach. Since the island is comprised of reddish-black lava rock, I found this intrigueing. The sand here, unlike most beaches, is not the result of worn rock, but consists of broken down sea coral and coral pebbles.
This was our first wet landing. Shallow waters had been heating up in the late afternoon sun. The air was hot and sticky. A swim was tempting as my feet hit the warm water, but these conditions mixed with salt made me incredibly thirsty, even as I downed my bottle of water.
Hiking the Trail
Our hike was more of a short walk at just 0.9 mi./2 km, but it was jam packed with so much to see. The path is strictly adhered to thanks to our mandatory guide, which helps to preserve the island’s ecosystem. Genevosa is uninhabited by humans. Just 20 people at a time were allowed to visit each location through Ecoventura, our touring company. Larger groups from other boats are not allowed up Prince Philip’s Steps at all.
The first thing I saw just inland from shore was a moaning sea lion with labored breathing. That, I did not photograph. Not far from him was this dried iguana.
Welcome to our first introduction to the Galapagos’ cycle of life, where the living, the dying, and the dead often inhabit the same space.
Learning through that which Remains
Impeding upon the national park in any way way but for regulated limitations is not allowed, even for the guides. But they do tend to accumulate bones at the trail head for teaching purposes. For example, we discussed the similarities between human shoulder blades and those of a sea lion. We also discovered that clumsy juvenile frigate birds sometimes crash land in unpleasant and deadly places, like an Optuntia cactus.
The roughly 600 native species of plants in the Galapagos can be divided into 4 vegetation zones: Litorral (coastal), arid (dry), transitional, and the humid highlands. 30% of these species are endemic. Meanwhile, Mainland Ecuador has roughly 20,000 species.
Why the discrepency in numbers? The saltwater barrier is a hostile environment for seeds carried by way of water and the island’s volcanic rock isn’t hospitable to new arrivals.
Because many of the plants on these young islands appear to be going through an evolutionary process, they can be difficult to classify. They have also been infiltrated by over 800 species intruduced by humans, many invasive. Only 3 have been successfully eradicated.
What a Difference a Drop Makes
Whether a drop in altitude or a drop of water, changes in either yeild the same result — biodiversity.
The plants you see on the entirety of Genovesa Island are from the Littoral zone, tolerant to dry, salty conditions. Even still, those prevalent at the shoreline are different than the near-leafless shrubs on the cliffs above or even further inland.
Succulents offer sparse ground cover while prickly pear cactus offers minimal shade. Mangrove trees hug the shoreline and send long roots into the water. Being most leafy, these offer much needed cover for birds, sea lions, rays, and sea turtles. Black mangroves, featuring dark brown bark, actually have salt-excreting glands to regulate themselves.
Birds of a Feather
Many species live as neighbors in the scruby foliage of Genovesa. You’ll find the Nazca, brown, and red-footed boobies we’ve met previously. You’ll also find mockingbirds, magnificent and great frigatebirds (which you’ll meet in a minute), and the large cactus finch.
The Large Cactus Finch
While not a sizable bird compared with boobies and frigatebirds, this little black bird is Darwin’s largest finch. Endemic to the Galapagos, this finch can only be found on 4 of the 13 major and 6 smaller islands (Genovesa, Darwin, Española, and Wolf).
“Look at My Feet!” Birds
Two different gulls have developed the same adaptation, now useless since their Galapagos arrival. The lava gull and the swallow-tail gull both frequently and uncontrollably check to see if their feet are still there.
While they do appear to look at their feet, as this lava gull demonstrates, it’s believed that this genetic mutation allowed them to rest their muscles during long migrations. Nobody knows the reason for sure, but now it’s just a leftover Darwinian trait that makes a good feild guide joke.
“See at Night” Birds
Largely monogamous swallow-tail gulls have a beautiful neon-red eye ring during breeding season. It turns black in their “off” time and there is no difference between the genders in terms of coloring.
Their eyes are larger than most gulls to help them see at night. Dragging their feet in the water, they stir up bioluminescent plankton on which small fish and squid feed. It is the feeders who then become the fed upon.
While I saw no young, theirs is the whitest chick of the Galapagos bird species. The best scientific hunch is that this makes the chick easier to return to in the dark.
Those Friggin’ Birds
There were so many frigatebirds everywhere we went, our group started yelling out, “Hey, there are those friggin’ birds again!” (I’m sure our guides have developed a Galapagos eye roll also seen in other touristy parts of the world.)
The frigatebird’s prevalence made them no less magnificent, which is exactly what the sector of their population with a purplish sheen is called. Speciesmates with a greener sheen are called great frigatebirds.
Seasonally monogamous, males inflate their red gular pouch to attract females during the breeding season. Females have white underbellies. Nesting in lowlying saltbush, a single egg is laid every other year due to their long prental care role.
Adults’ wings can span up to 7.5 ft (2.3 metres), the largest wing area to body weight ratio of any bird, allowing them to soar for weeks on wind currents.
Theivery is their strongsuit. As kleptoparasites, they often rob other seabirds for food, snatch seabird chicks from the nest, or snag surfacing prey from schools of large tuna.
This cheerful little girl flitted about my feet and let me stoop to take her photo. Not endemic to the Galapagos, yellow warblers can be found from Alaska to Peru.
Yellow-Crowned Night Heron
Night herons aren’t endemic to the Galapagos either, but it was the first time I had seen one. Known as a “crustacion specialist,” this night heron is the perfect lead in to meeting the Sally Lightfoot crab.
Delightful Sally Lightfoot Crabs
Named after a Caribean dancer for their agility, they leap from rock to rock with measured agility and speed and hang on even in crashing waves. These crabs are also known as “red rock crabs” or “abuete negro.” In addition to the Galapagos, they can also be found along the western coast of South and Cental America.
The crabs begin as eggs carried on their mother’s belly until they hatch as larvae that hunker down deep in the sea. Eating phytoplankton, they quickly and repeatedly moult. This rapid metamorphosis allows them to swim back to shore in large groups. Early camoflauged shells are as black as the wet lavarock they inhabit. Their color becomes more brilliant as their shells become more resistant to gulls. And with that growing protection, they also become more solitary until mating season comes around again.
Known for keeping the shores clean, they eat any organic material left behind and even eat the ticks off of marine iguanas.
John Steinbeck describes them best…
These little crabs, with brilliant cloisonné carapaces, walk on their tiptoes, They have remarkable eyes and an extremely fast reaction time. In spite of the fact that they swarm on the rocks at the Cape [San Lucas], and to a less degree inside the Gulf [of California], they are exceedingly hard to catch. They seem to be able to run in any of four directions; but more than this, perhaps because of their rapid reaction time, they appear to read the mind of their hunter. They escape the long-handled net, anticipating from what direction it is coming. If you walk slowly, they move slowly ahead of you in droves. If you hurry, they hurry. When you plunge at them, they seem to disappear in a puff of blue smoke—at any rate, they disappear. It is impossible to creep up on them. They are very beautiful, with clear brilliant colors, red and blues and warm browns.
Awww, It’s a Baby!
Just before we left Genovesa Island, a Galapagos sea lion pup came to play in a tide pool formed by the rise and fall of Darwin Bay. As the other guests began to depart for the evening, I entered the water to photograph the crabs you see above. Toying with a baby mangrove tree (not a seed, exactly), the pup came to toss it toward me and then dove under the water to fetch it himself – over and over again.
These Pups Do Bark
Galapagos sea lions are not the same as you’ll see elsewhere, but they do bark like other pups. Moms know these distinct barks and use them to identfy their young. This pup’s mom must have sacked pretty hard while we posed with her family because baby was left to be entertained by the his guests.
And now it’s time for us to eat dinner, go to bed, and let the Letty motor us to our next island adventure — Black Turtle Cove in Santa Cruz!
Time of Travel: June 19-26
Duration: 7 Nights
Islands Visited: San Cristobal, Genovesa, Santa Cruz, Fernandina, Isabela & Santiago
My Galapagos images featured on this blog, unfortunately, aren't for sale. This is due to restrictions by the governemnt of Ecuador.
Be aware. If you travel to the Galapagos Islands and would like to make images to be sold, you must apply and pay for a permit before you arrive in the county.