Jun 26, 2018 - National Geographic Islander
Day after day, for many years, we have been writing our Daily Expedition Reports from this magical archipelago. I have had the privilege of witnessing and reporting on a wide variety of extraordinary events. It is not easy to say this, but today has been one of my top five days I have ever had in my whole career as a biologist and naturalist.
Our expedition took us to the western region of the Galápagos Islands. We started the day navigating along the volcanic coastline of Isabela Island. We found a small pod of short-beaked common dolphins and we felt so fortunate! Just after breakfast, we crossed the equatorial line. Later in the morning, we went for a Zodiac ride near the area known as Punta Vicente Roca. Even though the ocean was rough and the weather misty, the ride was outstanding—we spotted many animal species, including Pacific green turtles, flightless cormorants, brown pelicans, noddy terns, blue-footed boobies, Galápagos penguins, Galápagos fur seals, and more.
After the ride, we deep-water snorkeled off the coast of Punta Vicente Roca and encountered many Pacific green turtles—some sleeping on the bottom of the ocean, while others were very active, chewing on the green algae growing on the rocky bottom. A couple of Galápagos sea lions played in the water with us! What an amazing morning we had! But the day still had many surprises waiting for us…
While navigating toward Fernandina Island we spotted another pod of dolphins—a much larger pod than the one we saw earlier. We estimated about four hundred short-beaked common dolphins seen frolicking, leaping, and swimming a short distance from our ship. Later in the afternoon, we had a dry landing on the lava flows of Fernandina Island, the youngest landmass in the Galápagos archipelago. We explored the pristine coastal ecosystems of the island. The young black lava fields are the perfect example of primary succession, as life stabilizes for the first time on new terrain. Hundreds of marine iguanas were everywhere!
Back on board the ship, we enjoyed cocktail hour and a beautiful sunset from the observation deck as we headed toward the Sierra Negra Volcano. We knew that this enormous volcano, located on the southern side of Isabela Island, was experiencing constant seismic activity. In fact, that morning, we received news that a 5.3-magnitude earthquake took place there at 04:15:32 TL a.m. at 6.39 km depth. Later reports from around 1400 confirmed the first sightings of the eruption of Sierra Negra Volcano!
We approached the volcano slowly, and after about three hours of navigation, we were in front of the western flank, admiring the power of nature at its best.
It is impossible to explain the multitude of feelings that an event like this can provoke. We were mesmerized, thrilled, and fascinated to be able to witness such a glorious event. We were at the right place, in the right moment, living a dream, watching and imprinting onto our souls the fiery skies, spitting lava, and sharing our reflections of this once-in-a-lifetime event. Life is good!
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