Day 41: Science Lesson

Sun. 23rd September 2012

Props for our science lessonDuring the night, the boat sailed to Floreana Island. There was a reasonable swell during the crossing in the night and so both of us headed to bed early as it is much more comfortable whilst horizontal.

It was a ‘wet’ (feet) landing at 8am (this isn’t a holiday you know!) on the beach at Punto Cormorant. By this point, we are all thoroughly used to sea lions and treat them with more or less the same indifference with which they regard us. At our briefing, Juan explained that the main attraction would be a (brackish) lagoon with flamingos. As it turned out, the flamingos were at the opposite end of the lagoon, and the real treat was a science lesson from Juan on the formation of the islands.

Using a cloth map and a few figures as props he explained how geology, geography and biology all came together to make the Galapagos islands unique. Some of the key points he made were:

  • The islands sit at the edge of the Nazca tectonic plate which is moving southeast towards Peru at between 2cm & 10cm per year (same speed as fingernails grow);
  • There are 7 active volcanoes in the islands all of them at the west end of the archipelago with the older islands to the east (where we have been visiting). Scientists have found underwater mountains with the same mineral composition further east still – these were once Galapagos islands;
  • Galapagos is at the convergence of 3 ocean currents – the Panama current from the north, the Humboldt from the south and the Cromwell from the west. Native animal life drifted in on wind or ocean currents – even the original tortoises drifted for 2 weeks on their backs from the Peru/Ecuador mainland;
  • 95% of the native species of the islands are still alive today – despite the efforts of mankind;
  • There is only one species of native terrestrial mammal – a type of rat, and even that has turned vegetarian as its diet is now cactus leaves.

Juan explained that the Hawaiian islands could be like the Galapagos – however, they now only have 5% of their native species still in existence.

Stingray, stingray - Anything could happen in the next half hour!From the lagoon, we walked across to the other side of the (small) island to another beach that had a layer of white sand on top of a layer of green sand. There was another treat waiting for us here – a school(?) of Stingrays feeding on the surf right up by the shore (sadly there was no sign of Troy Tempest though!). The Stingrays came so close in, that you had to be careful when paddling that a wave did not wash one up to you.

After that it was another snorkelling trip, this time off the Devil’s Crown rocks just off the island. By UK standards the water is warm, but by Caribbean or Maldives standards it is cold and we were all grateful for our shortie wetsuits. In the 30 – 40 minutes that we could manage before we got too cold, we were carried by the current around the rocks. Floating on the surface and looking down you could see where the current flowed most strongly as there were shoals of fish there, presumably watching for prey to come by. We also spotted 4 large Eagle Rays gracefully swimming close to the sandy sea bed. They really did look like they were flying as they moved so gracefully.

World's most unusual Post OfficeAfter lunch (another 3 course meal – the boat is now well ballasted!) we cruised round the island to Post Office Bay. Here there is what could probably be described as an crowd-sourced postal system. In the 18th / 19th century, the British set up a barrel to use as a drop box for postcards and letters. This was used by Darwin to send progress reports and, although the barrel has been replaced several times, is still in use today. Essentially, when you drop off your cards, you are expected to look through the addresses on cards already in the barrel for those whose recipients live close to you and then to take and deliver them.

Whilst we are going round the world, we didn’t think it appropriate or helpful to take any cards. Others in our group though did spot a couple of addresses that were familiar and so those folk can look forward to receiving their cards in a week or so.

The CachaloteOur day’s excursions had an early end as we set off at 2pm to sail for Santa Cruz island. Even though we had the sails up (for the first time) there wasn’t enough wind to maintain the speed we needed and so the engines were never shut off. It will be a little disappointing if we never are fully under sail – as you can see from the photos as a two-masted schooner, it will be very pretty under sail. We are now heading north and on Monday at some point will cross the Equator. We have been promised a party – whether or not we get to meet Neptune, I’m not sure yet.

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