A Trip of a Lifetime

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A Trip of a Lifetime

Baby sea lion swims in the mangroves on Isabela island.

Baby sea lion swims in the mangroves on Isabela island.

Landon Kusuno

Baby sea lion swims in the mangroves on Isabela island.

Landon Kusuno

Landon Kusuno

Baby sea lion swims in the mangroves on Isabela island.

Landon Kusuno, Staff Writer

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GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS, Ecuador — Cousins Rock, although not much to look at above the surface, is home to sea lions, sharks and rays, and it is amazing.

Our trip started this past December, when we landed in Guayaquil, Ecuador and stayed the night in a hostel.  From there, we took an hour and a half plane ride the next morning to San Cristóbal, where we finally boarded a ferry for a three hour ride to meet my sailor grandfather.

The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago made up of 18 volcanic islands. Located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, and famous for Darwin’s theory of evolution, the Galápagos islands are an amazing place for a fun and educational vacation.

The Galápagos are full of life. Everywhere you go you are guaranteed to see an array of wild animals. My favorite wild life were the Galápagos sharks, rays, fish, and penguins.

Landon Kusuno
Rare sighting of a southern elephant seal on the coast of Isabela island.

The islands are home to various endemic species, such as the saddleback tortoise. The saddlebacks are a species of tortoise that have adapted the shape of its shell in order to stretch its neck out farther to reach more food.

Some of the most famous animals in the Galápagos are Darwin’s finches. The 13 species of finches in the Galápagos all evolved from one original species of bird that lived around 2 million years ago.  It was hard to find a place during my travels where the little birds weren’t chirping.  

As I dove in the water off the rocks of Isabela Island, I was captivated by the marine iguanas feeding off the vegetation of the rocks.

The Galápagos weren’t always so lively. Around four million years ago, the volcanoes that are now the Galápagos erupted. In their early history, the Galápagos were uninhabitable by any organism because the islands were still cooling down from the eruption. As the surface temperature started to cool down, the islands started to become more inhabitable.

One morning when traveling from Isabela to San Cristóbal, a 14-hour-sail, I awoke to see a pod of dolphins swimming off the bow.

Since the islands are separated from one another, the habitats are different on each island.  The island of Santa Cruz was surrounded by turquoise water and filled with bright colored fish.  After a 30 minute hike, we found ourselves on a white sand beach teeming with marine iguanas and washed up jelly fish.

In 1835, Charles Darwin visited the islands and this trip to the Galápagos sparked Darwin’s theory of evolution. Darwin’s theory is that species can evolve based on their basic needs. The theory was based on 13 different species of finches that lived in the Galapagos. Darwin noticed that when he went from island to island, the beaks of the finches changed due to the food and conditions on each island. Darwin used this as evidence for his theory of evolution.

While visiting the Galapagos there are many examples of evolution on each island. As I visited the Darwin Center, located on Santa Cruz Island, it was very apparent that over the last few million years, animals have been constantly adapting to the living conditions.

The Galápagos are famous for their unusual flora and fauna. Over the last fifty years, with the increase in tourism and agriculture, the Galápagos have had some major effects. In the late 1900s, farmers started to introduce dogs, cats, cattle, and goats. The introduction of non-native species has contributed to a decline in the number of giant tortoises. Cattle and goats are constantly competing with the tortoises for food. While tortoises are competing for the food they also have to watch out for feral dogs.

Dogs have been a major contributor to the decline in the number of baby tortoises on the islands. Dogs and rats are a big threat to young tortoises because the dogs and rats will eat the babies and eggs. On the other hand, an increase in tourism has affected the islands tremendously. A little more than 30,000 people live on the islands, and roughly 200,000 people visit the Galapagos each year.

The civilization in the Galapagos has grown exponentially over the last 40 years. When I visited the interpretation center on San Cristóbal Island, they had a bird’s-eye-view of every major town in the Galapagos. The pictures showed the major towns from 1970 to the present. These pictured showed the major growth and effect that tourism and expansion have had on the islands. The effect of tourism in the Galapagos is very similar to the effect of tourism here in Telluride. Here in Telluride, more tourists require more hotels, restaurants, and more resources. 

My favorite experience was snorkeling around Kicker Rock, off of San Cristóbal island.  The day started with a boat ride to the rock, where we swam with turtles, sharks, sea lions, fish, jellyfish, and many different kinds of birds. After snorkeling, we went on a hike to various caves and lava fields. Back on the boat, we were served tuna on rice with local salad.

Landon Kusuno
Sea turtle eats off the rocks of San Cristobal Island.

The local food was a great way to wrap up our amazing trip to the Galápagos Islands. The next morning we flew out of the San Cristóbal airport to head back home. Our trip was one of a lifetime and will not be soon forgotten.