Diving and Snorkeling, Galápagos Islands
Floreana is one of most popular islands of the Galapagos archipelago for good reason. Perhaps the biggest is the Devil's Crown, one of the Galapagos very top dive spots. This partially submerged volcanic crown is an imposing sight when approaching in rough seas. In fact, since I was getting into my wet suit and was a bit excited to get into this foreboding water I totally forgot to take a photo despite it being about as photogenic as anything I saw in the Galapagos. Oh well, I do still see it in my memory and I do still remember how cold that water was when I got in. And how fast the current was going. We swam as a group as much as we could but it was really tough swimming. We circled the whole thing and as we came around and entered the crown the current became really swift and we soon separated by just how proficient a swimmer you were. Near the end, we all paddled frantically and the next thing I knew I was looking back at my wife who as hard as she tried was not making any progress. Actually, not going backwards was making progress but I went back to help pull her along. As we got to the rest of the group our guide said to turn around. Of course, going back was a breeze. No need to paddle. Just float and the current brought us back and fast.
A great small excursion that most visitors to the Galapagos miss is Las Grietas. This brackish tidewater pool is pristine and its aquamarine water is worth the walk just to gaze at from atop the cliff tops that surround it. But by all means, do make the short trek to the pool itself and have a dip. The water is cool and refreshing and generally warmer than the ocean in the months we were there. Bring a snorkel as the water has absolute perfect visibility and must be about 100 feet deep. I've never dived or snorkeled in such clear water in my life. We saw a school of parrot fish and you can swim to the far end in five or ten minutes. The first time we went it wasn't all that warm when we left town and we didn't bring gear or even a bathing suit. Once on the walk there the sun came out and we were sweating by the time we got there so I jumped in in my underwear. We made sure to come better prepared the second time.
Continuing along the rocky outcropping after snapping pictures of a few blue booted boobies and keeping your eyes on the water for the odd sea turtle (well, it isn't called Turtle Bay for nothing) you come to a beautiful half circle bay white sand beach. You can just lounge around or take a dip as the water is much warmer than the ocean and very calm especially if there isn't much wind. Bring your snorkel gear as along with sea turtles you might see sea lions and sting rays. While I did see a sting ray from the rocks from overhead I didn't see much of anything on my brief snorkel tour. It was just bad luck as we spoke with others who had. Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time. Cost of snorkeling in Turtle Bay? Free if you have a snorkel and you'll find if you book all your trips through an a nice outfitter they might let you hang onto your gear for the whole time you are in town or at least let you use it to do some stuff on your own too.
Like the land, below the sea also offers so much to see. ....of course there are sea lions...who are real show stoppers and I miss them so !!! Thre is nothing quite like a playful swim with the sealions!!
Parrott fish in pale aqua colour ...did you know they crush rocks and coral to make all of that beautiful sand!!!
For the more adventuresome ...hammerhead sharks . Our group spotted a school of 4 below...huuumm ...they too seem friendly!!
Life underwater in the Galapagos is as rich as life on land so is definitely not to be missed. You don't need to be a diver to enjoy the underwater; snorkelling in these waters is an experience that you will difficultly forget! If you want to dive you will have to book a cruise that caters for divers. For those who want to snorkel almost any cruise (at least on a small boat) will stop you for a snorkel 1 or 2 times a day. Where you will be snorkelling will depend on the itinerary of the boat, but I can assure you that every snorkel will be great.
You will definitely be encountering plenty of tropical fish and sea lions. Sea lion pups are especially playful and actually approach you to play with them. They may nibble at your fins or blow bubbles in your face - it is truly an exhilarating experience to make friends with them.
You will also have a good chance of encountering marine turtles, rays and sharks.
A couple of things that you surely won't be able to see anywhere else in the world (well one is impossible, the other not with so much simplicity) is swimming with marine iguanas and seeing penguins flying underwater! Note that the latter can be seen only in certain parts of the Galapagos.
Another interesting thing to see from an underwater perspective is diving blue footed boobies. You will have seen them from the shore or the boat but seeing what happens underwater puts this onto a whole new level. The speed at which they dive underwater is incredible and even the depths they reach. And the precision is to be envied.
Don't even contemplate not snorkelling or diving in the Galapagos - you would be making a big mistake!
North Seymour is an uplifted lava bed which was originally formed underwater, so the substrate is very unlike the tuff stone formations at some of the other islands (tuff is stone made of compressed volcanic ash).
The dive was fairly easy, less than 25 m, but the water was still chilly (18 C). There were lots of reef fish, among which were mating rainbow wrasses. These colorful little fish engage in mass spawning, which means that a bunch of females release eggs into the water, and then a bunch of males rush in from all sides to release sperm onto the eggs. The result is a small cloud of frenzied fish. There were also huge schools of blue and gold snappers, creolefish, yellowtail grunts (photo), and countless other fish.
Cousin's Rock is a mostly submerged cinder cone that drops steeply on one side and slopes in steps of about 10 m on the other. There are many cracks, nooks, crannies and corners in the rocks for reef fish to live in, and lots of coral to keep the reef healthy.
We dropped in and went directly down to about 25 m, swimming along the sloping ledges to a point where the current swept past the formation and we were no longer on the sheltered side. Visibility was on the low side, about 10 m. And, as usual, the water was a chilly 18 C.
There was the usual long list of reef fish--lots of blennies, lots of hawkfish, sea stars galore, several scorpionfish as large as I have ever seen (40 cm long, 25 wide), and one tiny rosy scorpionfish.
Can you spot the fish in this shot? I tried hard to find a photo where the fish is clearly visible and then enhance the shadows so that you should be able to see the outlines of its pectoral fins and mouth.... Don't touch! It's venomous and captures its prey by sitting perfectly still on a rock, blending in almost imperceptibly, until food swims by. Then, zap, it attacks and quickly paralyzes its meal with toxins contained in all of those warty appendages and scraggly filaments protruding from its body.
I dived three times at this site, twice in the daytime and another time at night. It's a great place for a night dive since it is in a sheltered bay so that there is no worry about getting carried off with one of the swift currents the archipelago is known for. In addition it is made up of fragmented blocks of tuff stone eroded away to form myriad nooks and crannies that night creatures like to inhabit.
I was hoping to see a mola-mola, which are known to frequent the area, but I had no luck. I did see longnose and coral hawkfish, scorpionfish, harlequin wrasses, king angelfish, bravo clinids, frogfish, peruvian grunts, shrimp, lobsters, lots of nudis and many others animals. My favorite were the huge, endemic Galapagos seahorses. They were approximately 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 inches) long. It was hard to get a good photo since the visibility wasn't great, but this shot gives you and idea.
Both day dives were about an hour long, but at night I had to cut my dive short because of the very, very cold water (15 C), and I stayed down only 45 min.
Roca Redonda is just what it sounds like: round rock. It rises 3 km from the seabed to form soaring cliffs above water. It actually looks like a layer cake with a flat top and straight sides. It is, in fact, not just a rock, but rather the top of a sheild volcano in an area of continuous geothermal activity... the Galapgos hot spot. This is brought home as you approach bubbling fumaroles (steam vents) underwater on the dives.
The site is well-known for its sizable population of Galapagos reef sharks. We also saw some hammerheads off in the distance, huge pocupine fish, schools of barracudas and many types of reef fish.
My favorite, though, was a shell called a Panamic horse conch. It is an ordinary looking spiral shell, like many conchs, but what was most impressive was its foot: bright red with florescent blue/purple spots.
This was not an easy dive by any means. The current was strong (+/- 3 knots), the water cold (18 C), there was a surge in the shallows (1 - 3 m), and I ran low on air quicker than usual (47 minutes) since we went pretty deep (37 m) to avoid the currents.
I don't have a picture of the conch partly because I found it in the surge zone, but here is a shot of the rock itself.
This sheltered bay has virtually no current, a dark, silty, ash bottom, and rather poor visibility. The principal attraction of a dive here is the endemic red-lipped batfish. This is truly a weird animal. It has adapted its pectoral fins to resemble legs; it has a unicorn-like protrubance on its head; and finally, the feature that gives it its name, it has a purplish-red mouth and neck. He's the critter in the photo.
Besides the red-lipped batfish, we also spotted several tiny flounders skittering around (they were half the size of the palm of my hand--I scooped some up), a really enormous sea star whose arms extended at least a meter in diameter, arrowhead crabs, jawfishes in their tunnels, and another strange creature, a shame-faced box crab, which looks sort of like it is hiding its face with its claws.
One of the great thrills of diving Galapagos is the opportunity to see schooling hammerhead sharks. These strange animals have their eyes at either side of a head shaped like--you guessed it--the head of a hammer. The visibility of the water was, sadly, not too good for photography, and while occasionally I could see a hammerhead closely enough to see its eyes, somehow the camera couldn't focus properly in time to take great pictures.
The photo shows part of a huge school of hammerheads. You will have to enlarge the picture to see any detail at all, but I can count about 25 sharks in this group.
I guess I'll just have to go back there, and hope there are whale sharks for me to see next time, too.
I did six dives at this site. We were on the lookout for hammerheads and whale sharks the entire time. While we did see lots of hammerheads, only one whale shark sighting was made--and I wasn't with the group of divers who made it!
Well anyway, here is a shot of the arch itself, while another tip will focus on the hammerheads.
I did three dives off Wolf Island:
1) the landslide, the outside edge of a half-eroded rim of a caldera where wave action has tumbled huge boulders down to the sea bed
2) shark bay, famous for hammerhead sightings
3) the pinnacle, another site where large pelagic animals are known to pass
And we did see some of these things. Hammerheads, huges schools of jacks, formations of golden cow rays. The most amazing, though were the free-swimming morays at the landslide. I could hover just over the boulders and count one huge moray per square meter. At one point I could easily see a dozen of these creatures, *none* of them hidden in holes--*all* off them free-swimming.
We did three dives at this very interesting site. It is actually the interior of a volcanic caldera with only a few pinacles below the surface and two walls that break the surface, remaining of the rim. There is a central pinnacle as well. The caldera is quite large and cannot be dived easily in one go.
This is a fairly deep dive, as deep as 40 meters. The visibility in the interior was not the best for the dives I did, but I was told that this is unusual.
There were schooling baracuda, some moray eels, a Galapagos shark cruised past us, and we saw a small school of hammerheads, too. The most interesting thing I saw was an angelfish cleaning the carapace of a marine turtle. You can see the king angel in the photo.
This rock is the product of a small volcanic eruption, perhaps a second vent, near Floreana Island. This site has lots of bushes of "black" coral, which in the Galapagos is actually bright yellow in color. In these corals live many longnose hawkfish. I was lucky enough to see a fish cleaning station, too, with at least three different types of fish patiently waiting in line for their turns with the cleaner wrasses.
My favorite fish from this dive was a blue-banded goby. It's a tiny little fish, perhaps 8 to 10 cm long.