"" Writer's Wanderings: Reminiscing: So Many Iguanas! And They Sneeze!

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Reminiscing: So Many Iguanas! And They Sneeze!

 [While they have a face only a mother could love, they are amazing creatures the marine iguanas.]

Fernandina Island is the youngest and western-most of all the Galapagos Islands. It has also had the most recent volcanic eruption occurring in April of 2009. Earlier, in 1968, the caldera had sunk almost 1,000 feet but then the coast line at Espinoza Point was lifted some 9 feet just two years later.

We carefully climb off the zodiac. It may be classified a dry landing, but the tide is really low and the rocks are wet and mossy in places. Life jackets removed, cameras out, our fearless naturalist, Alexis, gets us all organized on a relatively dry spot before we look around. Suddenly he grabs his face with two hands (ala Home Alone) and yells, “Oh my gosh! There’s iguanas!” It’s his joke. We have seen so many iguanas now that every time we come upon another he makes the exclamation.

But here there really are a LOT of marine iguanas and the smell attests to the numbers. The shoreline was populated with hundreds if not thousands. They are so difficult to see with their black coloring against the black lava. With the low tide and the sun climbing, the excrement is fermenting. We pick our way carefully around iguanas which blend into the colors of the lava rock stopping to take photos of the absurd number of them gathered together here.

Occasionally we are startled by an iguana sneezing. They spend as long as 45 minutes underwater feeding on algae. The excess salt in their diet is sneezed out their noses. No snot. Just salty water. This morning the algae is exposed due to the low tide and several iguana are combing the rocks for their breakfast. There are many in the water swimming, using their tail as a crocodile or alligator does swishing it back and forth to propel themselves to the tasty algae morsels they seek.

While we saw some large iguanas, I don’t think we saw any that were a full four feet long which is the length they can reach when full grown. An amazing fact I find is that marine iguanas during a lean time with less food will not only get thinner but will shrink in length. 

Along side of a pile of bones, we stop for an excellent lecture on the skeletal structure of several marine animals including the backbone of a whale. After we’ve learned about which bone is connected to which bone and guess about where some of them came from, we move around a large area of soft sand where the iguanas lay their eggs. More iguanas? Will the island hold them all? It is said that there are about 200,000 to 300,000 in the islands and scientists have estimated that some concentrations of them could be about 4,500 per mile. 

We reach the other side of the lava where a beach area has been established with the breaking apart of the lava rock and the crushing of shells and urchins and I’m sure other things I didn’t recognize that contribute to the making of sand. Just a handful of it yields a host of different objects from the sea.
Suddenly someone shouts, “Snake!” I look quickly for the lady who has said she truly freaks out about snakes. I didn’t know there was someone worse than I am. But she is in another group not in ours. I stay a safe distance and take a couple of pictures but quit when my stomach begins to churn as one man lets the snake slither over his shoe.

To take my mind off the snake, I take more pictures of iguanas and driftwood and a couple of sea lions. 

As we make our way back toward our landing spot, we come across a Flightless Cormorant sitting on a nest.  It amazes me that she doesn’t flinch as we pass by so closely. I have learned that the Flightless Cormorant's wings are one third the size needed to fly. Still, it does quite well in the water feeding off of fish, eel, small octopus, and other small marine life. In between each venture into the sea, they have to dry their feathers and wings as they do not produce as much oil as other sea birds to to keep them afloat. They are the rarest of birds, only found in the Galapagos and their population is estimated at 1,500. 

Carefully we pick our way over the lava again and around the iguanas to get to our landing point. We don our life jackets again and ride to the Xpedition. The zodiac deposits us on the rear deck of the ship once more so we can don our wetsuits and snorkel gear for our deep water dive. We’ve been promised to swim with sea turtles. 

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