Where Sea Lions are King: Touring the Galapagos Islands

Pondering George's potential cloning and Darwin's theories of evolution, Catherine and I spent the afternoon discussing the sad irony of the situation on Tortuga Bay Beach, the largest beach in the Galapagos. Practically deserted except for a handful of die-hard surfers, the stunning bay of beautiful floury white sand, gentle breaking surf, marine Iguanas and pelicans, I suspect, looks much the same today as it did when Darwin first stepped foot on the islands in 1835. However, so many things in the world have changed in only the last 170 years. We've evolved, for sure, and made remarkable advancements, but seeing a plastic bottle washed-up on the beach and another cruise ship trailing black diesel smoke across the horizon, you have to wonder, are we evolving in entirely the right direction?

Learn more about the Charles Darwin Foundation and its conservation programs at http://www.DarwinFoundation.org.

Balancing Nature and the Curious Tourist

March 20, 2009. Day 659: San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands

Catherine Hockley wrote: After a few restorative nights sleep and a little exploring, we are getting better acquainted with our little island named after the patron saint of sailors, San Cristobal, here in the Galapagos. We have already been on a "land tour" which took us from the top of a dormant volcano to the beaches below and everything in between. We were introduced to giant tortoises and marine iguanas and more, and so far it's everything I hoped for but nothing like I imagined.

For a start, there are a lot more boats here than I thought there would be. There are about 30 other sail boats in the harbor and when you add all the tour and fishing boats, plus the multitudes of underwater marine life traffic, it's quite a busy little patch of water. The town itself is small but very well organized and beautifully maintained, there is a discreet but visible police presence and, every now and again, a flurry of tourists bustle through in safari gear and snorkels getting ice cream on their way to their next expedition.

I had imagined more of the "Master and Commander" version of the Galapagos here on the most eastern of all the islands. But despite all the activity, there does seem to be a pretty good balance between nature and the curious tourist, and it appears to be working. For instance, the sea lions wander around with an air of ownership and they dominate the beach in huge numbers. They play and swim around the boats in the harbor and take any unattended swim platform or transom steps as their own. Dinghys seem to be especially popular as they make a comfy alternative to the usual rocky sleeping spots, and even the kayak proves to be an entertaining diversion for the young ones. The integration appears to be comfortable for everyone. Creatures of every kind seem quite at ease with one another here but it does seem a somewhat delicate balance that will need careful managing if it is to be preserved.

After a long mellow walk on a deserted beach, we sit down and relax in the sun, gazing out to sea on the warm, black lava boulders alongside dozens of marine iguanas doing the same thing. Or we sit in the cockpit in the evening, watching countless sea lions dash around and about the boat fishing, playing, fighting and, from time to time, hopping in, out and over our dinghy and kayak. And we have giant green turtles glide by on their way to here or there, and this is Galapagos, lovely!

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