Threatened Galapagos Coral: Memories of a Childhood Vacation
I ran across this tidbit while cleaning out my inbox; corals have been added to the IUCN Red List for the first time. The coral pictured in this news item from National Geographic is the Floreana coral - one of ten corals found near the Galapagos Islands that have been added to the list of threatened species. A startling fact also mentioned in the above item is that coral reefs in the Indian and Pacific Ocean are vanishing faster than rain forests.
I was lucky enough to visit the Galapagos when I was 10, the summer between 5th and 6th grade - too young to fully appreciate where I was, but old enough to still think it was pretty cool. My aunt, my mother's youngest sister, lived on the Galapagos for 13 years and worked as a herpetologist for the Charles Darwin Research Center. Her love was, and is, tortoises - the giant tortoises of the Galapagos being the subject of her Ph.D. thesis. So not only did I get to visit these incredible islands, including a week long boat tour, I had a member of my family as an expert guide.
My memories are primarily of the animals and the more mundane events that took place while staying with my aunt at her house - not terribly unusual considering I was a child. Standing out the most are the cold water showers; twisting one of my last baby teeth around in a vain and very painful attempt to pull it out; my father laid up on Vicodin after throwing his back out the first night we were on the mainland; huge tarantula-sized spiders crawling around the house, and occasionally *on* you during the night...; getting lost walking back from the "pizza place" which was only about 2 blocks from the house; and eating gazpacho (cold soup?!?) for the first time.
As far as the animal encounters, I remember walking across lava and through underbrush to view blue-footed boobies (in multitudes), masked boobies, flamingos, as well as the occasional red-footed booby (Left, photo credit: Tim Laman), frigate bird, land iguana and the even harder to spot white-tailed tropicbird - a rare treat to see flying above you. Along the coasts we were elated by marine iguanas, sea lions, hordes of Sally Lightfoot Crabs, and even, viewed from the pangas, clusters of Galapagos Penguins standing on rocky outcroppings. I also vividly remember being stung by a jellyfish while snorkeling in shallow water - already upset because I hadn't been allowed to go swimming in deeper water with my older cousins, that's a memory that I'm still a little bitter about...
Overall, it was a trip I'll always carry with me and I realize now what an incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity it was. There are many organizations funding and working on projects in the Galapagos and other islands around the world - this recent news that coral species are now classified as threatened or endangered for the first time will hopefully only fuel more conservationists to help save these incredibly unique island environments.
Map from World Navigator. ©2004 Cartografx Corp.