Guest blog by Alix Zelly
The USFQ’s Galapagos Academic Institute for the Arts and Sciences was home to 34 awe-inspired students from the University of Exeter for 10 wonderful days in January. Our group of British students was integrated with local students studying at the university. The duration of our time on San Cristobal was spent living with local families.
Despite my embarrassingly-limited Spanish vocabulary repertoire and my host family’s minimal English, we laughed and smiled. I spoke mainly to their 18-year-old son, Daniel. He enjoyed sharing with me stories of the manta rays he saw at work and his snorkelling trips with friends to dream locations such as Darwin Bay. My own trip to Darwin Bay allowed me to share the same patch of ocean with graceful turtles and mischievous sea lions.
After earning my stripes snorkelling around the local bays, I moved on to play with the bigger boys, in search of scalloped hammerheads. The boat ride out to Kicker Rock, a deep-water snorkelling point around a towering ocean pinnacle, treated us to diving nazca boobies and surfers dicing with death at rocky break points. Kicker Rock is an intimidating pillar of shear rock pushing up through the sea, making an impressive statement in the ocean desert of blue. As you jump in, the darkness endlessly engulfs you and the force of the waves makes you feel incredibly small.
We began making our journey around the pinnacle, eyes peeled, and entered a corridor between two rock faces. Between a patchwork of schooling fish there were turtles, Galapagos sharks, white and black tip reef sharks and even a fleeting silky shark. Exiting the channel we had our first glimpses of a hammerhead. One turns to two, three, ten and before you know it nearly fifty hammerheads appeared from behind and below.
Riding the circular currents, it was incredible to see so many this high in the water, brought upwards by the building stormy weather. Only by respecting our oceans, witnessing these beautiful creatures and exploring their hidden depths will we be able to protect their future.