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|Galapagos Islands Dive Sites
Main Island Group
- NORTH SEYMOUR
This was my introductory dive to the Galapgos. The edge of an
island that slopes gently down into the deep, waiting patiently
for the hammerheads we were assured were always there. While waiting
white tips cruised past, turtles flopped by and I spent an amusing
10 minutes playing with a sea lion who was keen on pulling the
end of my fin. Occasional glances out into the blue revealed nothing,
and it was not until towards the end of the dive that they appeared
dozens of hammerheads, cruising in the blue, almost beyond
my range of vision. They slowly cam closer and closer, until they
were about 50ft away. They then moved off into the blue. At the
end of the dive, back on the boat, we saw some manta rays on the
surface. Donning our snorkels we jumped in and swam towards them.
I remember looking down and there, perhaps 40ft below me, the
sea was moving: right beneath me was a massive school of hammerheads.
It was an unnerving experience to be swimming in water hundreds
of feet deep and your nearest point of refuge was about 80 yards
away! The nearby island of North North Seymour (a small sand and
rock island off the north side of North Seymour) was home to a
wonderful colony of seals. We sat on the beach and watched the
bullmaster showing off, a juvenile sniffed inside my camera case
and adults "surfed" in the waves.
Fernandina is one of the most pristine environments in the world.
Unlike many of the Galapagos, it has no introduced species, and
as a consequence remains as the Galapagos were hundreds of years
ago. It is a highly active volcano, and most of the island is
covered in barren lava floes; there is only minimal vegetation.
Despite this, it is home to bird species such flightless cormorants
& Galapagos hawks and marine iguanas. It is the marina iguanas
that are the best thing here from a divers point of view!
The island is surrounded by shallow rocky reefs that are covered
in the green algae that is the only diet of the marine iguana.
They warm themselves on the rocks before venturing into the cold
see for a tasty snack of weed!
- PLAZA ISLANDS
North & South Plaza are divided by a channel that is almost
man-made in aspect. Here, on the rocky bottom you can sit in 20ft
of water and have the best time of your life with a very playful
school of sea lions. The females pull on your fins, below bubbles
in your face and indulge in graceful acrobatics. Suddenly, they
disappear! A large bull cruises past, eyes you up and moves on.
The females all return and carry on playing. The bossman is just
checking that you arent nicking his women!!! As Cilla Black
would say: "Worra Lorra Laughs!" The land walk at the
Plazas is excellent - a landscape dominated by large cacti is
home to hundreds of land iguanas who jealously protect their little
patch of ground (and their cactus!) The big lumbering lizards
have a yellow/orange/green colouration and seem to walk in slow
except, of course, when you get to close to his cactus!!
- GENEVOSA (THE TOWER)
Genevosa is the remains of an extinct volcano that is open to
the sea on the south side. Sheer cliffs drop into the deep water
on the outside, and on the inside boats can enter the caldera
and moor in the shallows near the small beach. It is a dramatic
and primeval scene! You can dive from the outside of the volcano
through the channel into the caldera. The rocky bottom is alive
with schools of marbled groupers, jacks & barracuda. This
was where I saw a massive school of mantas sweeping past on the
surface there were dozens of them!
- COUSINS ROCK
Situated off the north coast of Bartolome, is rock that rises
about 30ft out of the water and is about 100 yards long. Pelicans,
penguins, sealions and boobies all use the rock as a base to feed
on the fish life below. Below the surface the rock is stepped
in ledges at various levels before levelling out at about 140ft.
The whole area is covered with vast forests of black coral trees.
Moray eels, some very large, can be observed free swimming across
the reef. But it is the fish life that is worth noting here. An
endemic fish called the salema (Xenistius californiensis) a stripy
species of grunt, schools here in its millions and millions. This
school of fish is often filmed for documentaries with sea lions
and penguins charging through its slivery mass, the fish parting
in unison as if it was one large creature rather than millions
While on the Galapagos Aggressor in 1994 myself and my travelling
companions were given the choice of a land walk on a nearby island
or a snorkel off the beach at Mosquera. We were glad we chose
the latter! A long beach that is used by sea lions to relax during
the day is flanked by low lava bluffs at one end, pitted above
and below the water with small caves. Where the beach met the
rocks there appeared to be a creche baby sea lions were
left in the charge of one or two females while their mothers went
off to look for food. It was here that we spent 2 hours snorkelling
with about 20 sea lion pups in 10ft of clear water! They would
swim up to us, and when they decided they had got close enough
they nearest ones would back into those behind in their hurry
to swim away, causing a cartoon-like tumble of flippers and bodies!
My snorkel was stolen by one particularly brave young pup and
we spent the next 20 minutes trying to grab the snorkel off him
as he dived though the little holes in the bluff, popping out
a little further down the shore. By the time I got my snorkel
back it was decidedly chewed at the end! We also swam to the end
of the point and found swimming marine iguanas. We did a night
dive along this bluff, and found sleeping turtles, nudibranchs
and lots of other small critters.
- GORDON ROCKS
Just north of the Plazas are two large rocks that are that remains
of the rim of a long extinct volcano. One the inner side of the
collapsed caldera rim the seabed is a mass of rocks jumbled over
each other while on the outer wall the sea drops away into thousands
of feet of water. Currents here are exceptional strong here and
the local name for the dive site is La Lavadora, The Dishwasher.
Here you can see schools of hammerheads, amberjacks & pompano,
eagle rays and golden cowrays. Whitetips and green turtles are
also sited here.
- ROCA REDONDA
Located off the northwest tip of Isabela Island, Round Rock, to
translate into English is a magnet for hammerheads, Galapagos
sharks and whitetips due to the strong currents that sweep the
rock. As this sea here is affected more by warm currents than
cold you can see barracuda, pompano and butterflyfish. The south
side of the island has fumeroles in the shallows, and you can
see gas bubbles rising to the surface. This volcano is not quite
- KICKER ROCK
A huge 500ft rock with a massive split through the middle, Kicker
Rock offers no sanctuary for land dwellering creatures, so you
will not find any seals or sea lions here. What you will find
is another monster school of salemas that get a beating from barracuda,
jacks, rainbow runners and other predators. Surprisingly, the
water he is quite shallow 50ft is about as deep as it gets
around kicker rock, but there are lots of nudibranchs, crustaceans
and other invertebrates to be seen.
This is the Galapagos Islands at its most recognisable!
A walk to the highest point of Bartolome affords you the opportunity
to admire the almost lunar landscape that has been formed by the
volcanic activity that created this, the youngest of the Galapagos
Islands. Situated just off the east coast of Santiago Island,
Bartolome is instantly distinguished by the huge tower of rock
off its northern coast The Pinnacle - and the narrow isthmus
that divides the island in two. The larger eastern side is pitted
with volcanoes and you can walk a well beaten track to the top
to admire the fabulous view. Off the northern side of the isthmus
you can snorkel with one the Galapagos star attractions,
the Galapagos penguin. Endemic to these islands and only just
over a foot tall, these cheeky chappies can be seen sunbathing
on the rocks or swimming after the small fish that are their diet.
I recall trying to photograph one as he sat on his rock about
4ft off the sea. In utter disdain he turned his back on me and
proceeded to crap in my general direction!!!! Quite clearly he
had seen enough tourists for one day! You can cross the isthmus
through rough vegetation to the south side. Here a wonderful sandy
beach is a favourite nesting site for green turtles. As the sun
set we watched these lumbering creatures haul themselves up the
beach to find a nice place to lay their eggs. In the shallows
more relaxed after their ordeal, getting their breath back and
cooling off before venturing back out to see where, we mused,
randy male turtles were waiting to do it all over again!
- PUNTA VICENTE ROCA
This is a fabulous night dive the Galapagos equivalent
of a muck dive!!! A sheer wall that drops to over 200ft is covered
in sponges and black coral trees, and filled with nooks &
crannies. Here you can find all sorts of crustacea including slipper
lobsters, crabs & shrimps, frogfish of infinite variety lurking
amongst the sponges (frogfish should, in an ideal world, be called
spongefish!), seahorses, hawkfish, tube anemones and barnacle
blennies. Under ledges on the sea wall can be found sleeping turtles.
- TAGUS COVE
A large and deep bay on the western side of Isabela, this is the
best place in the world to see the weird and wonderful red-lipped
batfish. In my opinion the red-lipped batfish is a cross between
an upturned soup tureen and Barbara Cartland. Its fins are more
like legs and it has a pointy nose and big puffy down-turned lips,
bright red in colour, all surrounded by a bristly beard (the obviously
need some Immac!) How these creatures developed, and more surprisingly,
how they survived, is anyones guess! I recall while in Cocos
being delighted when I saw just one, but here, on the black coral
sand bottom, dotted with wonderful glades of black coral trees,
was batfish city! Dozens of these strange creatures can be found
swim-waddling across the bottom. You can get very close to them,
if you lie still on the sea floor on your stomach and inch towards
them, camera at the ready. They remain there motionless until
the last second, before raising themselves off the floor by their
fin-legs and galumphing away across the bottom. Winner of first
prize in any Weird Fish Competion!! Amongst the black coral trees
you can also find a host of critters, including frogfish, seahorses
and hawklfish. Tagus is also home to the largest species of starfish
in the world, Luidia superba. This 5-armed asteroid can be as
much as 4ft across; it preys on other starfish by virtue of its
size and (relative!) speed.
- WOLF & DARWIN ISLANDS
An overnight sail north of the main island group are the remote
Wolf & Darwin Islands. These are the pinnacle if diving in
the Galapagos and only Cocos Island in Costa Rica (itself only
2 days sail north of Wolf & Darwin!) can match the sheer
quantities of fish that fill your view from top to bottom, left
- WOLF ROCKS
Wolf is some 4 hours south of Darwin and is actually one large
island with smaller islets at either end. The landscape is dominated
by high cliffs and sea arches and the shoreline is rocky and unapproachable;
sea lions relax on the waters edge. On the south side of
the island a landslide at some time in the past has created a
boulder slope that runs into the sea and tumbles down to a sandy
floor at about 150ft. Strong currents flow around the island and
this attracts large schools of Galapagos sharks, hammerheads and
silkies. It is not uncommon to see 300 or 400 hammerheads and
100 silkies or Galapagos sharks in a school. The shallower areas
are dominated by vast schools of jacks, rainbow runner, barracuda,
skipjack tuna and grunts. It is not uncomon to see dolphins here
also. And of course the ubiquitous and inquisitive seals and sea
lions! Because of the xposed nature of this site, and the strong
currents it is definitely not a place for a novice!
- DARWINS ARCH
Darwin is the most northerly of the Galapagos. Here the Humboldt
Current has little effect, so the water is warmer and there are
more corals than you would otherwise expect. The skyline here
is dominated by the majesty of Darwins Arch, a huge sea
arch that rises high out of the water. On the south side of the
arch is a large ledge that acts as a gallery for the action beyond.
Again the scene is dominated by monstrous schools of hammerheads,
mantas, eagle rays, golden cowrays and the like, but perhaps the
main attraction is the whale sharks that are frequently seen cruising
past. These sharks, the worlds largest fish, tend to use
deepwater pinnacles as markers for the migratory journeys (see
the section on Thailand also!) and it is not uncommon to see 4
or 5 on a dive. Some would say that this is perhaps the fishiest
dive in the world!
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