My journey of discovery aka the best three weeks of my life began on the 30th December and today is my last day. During which time I have surfed with the community of Isabela, dived with amazing marine life from Santa Cruz and partied hard with the students of San Cristobal - Galapagos feels like home, and I want to write about why.
If I were to choose a colour symbolic of the Galapagos archipelago it would undoubtedly be blue. On approach to these islands, as far as the eye can see there are vast turquoise waters: the second largest marine protected area in the world. After spending only a few days with the community of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz it became evident to me that it wasn’t just I that felt with spiritual connection to the ocean. The Galapagos archipelago is made up of three inhabited volcanic islands surrounded by many uninhabited oases for wildlife – with only 3% of all of the land mass belonging to humans, this is the shark's world. It's incredible to think that 97% of these islands are strictly reserved for those who truly belong, a concept that seems so strange when we come from places where humans come first and wildlife has to fit around us - in the Galapagos it's the other way around.
Local people don't have the right to build on this land, fish these waters, or even see the majority of the island they live on, never mind those that are uninhabited. I like this concept, but it's easy to like this concept when I come from the outside. In two days I return to Cornwall where I can climb any tree I want, swim on any beach, explore rural areas without limitation - it is difficult to imagine living somewhere as incredible as the Galapagos but being confined to your village. While I write these words, it occurs to me that this is the very reason why the Galapagos is so special.
The Galapagos marine reserve is a no take zone – no fishermen here, thank you. This is why the islands are such a haven for marine life, and their presence is felt by the community. The surfers on Isabela, the divers on Santa Cruz, the researchers on San Cristobal; they all feel the connection to the ocean, which I have been privileged to experience first-hand and share.
Diving in the Galapagos has concentrated my love for the oceans more that I could have ever imagined. I never felt more free or at home when I could descend 60ft down and forget about life at the surface - you feel like you're one of the animals, you're in their world now, they have control. The one species that was on my list to see, that I wouldn't leave these islands without encountering, was the scalloped hammerhead. Hammerhead sharks are valued by many cultures as being headstrong, independent and tenacious in their pursuit in what they want, maybe this is why I feel such a spiritual connection to these animals. Many a wise marine biologist have said that
‘the sign of a heathy ocean is an ocean full of sharks’ – on entering the water, it’s clear that sharks own these islands. Every time I took the plunge into the deep blue, more than 60 three meter hammerheads would emerge from the darkness. They glide around you, moving elegantly through the water, taking absolutely no notice of you're existence in their world. Their power and grace just overcame me in the water - this affirmed to me that I had to come back and work with these animals.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the Galapagos marine reserve, locals tell me Asian fishing vessels creep into the reserve, and plastics carried with ocean currents know no boundaries. Our actions all over the globe impact on marine life, even in this so carefully protected marine reserve. During my time spent on San Cristobal with the University of San Fransisco & Quito I have been exposed to the amazing work carried out by plastic researcher JP, turtle biologger Dani, shark researcher Dianne – and so many more. These islands are truly saturated with those who only want to protect these islands and its waters, which is incredibly inspiring to be a part of, and gives me hope for the future of the oceans,
The passion for conservation is contagious and the spiritual connection the people have to the ocean is palpable – and that’s why I believe the Galapagos archipelago is truly a special place.