On a pilgrimage to the Galápagos Islands, Dr. Latika Nath explores life above and below water, and captures a few of the iconic denizens from the fabled volcanic islands. Text & Photographs by Latika Nath

Galápagos Islands Images
Divers swim into a school of Indo–Pacific bonito that circle them in a giant shoal just under the surface.

Galápagos Islands Images
On the North Seymour Island, a Galápagos land iguana poses next to a prickly pear cactus.

It’s the trip of a lifetime to visit the fabled Galápagos Islands, which inspired Charles Darwin to compose the Theory of Evolution. For a conservation ecologist, it was a pilgrimage. For a wildlife photographer, it was a visit to the islands of dreams.

Galápagos Islands Images
A Galápagos sea lion basks on a rock.

Galápagos Islands Images
The man-o’-war bird, or magnificent frigate bird, displays its puffed up gular to attract females while sitting on a stick nest it created.

Galápagos Islands Images
The iconic scalloped hammerhead sharks visit the islands each year to feed and breed in these waters, where smaller fish provide cleaning facilities.

The geographically isolated islands are considered a melting pot of biodiversity. They are located on the equator off the coast of Ecuador, and are a meeting place of the Humboldt Current, the Panama Current, and the Cromwell Current. The differences in the temperatures of these currents bring an incredible richness of species to the site, which is considered to be one of the finest but also most challenging dive spots on the planet.

Galápagos Islands Images
Below the surface of the swirling waters of Darwin & Wolf, a female whale shark cruises the plankton-rich waters.

Galápagos Islands Images
The Galápagos giant tortoise is one of the most famous animals on the islands, with the archipelago itself being named after them (galapágo is an old Spanish word for tortoise).

Galápagos Islands Images
Marine iguanas gather on a rock where they warm themselves under the sun in preparation of braving the cold ocean waters to forage.

One of my most anticipated dives was at the Darwin-Wolf Islands. As the boat approached the islands, a school of dolphins appeared and led us to Darwin’s Arch. The arch sits a kilometre off the coast of the island and is one of the most iconic dive sites in the world. The base of the arch forms a rocky submerged plateau called ‘The Theatre’ at a depth of 18 metres below the surface. The Theatre is the best place to witness species like the scalloped hammerhead, silky shark, Galápagos shark, whale shark, white-tip reef shark, eagle ray, manta ray, green turtle, and hawksbill turtle, along with schools of big-eye jacks, bonito, barracuda, and yellowfin tuna.

Galápagos Islands Images
A sea lion vocalises to protect and mark its territory.

Galápagos Islands Images
The chick of a magnificent frigate bird waits for a parent to come and feed it.

Galápagos Islands Images
The Galápagos penguin is the rarest penguin and the only species that lives north of the equator. Here, a mother and her chick rest between dives.

On these islands, we saw the rare Galápagos penguin, the unique adaptations of the marine and land iguanas, giant tortoises, the flightless cormorant, blue-footed boobies, vampire finches, sea lions and fur seals, the Galápagos hawk, the Galápagos petrel, and mockingbirds to name but a few species. Seeing all this biodiversity in one place, one is reminded of what Darwin once wrote of natural selection: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Galápagos Islands Images
The Galápagos bullhead shark was discovered 175 years ago, and yet, little is known about the species even today.

Galápagos Islands Images
Sally lightfoot crabs scurry across rocks, and when startled, literally walk across the surface of the water to escape the threat.

Galápagos Islands Images
The giant seahorse can grow up to a foot long and is seen in yellow, red, and brown avatars.

Galápagos Islands Images
Two blue-footed boobies mate on North Seymour Island.

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