After a few hours of rough seas last night, we found ourselves anchored this morning in Tagus Cove at Isabela Island
One of the youngest islands, Isabela is located on the western edge of the archipelago near the Galápagos hotspot. Because it is the newest island, this is also the highest island in the Galapos Group. The islands in the east are older and are decaying away. Some have gone completely. The volcanic hotspot is slowly living to the west and the new islands are slowly being formed by its extrusions.
At approximately one million years old, the island was formed by the merger of 6 shield volcanoes – Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin, Ecuador, Sierra Negra, and Wolf. All of these volcanoes except Ecuador are still active, making it one of the most volcanically active places on earth. Two of the volcanoes, Volcan Ecuador and Volcan Wolf (the island’s highest point with an elevation of 1,707 m (5,600 ft), lie directly on the equator.
The island is primarily noted for its geology, providing excellent examples of a geologic occurrence that created the Galápagos Islands including uplifts at Urvina Bay and the Bolivar Channel, tuff cones at Tagus Cove, and Pulmace on Alcedo and Sierra Negra, one of the most active volcanoes in the world.
We walked up a steep path that followed the rim of the caldera to an old ash volcano and looked down to a large lake, perhaps 500 – 600 meters in diameter, in the centre of the volcano. The story goes that Charles Darwin led an expedition for a few miles into the centre of this island but ran out of fresh water in his way back to his ship. His group descended the crater down to the lake, only to find the water was salty and not fresh.
We continued walking to the top of the main volcano and from there, amongst the sharp car-sized piles of scoria, we could get a good view over much the island. Isabela is shaped a bit like a sea horse and we were pretty much in the middle of it. Right in front of its was a massive lava field. It was formed from an eruption about one thousand years ago so nothing is growing on the rocks. Around a curved bay, we could see another four volcanoes gently rising from the sea like giant domes. Most of these are active.
We encountered a Galapagos Hawk but the only other few birds we saw on this walk were a few small Fly Catchers. I didn’t join in on the snorkeling trip after this morning but I will do the one after lunch where we should see iguanas in the water.
We sailed across the channel for about half an hour at lunch time to get to Fernandina Island where we anchored in a quiet bay alongside a number of other boats that looked as if they were providing diving tours. A National Park Ranger came alongside in an Ecuadorian Navy zodiac and it seems they stayed for lunch. I spent some time on the sun deck to see if I could photograph some birds but all I could see were turtles in the water. Not what I expected, but not a bad substitute!
Fernandina Island is the most western, and youngest, island of the Galápagos Islands. Like the others, the island was formed by the Galapagos geological hotspot where a pillar of molten rock rises from the earth’s mantle and up through the crust. The island is an active shield volcano that has been erupting since April 11, 2009. A caldera at its top collapsed in 1968, when parts of its floor dropped 350 meters. Due to recent volcanic activity, the island does not have much plant life and has a mostly rocky surface. Visitors can go only to the outskirts of the crater for safety reasons.
One of the few plants that grows on the lava is a small cactus. Little orange coloured lava lizards scurry across the warm rocks.
Our afternoon activities started with a snorkel off some rocks where Marine Iguanas were known to feed. We spent about 45 minutes in the water and had a lot of fun. I saw many sea turtles – some close enough for me to reach out and touch them. At one stage, a sea lion came up to me and touched its nose to my face mask and then swam off.
Late in the afternoon, we landed amongst some mangroves and spent an hour walking around a headland with thousands of marine iguanas,. They were everywhere and we had to watch where we walked as their black colour blended into the volcanic rocks on which they lived., They lay there, basking in the sun until the next low tide when they would be going into the water to feed on the algae growing on the bottom of the sea. Every now and then, one would sneeze to get rid of the salt from their digestive system.
Amongst the Iguanas, were a number of sea lions. There were many babies and we guessed that some of them would not be older than a week or two. Some were suckling on their mothers and others are sounding a rather mournful cry as they waited for their mother to come back and feed them again.
We left the shore at 6.00 pm to head back to the boat for a briefing on tomorrow’s activities and then dinner.