GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS – SUMMER 2022: Highlands of Santa Cruz

Our camping area for the first 4 days in the highlands of Santa Cruz

Day 1:

The first half of our week was spent in the highlands of Santa Cruz, we slept in tents on concrete due to the ground being muddy most of the time. We got to spend most of the first day getting to know our group of students, guides, and instructors as well as explore the area we would be staying in. We discussed some ‘hopes and fears we have for the trip which I will share mine here.

Hopes:

  • Learn new conservation methods and how I can better educate those around me to try and help protect the environment.
  • Go snorkeling and learn about the marine life in the area.
  • See a variety of wildlife (Sea lions, sea turtles, white-tipped sharks)

Fears:

  • Being out of the country for the first time without my parents.
  • Getting sick or hurt and not being able to participate in the activities.

Day 2:

We got to learn about seed dispersal through tortoise feces, we collected a sample and worked with our groups to identify the seeds of the plants these giant tortoises eat and how far they are able to travel, leaving the seeds to grow. My group found 3 blackberry seeds, 7 guava, and 2 passion fruit seeds. All of these fruits are not native to the Galapagos, this led to the discussion of how this is an issue with them continuing to be dispersed across the island through consumption, fueling the issue.

Blurry photo of me exploring the lava tunnels

Following our seed dispersal activity and lesson, we took a hike to explore the lava tunnels of the island, where the lava used to travel through the island. The caves were humid and narrow and we even saw an area where a water bird was nesting.

Some questions I had after our activities of the day:

  • Are there things we can do to encourage tortoises to eat and disperse more native species?
  • Do the introduced species provide different health benefits or negative impacts on the tortoise’s health?

Day 3:

Giant Galapagos tortoises
Me with the tortoises!

We got to work with the park rangers and the giant tortoises! This was an amazing and once-of-a-lifetime opportunity.

We took the shell measurements of the tortoises, the coordinates we found them, identify sex, whether they are juvenile or adult, scanned for a microchip to link their information in the coming years, and finally, if they were small enough the park rangers would weigh the tortoises to document as well. It was amazing to walk through this park and see all of the tortoises living there. There were 5 tortoises in one area and we were able to take the measurements of them all broken up into smaller groups. We continued our hike through the forest and saw many different plants, birds, and of course… tortoises.

Day 4:

African snails

We got to learn about the impacts of invasive species. It was rainy and muddy that day but it helped us better locate the invasive species we were helping remove the African snail. They were the largest snails I have ever seen and their shells were very pretty. We learned that these snails can lay up to 1000 eggs each year, these snails also live up to 5 years. In total our group found over 100 snails and over 500 eggs, preventing so many more from growing and causing greater issues to the farmlands and environment in the area.

Our lesson for the day involved us learning about the research and preparation that goes into the introduction of biological factors to try and gain control over invasive species. Broken up into small groups we came up with an imaginary animal and worked through thought processes on how to help restore the island environment.

Today was the last day in the highlands so our instructors surprised us with a campfire to sit around and reminisce on what we have learned and our favorite moments. It was called ‘Oranges and lemons’ so our sweet moments and sour moments of the trip so far which I will share here.

Oranges:

  • I love how everyone has all opened up with each other and we are all experiencing these amazing memories together.
  • I love that everyone is taking photos of each other and making sure everyone is able to save the memories.

Lemons:

  • Sleeping on concrete does not feel great on my hips
  • I got congested and am having difficulty talking normally.

As today is our last day in the highlands I will share my experiences of the other areas we visited soon!

Update: Second block post out about Tortuga Bay and Isabela Island!

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