Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 21 MAR 2021
We are now in the midst of exceptional cactus vegetation with hundred-year-old cacti turned into tremendous trees with massive, brown trunks. Apparently, the vegetation is popular among finches (Darwin’s birds!) and other bird species. Now and then we catch a glimpse of the tiny, nimble birds. Here the cactus trees grow between rough lava stones in the impassable terrain.
The trail is a straight stone path which in about 45 minutes leads to the beach. We have high expectations since we have read that the beach at Tortuga Bay, Galapagos, features both handsome marine iguanas, white tip reef sharks and other fascinating animals.
Suddenly, and completely unexpectedly, we spot an awe-inspiring tortoise behind a tree. This is the first tortoise we come across at close range in the Galapagos Islands, and we had actually been convinced that it would be necessary to go to the highlands of Santa Cruz to see these large animals at this time of the year, a tour which we have planned for tomorrow. The tortoises move up and down the island throughout the year, from the lower parts to the very highlands, depending on the season and the food resources available.
Where to stay in Galapagos? White House Galapagos small family-run hotel with patio/garden & hammocks, Hotel Coloma Galapagos excellent location with garden, Hotel Galapagos Suites B&B 5-minute walk from waterfront with balcony or patio.
We have to watch out for the fast lava lizards, always adapting in colour to their surroundings and therefore often not easy to see. We are alert not to step on one.
The walkway leads directly to the gorgeous Tortuga Bay. Some people consider this beach one of the most sublime and spectacular beaches on Earth! Now, seeing it for ourselves, we have to agree that the scenery is absolutely magnificent!
When leaving the last part of the trail, a mangrove area, the first beach we arrive at is the main beach, Playa Brava. It is maybe a kilometre long and has the finest, powdery sand. The view is gorgeous with striking contrasts between the pristine, white sand and the crystalline, turquoise sea. However, the waves are high and the currents said to be strong here, so the place is not apt for swimming.
We continue walking along the rocky coastline of Tortuga Bay to arrive at Playa Mansa, a lagoon with calm turquoise-blue waters. Just before reaching it, we suddenly find ourselves face to face to dozens of spectacular marine iguanas. They are sunbathing lazily without taking too much notice of people passing or shooting beautiful photos of them. We find the reptiles cool and fascinating and stay for a while observing them. A little big further ahead we find a group of baby marine iguanas on the black lava rocks, which are completely spellbinding us with their cuteness.
Playa Mansa is breathtaking with a cactus forest on one side of the lagoon and stunning mangroves on the other side. We curiously take a stroll along the vegetation.
Unexpectedly, we come across a burrow in the sand, dug by a ghost crab which apparently is still inside it, since the sand around it is moving. It attracts our attention since it in all directions is surrounded by small sand balls and scratch marks. The ghost crabs hide in their burrows during high tide and do not emerge until the tide goes down. They scoop up and filter the surface layer of sand, take out and ingest small organisms, leaving tiny balls of clean sand behind.
The fierce-looking marine iguanas impress us. The biggest ones are actually considerable in size. Most of them remain pretty immobile when we pass, and the few that do move, do it at a slow pace. Only when we later on see one of them swimming in the sea by the mangroves, do we see some real movement!
We have brought a picnic from Puerto Ayora to Tortuga Bay since there is no possibility of buying anything on the Galapagos beach, not even water. What we haven’t been aware of, is, that in the very moment we open our bags and take out the bread, dozens of birds gather around us. Most of them are cactus finches – Darwin’s birds! Also other species appear, including a persevering mockingbird. They are not the least shy and persist in fighting for bread crumbs, being indiscreet to the point that we start feeling a bit annoyed. However, at the same time we find it interesting to observe these finches. These birds (or maybe rather their species!) are the birds that played such a crucial role in Darwin’s research!
We try to judge whether their beaks are thin or thick, short or long, pointed or rounded. It was the variations in finch beak form that so inspired Darwin in his work and constituted essential elements of and contributions to his later theory of evolution. The beaks adapted to the surroundings based on the available food resources, i.e. whether these were insects, iguana blood, nectar from cactus flowers or seeds. The adaptive development has resulted in finches, still today, being different in the various Galapagos islands, depending on the food resources present.
Not until all food has gone, do the finches disappear again. Nevertheless, there is a varied bird life on the beach. Before long, greyish lava gulls are soaring into view, approaching us. Also majestically appearing pelicans elegantly sweep along the beach, just above the water surface.
We know that there is a likelihood of spotting white tip reef sharks in the water near the mangroves. We decide to give it a whirl and head towards the far end mangroves to explore the water there.
Without too high expectations we step out in the water and climb over a few slippery rocks in order to get at proper depth. A local group of people draw our attention to some shadows a bit to the side. They are eager to report what they spotted just a moment ago. Very soon after, we marvel at what we see. A woman explains to us that the sharks come in at high tide. They swim in and out, so we will most likely get several opportunities to observe them.
” If you go to the far end of Playa Mansa by the mangroves, the white tip reef sharks will come in at high tide.”
The wait is not long. Three dark sharks do come in and appear on shallow water just beside us. We follow their course despite the unclear, sand-muddy water around the mangroves.
Every now and then their top fins emerge from the water and we see that the tip above water is absolutely snow-white, justifying the name of the species.
The most common sharks around the Galapagos Islands
Out of the 32 species of sharks reported seen around the Galapagos Islands, the most common species are:
Even if knowing that they do not pose any threat or danger to humans, we do not quite know how to react when one of the sharks, a gorgeous 2-metre (6-feet) long shark, all of a sudden, swims around the two of us, really up-close.
Being near Equator, shadows are short. Even if it is partly cloudy, the sun is extremely strong, and we are glad that we brought both sunscreen and wide-brimmed hats which come in handy on the beach.
The sharks stay for an hour or two among striped reef fish and we come and go to observe them and look out for other fishes. Our Ecuadorian company on the beach are keen on guiding me to spot the remarkable animals when they appear to be around.
Spotted eagle rays are suddenly located in the water near us. One of them keeps on swimming back and forth along the beach, drawing people’s attention. A group of children follow it with exaltation. Others snorkel or explore one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world from their rental kayaks.
Tortuga Bay has by far exceeded our expectations – although already pretty high before coming!
Galapagos Animals and Darwin’s Birds at Tortuga Bay
The naturalist and geologist Charles Darwin did major research on the islands. He arrived in the Galapagos Islands on the HMS Beagle’s second journey along the South American coast in 1835, nearly 4 years after setting off from England.
He studied the variations in life on his journey. During one month in the Galapagos Islands he collected fossils, plants and animals as evidence for his theories. Additionally, he took extensive notes based on his detailed observations to support his work later on.
He drew the conclusion that the species on the islands possessed small differences due to adapting to the specific conditions in each their biomes. The Galapagos Islands were perfect as a research field because of their isolated location. Consequently, life on the islands had had no interaction with the outside world, neither with animals nor vegetation on the other islands. Therefore variations in biodiversity would have to be explained by evolutionary adaption.
An often used example to illustrate his theories is the example of Darwin’s birds. Darwin used the variation in the birds depending on location to explain his ideas, and this example has subsequently found its way to many a biology book.
He developed his ideas about survival of the fittest and his theories of evolution or natural selection based on the research he did, among other places in the Galapagos Islands: San Cristóbal, Floreana, Santiago and Isabella.
Check out this tiny hotel for a local stay:
Hotel located in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island. The hotel has a nice patio and garden with hammocks, as well as an open common room. There is access to a shared kitchen in the common building.
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View more hotels in Puerto Ayora
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