Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sharks, Sea Horses, Turtles, Seals, and Boobies on the Galapagos - Los Tuneles

White Tip Reef Shark
Los Tuneles - Isabela Island - Galapagos
The speed boat took a 40 minute ride out to Los Tuneles, on Isalaela Island, where we snorkeled with the sharks, green sea turtles, eagle rays, and sea horses. The water was shallow, being no deeper than 8 feet or (2.4 m).

Los Tuneles is a place where lava caves have formed and the rising sea level has actually submerged the cave. Hence, at one point, thousands of years ago, the lava caves (also known as lava tubes) were above sea level and you could probably walk in them. The animals there, knowing a good hide out spot, took refuge there.

The lava tunnels also meet groves of mangrove
A small fever of sting rays
trees. Let's talk a little bit about the formation of lava tunnels and mangroves.

The lava tunnels formed because as the lava erupted out of the volcano, it starts off really, really hot. I've read that the temperature could read 2,000 C. So, it erupts and flows, but as it starts flowing the outer layer of lava cools, as it's closest to the air. As it cools, it hardens. Think about ice, the surface hardens first. Then, the hot lava keeps pushing its way through, even though a crust forms. That it hollows it out.

Sea horse latching on mangrove roots
As sea levels rose, the marine water covered the caves, and made them underwater ocean
Endemic Galapagos Penguin
caves. I like to see these animals as hiding out like bandits in their little shelters.

The mangrove forest (or groves) create their own ecosystem. Where lava and sea meet, you could see the tangled mangrove roots anchoring onto the lava. Mangroves are the only trees I know of that could actually have their roots submerged in saltwater. All other trees die.

They have a unique system to thresh saltwater from freshwater. Black and white mangroves do not take in saltwater at all. Red mangroves, which are found in the Galapagos, have a unique filtration system, which could separate saltwater from freshwater, similar to a reverse osmosis system. Think about this, it was only in the 1950's that we humans successfully could replicate reverse osmosis. So, it's only been in the last 65 years that we could replicate what mangroves have known how to do for what has been speculated to be 3.5 million years. (I believe we can learn more, from these plants in terms of efficiently threshing freshwater from salt.)

The combination of shelter and the nutrients provided by the lava caves and tunnels provides an ideal haven for the animals we saw. For you underwater photographers, this is an ideal spot to shoot the large animals because the water is really shallow, and you could get a large amount of natural light on a good day.
Blue footed boobie father,
shot by Paul Cook

Some say, Los Tuneles is the best site to visit on the Galapagos. From what I've seen, I agreed.

The bad part, for me, was that the tour started at 07:30AM, which is way too early for me. I wasn't in the mood to talk. On our tour, there were two senior English South Africans, a Swiss girl, two Spainards, and two South Americans.

They did the usual, "Hello, how are you?" And all the other introductions.

But because I was moody, because it was too early in the morning, I pretended not to speak English or Spanish. And because I'm Korean, at least genetically, they bought into it, and therefore, these people did not introduce themselves to me. And I didn't introduce myself to them, because it was too early in the morning. But, I think they wanted me to talk to them.

But as the guide spoke, both in Spanish and English, I understood most everything that was said. Yet, I played the game of pretending to not know anything.

Of course, 40 minutes into the trip, my silence broke. A huge manta ray swam near our boat, and I pointed it and said, "Manta!"  Uh oh, I thought. They now know you know English. And they did.

The large black ray, looked like a large cape floating and flying in the water. It was huge.
Blue footed boobie mother with chicks
shot by Paul Cook

After, the boat rode to the lava caves. I was the first to plunge into the water. I knew it'd be unpleasant because my wet suit didn't fit well, and I knew that the water would be cold.

When I jumped in, the water filled my wetsuit, and it was cold, like I thought it'd be. Remember, this is the Galapagos, where it's not a warm water island.

On our snorkel, we saw white tipped sharks (which I've seen in Australia), eagle rays (which are also in Australia), large green sea turtles, and sea horses. On land, we saw blue boobies and the endemic Galapagos penguins, which were small and cute and adorable. They look like miniature soldiers that stand upright at attention for you, while wearing a tuxedo.

Endemic Galagagos fur seal
(They're not as friendly as the sea lions.)
Back on the boat, the staff fed us. At that point, the South Africans and the Swiss started talking to me, asking me the usual questions. I thought to myself, Now the questions come. And they did. While answering, I was shivering and chattering. I think I was most affected by the cold. (I always am.) I'm glad the staff gave me warm tea, and it heated me up and made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

After the tour, I decided that we should further our conversations. I asked the South Africans and the Swiss girl if they'd like to get dinner, later on the island, together. They all agreed.

After coming back to my hotel, I took a really hot shower. I let the hot water drench my head, which felt icy. And I just let the hot water glide over my body and skin, until my temperature returned back to normal. It felt good, to be under the hot water.

When we ate, the Spaniards saw us eating. They joined us for dinner too. All in all, it was a great day.

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