Every moment spent in the Galapagos Islands was mesmerising, thought provoking and life changing. As soon as we arrived we were inundated with wildlife that showed no fear (and often took no notice) of humans. On landing at San Cristobal Airport I initially thought I had flown back through time: in the sky a huge, black, almost pterodactyl-like bird was circling above us. I was to see many other frigatebirds during my two week stay in Galapagos.
To follow in the footsteps of Charles Darwin and visit Galapagos had been a distant dream but, thanks to the overwhelming generosity of Jonathan Milner and the Evolution Education Trust, I have just returned from the trip of a lifetime. Along with two of my PhD student colleagues from the University of Bath I joined the Galapagos Conservation Trust’s Supporter Cruise and spent time on Santa Cruz Island learning about GCT-funded education projects.
Life on board the Majestic was truly wonderful. We sailed by night, visiting a different island each day. Every island was unique with its own spectacular landscape and fascinating flora and fauna. I soon became accustomed to marine iguanas hiding among the black volcanic rocks, sea lions basking in the sun, Sally Lightfoot crabs with their startling orange shells bright against the dark coastal cliffs, and the finches, mockingbirds and lava lizards which all appear similar, yet vary between islands. It is easy to see how Darwin’s visit here helped shape his views on evolution.
I have so many amazing memories, but those prehistoric-looking frigatebirds really encapsulate the wonder, mystery and magnificence of the Islands for me. Seeing the male frigatebirds on Genovesa, their mating calls reverberating through their enormous red throat pouches, is something I shall never forget.
I learnt to snorkel in the brilliant turquoise ocean. I entered a new world where I immediately became engulfed in schools of fish and then found myself at the centre of attention of curious sea lions playfully darting around me. Snorkelling around Kicker Rock we were treated to turtles, sea lions, rays, sharks, an octopus, and (somewhat tingly!) jellyfish. But perhaps the most poignant moment was seeing a turtle eating a plastic bag. Even in these glistening, remote waters, the impact of humans is inescapable.
On Santa Cruz we visited a school and an eco-club. I felt honoured to participate in a teacher workshop which included tortoise tracking in the highlands. I was impressed with the dedication of the teachers and trainers to the environment and sustainability. I was particularly encouraged by the positive attitude of teenagers at the eco-club who viewed conserving nature as their responsibility. It gives me lots of hope for the future of these islands and really highlights why funding from organisations such as GCT is vital.
I have been so inspired and motivated by this incredible adventure. I am very grateful to my sponsor, everyone at GCT, those on board the Majestic, and those who I met during my time on the Islands: you all made me feel so welcome and opened my mind to new ideas and ways of thinking. I hope I can use this experience to improve my research into how evolution is taught in UK schools, and I look forward to working with GCT in the near future to develop further teaching resources for Discovering Galapagos.
by Rebecca Mead, PhD student at the University of Bath