Different vegetation zones on Floreana are the coastal zone, the arid zone and the humid transition zone. In the humid transition zone there is some open farmland, but in the highlands it is also quite green.
More than 20% of the flora on Floreana is introduced. The most invasive plants are blackberry, guava, supirosa (Lantana camera) and hoja del aire (Bryophyllum pinnatum). There are projects going on for eradication and control of invasive plants.
Among the native plants on the island you can find Palo Santo, Palo Verde, Floreana Daisy (Cutleaf Daisy), Puncture vine (Tribulus), Leather Leaf, Galapagos Cotton, Yellow Geiger (Cordia lutea), mangroves and much more.
Because of pirates, whalers, early settlers and introduced animals the Floreana Tortoise was thought to have been extinct for 150 years. But recently scientists have found young hybrids on Wolf Volcan and it is thought that one of the parents might be a pure Floreana Tortoise still alive somewhere out there.
The Giant Tortoise in the large corral at Asilo de la Paz on Floreana are sub-species originally from other islands. They have been owned by residents on the islands, but are now all in the corral.
The Galapagos Giant Tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus) is endemic to the Galapagos Islands. There are eleven different subspecies, but there have been at least 14.
Some tortoises can be very big, up to 150cm in length and with a weigh of 250kg, but it is not until they are around 40 years that they are fully grown. It is not known how old the Galapagos Giant Tortoise can be, but many live till they are 150-160 years old.
The shape of the tortoise shell have evolved depending on the habitat where they live. There are two major types of shape to the shell, a saddleback shape or a dome shape, but there are also intermediate forms. The tortoises with a saddleback shaped shell are adopted to life in the more arid and hotter areas, where vegetation is sparse. They have longer necks and legs as they must be able to reach vegetation higher up. The dome shaped tortoises can be found in the highlands where there it is cooler and wetter and plenty of ground vegetation can be found.
The Galapagos Giant Tortoise reach sexual maturity at an age of 20-25 years. They mate throughout the year, but mostly during the warm and wet season. Usually the tortoises don’t travel long distances, but when it is time for the female to lay her eggs she will travel for many kilometres to reach more sandy and dry ground near the coast.
The tortoises are herbivores, which mean they only eat plants, for example cactus pads, poison apple, guava and different grasses. They can live without drinking and eating for a very long time.
It is estimated that there were around 250 000 tortoises in the Galapagos Islands at the time the islands were discovered. The number soon declined as they were hunted for by sailors who took them aboard their ships. As the tortoises can live very long without food and water the sailors could get fresh meat during their long journeys. Another threat came from the introduced animals which dig up nestings, eat the hatchlings or compete for food. In the 1970s the number of tortoises was only around 3000. Luckily there are many ongoing conservation projects in the Galapagos Islands, many introduced animals are hunted and numbers are decreasing, and there are a few Tortoise breeding centres in the Galapagos Islands where tortoises are brought up until they are big enough to be placed in their natural habitat. There are now around 20 000 tortoises in the Galapagos Islands.
When leaving Floreana, after a day tour there from Santa Cruz, we drove along the coast and were then lucky to see a few penguins standing on the rocks.
The Galapagos Penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) is endemic to Galapagos Islands and it is also the only penguin that can be found here. They are not very common, but there are only around a thousand couples. After El Niño years the population become smaller though as food supply decreases. The Galapagos Penguin can mostly be found around Isla Fernandina, the west coast of Isla Isabela, on Isla San Bartolomé and sometimes on Floreana.
Males and females look the same, but the males are usually a little larger. The penguins become around 50cm long. The flippers, back and face are black. From the eyes, round the cheeks, there is a curved white line. The breast is white with a black line across the throat.
The penguins can’t fly. They dive in the water for food and usually feed on small fish like sardines and mullets. They are very fast under the water. While snorkelling at Sullivan Bay I saw one penguin shooting through the water like an arrow.
The Galapagos Penguins are monogamous. They breed throughout the year if food availability is good. They lay 1-2 eggs near the shore in crevices and holes to protect the eggs from sunlight and overheating. The incubation time is 40 days and both parents take turns in looking after the nest.
The Nazca Bobby is another bird species that I didn’t see on Floreana during my first visit, when I visited Cormorant Point and Post Office Bay, but when I was on a daytrip two years later we saw a few on the way to Puerto Velasco Ibarra.
The Nazca Booby (Sula granti) used to be seen as a subspecies of the Masked Booby, but it is now known that it is a species of its own. In Galapagos Islands the Nazca Boobies are quite common with a population of between 25 000 - 50 000 pairs, spread out in different colonies.
With a length of 81-92cm the Nazca Boobies are the largest of the three species of boobies presented in the Galapagos. They have a white plumage with a black tail, black ends on the primary feathers and a black band at the base of the bill, which looks like a mask over the eyes. The large bill is orange.
Like other boobies the Nazca Boobies feed at sea and catch fish by plunge-diving from high up in the air. They often feed long distances from land.
The Nazca Boobies build their nest on the ground. They lay two eggs, several days apart, but even if both eggs hatch only one chick will survive. When the second egg hatch the older chick will push the newly born out of the nest. There it will be left to die, because the parents will not pay any attention to it. This might seem to be cruel, but by laying two eggs the chance to get a chick to raise will increase, in case the first egg doesn’t hatch or the chick die very young.
Pushing out the second hatchling of the nest is not the only cruel behaviour of the Nazca Boobies. When parents go away to find food chicks left alone can be harassed by boobies without children. I have read in a science magazine that scientists who had studied ringed boobies in the Galapagos found out that the ones who had become most picked on as young also became the worst bullies when they grew up.
The first time I visited Floreana I didn’t see any Brown Pelicans, but when returning on a daytrip I saw a few Pelicans around the harbor in Puerto Velasco Ibarra.
The brown Pelican can be found in many areas along the American Pacific and Atlantic coasts, but on Galapagos Islands you will find the endemic subspecies Pelecanus occidentalis urinator. They can be found by the coast on most islands.
The Brown Pelicans are large birds with a length of 105-152cm and a wingspan of 203-228cm. They have very long bills with an elastic pouch which they use when catching fish. The male and female look alike, but females are usually a little smaller. They have a greyish-brown plumage and they have a chestnut and white marking on neck and head when breeding. When not breeding the neck is more greyish. The juveniles have the same greyish-brown colour, but a paler/white belly. The feet are webbed.
The Brown Pelican feeds on fish and crustaceans and they can often be seen plunge-diving from the air into the sea to catch their prey. Under the water they fill their bill with water and fish, and then filter the water and swallow the fish.
The Galapagos Brown Pelican usually nest in mangroves and low bushes. They nest in colonies or individually. The female lay 2-3 eggs and they are incubated by both parents for about a month. They breed throughout the year.
The pelicans can live as long as 30 years.
When I visited Floreana in 2011 on the cruise with Cachalote we didn’t see any Marine Iguanas at the visitor sites Cormorant Point and Post Office Bay. However, I saw a few Marine Iguanas on the rocks at Playa Negra in Puerto Velasces Ibarra, when I visited Floreana on a daytrip in 2013. The Marine Iguanas where lying on the rocks and blended in very well with their back ground. I almost stepped on one!
One of the highlights of Galapagos Islands is to see the amazing Marine Iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus). They are endemic to the islands and they are also the only lizards in the word that swim in the sea. The Marine Iguanas spend most of their time on land, but they feed on algae and seaweed. There are seven subspecies of Marine Iguanas in the archipelago and they can be found on all islands, often in the shore zone, on the lava rocks.
During millions of years the Marine Iguana has evolved to be well adapted to its environment. With a flattened snout and sharp teeth they can effectively feed on the algae on the rocks. Their tail helps them swim under water and with their long claws they can stand firmly on the rocks. Sometimes you can see the Marine Iguanas snort, that is when they get rid of excess sea salt with help from salt-eliminating glands in their nostrils. Most Marine Iguanas are black or dark grey in colour but on some islands the male can have a red or green colouring, a colouring that becomes brighter during the mating season.
Males become around 1m long, but some subspecies become longer and others shorter. The females are shorter than the males, and the spines along their back are not as large as on the male.
Females and young iguanas feed along the shore when it is low tide. It is mostly the males that feed in the sea and they can stay up to an hour under water. As the water is cold the iguanas must get warm when they come up on land, and then you can often see them basking in the sun with their face to the sun and their body raised from the ground (they must get warm, but not too warm so by raising the body they will allow the air to circulate under the body).
The breeding season is from November - March. The females will then lay the eggs in an underground nest where they are incubated for three months. The baby iguanas are small and are therefore vulnerable to predators. They risk getting eaten by owls, hawks herons or mocking birds.
The Galapagos Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus wollebaeki) is an endemic subspecies. It is common, and there is a population of about 50 000 Sea Lions in the Galapagos Islands. They can be seen in many places near the shores, on beaches, on the rocks or even in the towns, and don’t be surprised if you get surrounded by playful sea lions while snorkelling. It is absolutely fantastic!
The male Sea Lion becomes very large, up to 230cm in length, with a weigh up to 250kg. They have a dark brown fur, which almost looks black when wet and they have a thick neck.
The females are smaller and weigh up to 120kg. They have lighter brown fur, which looks dark brown when wet. There are many more females as only one tenth of the Sea Lion pups are males.
The Galapagos Sea Lions feed during the day and they mostly eat Sardines. They can be away at sea for days to hunt for fish. Sharks are natural predators of the Sea Lions.
The Galapagos Sea Lions form colonies which consist of a dominant male (bull) and up to 30 females (cows) with their pups. The bull protects its territory against other males and sometimes there are fights. As it is difficult for a male to be away feeding while protecting his territory he becomes weaker and he will then be replaced by a stronger male after a while. Males without a territory form bachelor colonies.
The females give birth to one pup each year, which they nurse for up to three years. Sometimes you can see two pups of different age suckling milk from their mother. When they are around five months the pups can start fishing for themselves though. The mother and child can recognise each other’s bark and thus find each other among the other Sea Lions in the colony.
The Sea Lions in the photos were all seen in Puerto Velasco Ibarra on Floreana.