The Enchanted Islands
This photographic series showcases images I took on a Galapagos Rapid Visual Assessment Expedition in partnership with the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park Directorate. Our team was given exclusive insider access to remote locations in the archipelago, in the company of pioneering research scientists and conservationists.
The Galapagos islands lie in the eastern Pacific Ocean and straddle the equator. Volcanic in origin, the main islands are actually the tips of vast submarine volcanoes and have never been attached to the mainland. The nearest mainland to these isolated isles belongs to Ecuador, which has sovereignty over them and lies 1000km to the east. The archipelago includes thirteen islands of notable size but also countless small islands. Despite its relatively pristine state, much of the wildlife on the islands is under threat from human impacts.
Referred to by many as the enchanted islands, I was shocked to a see that a location heralded as one of the last untouched wildernesses remains severely threatened by people. On my first day on Santa Cruz, a local conservationist explained that a fishing boat had been caught with two hundred sharks illegally captured in the protected waters surrounding the islands just moments before our arrival. Meanwhile on Isabela I watched stray dogs roaming amongst rubble. Much of the wildlife could be seen living alongside people in the bustling towns. This experience made me realize how important it is that we raise awareness for conservation challenges both at home and overseas.
Early pirates and explorers found the resident giant tortoises to be a convenient source of meat on long voyages at sea and more recently invasive species and farming practices have impacted their survival rates. But some local farmers have now opened up their land to tourists and are quite pleased to have them roaming the grassland, as an alternative source of income through ecotourism. They are timeless creatures and somehow graceful despite their slow movement. The image on the right shows a young tortoise at a breeding centre.
Despite the challenges Galapagos species face, the islands remain an enchanting place to visit, and the local animals are remarkable to observe. During the trip I had many opportunities to photograph the endemic marine iguanas. This species is capable of remaining submerged for an hour or more, but their dives rarely last longer than five or ten minutes between surfacing for breath. In fact, it is not oxygen supply that limits their feeding time, but the loss of body heat as they spend time in the ocean. Like all reptiles the colder the get the more difficult it is to remain alert and active. This meant you could often spot the iguanas out on land basking in the warm sun.