Santa Cruz & Daphne Major
Today we awoke again off Santa Cruz Island, but this time on the arid north-western coast. Our destination was “Cerro Dragon” or “Dragon Hill”, home of one of the three endemic Galápagos land iguana species. The population of Cerro Dragon was almost wiped out by feral dogs in the sixties. However, after a successful captive and semi-captive breeding program run by the Charles Darwin Foundation and Galapagos National Park Service, the population has been recovered to healthy numbers, and now we have the privilege to see these magnificent reptiles in the wild once more.
This visitor site not only is home to the land iguanas, but also for a number of species of shore birds, such as flamingos, white checked pintails ducks, black necked stilts, whimbrels, and ruddy turnstones among others. Along the walk, we went through beaches of white sand, forests of giant prickly pear cacti and incense trees and a small lagoon, where we encountered our favorite shore birds, the flamingos. The early walk was very pleasant, with lots of things to see such as land iguanas warming up, flamingos feeding, a couple of herons looking for their morning prey and many blue-footed boobies diving for their breakfast.
Later, we changed into our snorkeling gear to go for an adventurous deep-water snorkel to the offshore Guy Fawkes Islets, where our guests swam along the spectacular, invertebrate-covered wall of one of the islets.
Afterwards, we enjoyed a unique Ecuadorian buffet lunch with our traditional “ceviche” (fish, squid and octopus marinated in lime juice with onions and peppers) while our ship navigated south to a lovely stretch of the eastern shore of Santa Cruz known as “El Eden” due to its scenic beauty. Here we went for a Zodiac ride to discover brown pelicans, blue-footed boobies, some herons and many young back tipped sharks, sea turtles and spotted eagle rays on the shallow and calm waters of the bay.
Once aboard, we sailed north to the famous Daphne Major Islet. In the seventies, this islet was chosen as a natural laboratory to study the ecology of Darwin’s finches by a couple of British scientists named Peter and Rosemary Grant (Princeton University). Their studies here, told in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book entitled “The Beak of the Finch”, continue to this day, and the observations they have made during this time have revolutionized the way we understand natural selection and how evolution occurs.