Located on the Equator, 625 miles from Ecuador out in the Pacific Ocean lies the Galapagos Archipelago, a National Park consisting of 19 main islands and over 40 smaller islets. This archipelago rose from the sea some 9 million years ago through a combination of tectonic forces and volcanic eruptions, it continues to be one of the most active volcanic regions of our time. In being in an isolated position the islands were untouched for millions of years, this has resulted in the evolution of a number of unique ecosystems, both above and below sea level.
In being on the equator, the waters surrounding these volcanic islands benefit immensely from the intersecting currents: the cold Humboldt current travelling north from Antarctica mixing with a warm current running southwards from Central America. Although this makes waters cooler than expected it creates a haven for marine life, the Humboldt current brings Sea Lions and Penguins that intermingle with the turtles and tropical fish that are associated with the warmer coral seas.
The islands themselves are home to a diverse species range. The highlands of the larger islands are covered in lush endemic forests whereas the lowlands are dry deserts sprawling with towering Opuntia and spiny Acacias. Ancient giant tortoises lumber across the rocky plains, sharing their habitat with both sea lions and tropical flamingos. This is where Charles Darwin landed in 1835 and was inspired to formulate his theory on evolution through natural selection. Underneath the waves divers can experience one of the most magnificent and renowned underwater environments. The waters are abundant with pelagics, schools of Scalloped Hammerheads patrol the coastline whilst Manta Rays gracefully glide by scooping up enormous quantities of plankton. The surface is intermittently broken by Blue-footed Boobies shooting through the water, to depths of 5-6m, only to leave a trail of bubbles once they have their catch.
The initial check out dive is usually at North Seymour, where divers can accustom themselves to the relatively strong currents and thermoclines that they will soon find creates an exhilarating dive environment. Even so, whilst encountering the sea conditions for the first time divers may well experience the pleasure of seeing a spectacular shoal of hammerheads, an amazing initiation to the underwater world of Galapagos.
Located within the central islands is Gordon Rocks, one of the most exciting dive sites. A submerged volcanic crater creates the ultimate in underwater jacuzzi! Once descending below the surge you are likely to be sharing this pool with sharks, snapper, groupers and jacks before reaching the sandy garden at the base which is teeming with garden eels and smaller marine life.
Two of the most famous islands of the Galapagos Archipelago are Darwin and Wolf. They are located approximately 95 miles north of the central islands and are two lone volcanoes jutting from the sea to a maximum height of 250m at Wolf. In being further north of the equator the waters here are a few degrees warmer, they are renowned for being the 'shark
Mecca' of the world.
The bare volcanic cliffs of Wolf plunge steeply into the sea before forming a rocky slope that bottoms out at approximately 45m. In keeping your eyes on the rock face you will see an abundance of life, spotted morays sprawl across the rocks alongside trumpet and Coronet fish of every colour imaginable. Turn around and you will surely see rays, hammerheads, turtles and sharks crossing your path. For the fortunate, the unforgettable site of an awe-inspiring Whale Shark is a distinct possibility.
On travelling further north to Darwin Island you will marvel at both the splendid bird life flocking the Arch of Darwin and the dolphins skimming the water alongside the bow. On entering the water you can almost expect a greeting from hammerheads, sometimes too many to count. They swim gracefully over the plateau, sometimes slowing down to be cleaned by King Angelfish. The barnacle covered plateau drops into a steep wall from which you can settle into a hide or hold the rock and marvel at the marine encounters passing you by. The presence of occasional Tiger Sharks, Black and Blue Marlin and Killer Whales adds to this incredible diving experience.