Under water in the Galapagos

Turtles up for air

Snorkeling should be a part of everyone’s agenda when visiting the Galapagos.  You will swim among the large lumbering sea turtles, marine iguanas, cormorants and inquisitive seals.

With my terribly poor eyesight I would not have been a winner in Darwin’s survival of the fittest.  However, today my main worry is to remember to pack my corrective snorkel mask goggles, purchased on a beach in Hawaii years ago.  Despite crossing the equator numerous times aboard our boat the Millennium, the water was cool enough to require a wet suit.  Be sure to spring for an underwater camera for such a trip, not because you will capture prize-winning photos, but because you will wish like heck you had any quality camera to capture the scenes you witness.  My camera was purchased just days prior to departure, so there was no practicing before falling overboard from our dingy in the Galapagos with fins and snorkel gear.  Gasping for air through my snorkel, shocked by the cold water leaking into my wet suit, spitting into the lenses so they did not fog, surrounded by strange ocean noises, I searched for the “ON” button, the zoom and the camera shutter.  A few fish here and there, but not much else for a time when we first started swimming.  Suddenly, I glimpse a turtle in the distance.  Then as the turtles overtake my slow swimming speed from behind, they appear on both sides and I realize I’m surrounded by large sea turtles.  Large sea turtles on the left, the right and below me.  The only reason they were not above me is I could never dive down wearing the buoyant wet suit.  Clearly with no fear of clumsy humans, the turtles main goal is to gnaw away at the moss growing on the rocks 10 feet below.

Turtles everywhere


The shimmering light was a beautiful underwater sight, mixed in with the sounds of the ocean.

Shimmering light


Turtle Close Up

The jubilation and excitement was obvious and audible as other photographer divers would surface and yell “I see a turtle!” This must be either very entertaining or irritating to our Ecuadorian guides who remain in the rubber dinghies watching this predictable tourist behavior occurring before them repeatedly with every tour they lead.  Despite the cold water leaking into my suit and fumbling with the camera controls, I continue to swim on to see more and more of these beautiful, graceful animals.

Suddenly out of nowhere, a seal swims directly in front of me for closer inspection, startling the heck out of me.  I press the shutter by accident while sucking in even more salt water.  I was photo bombed by a seal!

The areas we snorkeled had either plentiful marine iguanas or sea turtles, generally not both.  They feed on the same moss but seem to ignore one another. The iguanas would hang out near where there were lots of black rocks to allow them to crawl out of the sea and warm up.

A two-fer, a marine iguana and a turtle

Once a large marine turtle is spotted, we would stop swimming and float alongside the turtle.  It is surprising how both clumsy tourist and graceful turtle were subjected to the strong water currents from the waves.  At times the turtles would visibly get pushed into rocks but were protected by their shells.  I ended up with numerous bleeding scrapes from colliding with the rocks, only to recall a TV episode of “Monsters Inside Me” (my wife’s favorite show) where the tropical tourists ended up with some deadly parasite from coral scrapes.


Well past the swimming iguana below, one of our inflatable boats can be seen in the distance.  This iguana had eaten enough and was heading back to climb up on the black rocks for warmth and to blow salt water out of its nostrils, something that is very difficult to capture with the camera.

Heading back to the rocks


Snorkelers are dependent upon the agility and swimming skill of the turtles to steer clear of them.  I certainly had little control bobbing up and down, swallowing sea water while snapping photos.  My technique was just to aim and click, as I really could not see much through the camera viewfinder.

Out of my way!


After a while I realized I could take videos with my new camera, which resulted in more fumbling around as I wondered how much longer I could tolerate numb feet and ingestion of even more salt water.





Most Everybody Just Gets Along

Despite the wide-eyed startled look of the blue-footed booby, the bird is not worried about the vegetarian iguana.  It was surprising to me how the different species paid little or no attention to one another.

Iguana and booby


Even the hawk was ignored by the iguanas.  If there was a young iguana in the group, there may have been a different outcome, I presume.

Iguanas ignore the hawk


For some reason the brightly colored crabs in the Galapagos are called Sally Lightfoot crabs.  The main reason for this, I am told, is because their official name is Grapsus grapsus.  Sally Lightfoot is a much better name.  Regardless, the iguanas ignore the Sally Lightfoot crabs as well.

Iguana has crabs

When coming up for air and to clear your goggles, you never knew what you might see.  This pelican ignored us.  The tourists were more startled and worried than the pelican.  Yep, most everybody ignored one another and got along…

Brown pelican

Well, Not ALL Animals got Along

The Galapagos blue heron and the hawk were intent on having salamander for lunch.  The salamander did not have a chance.  The hawk made three swoops down at the blue heron in failed attempts at stealing the salamander from the heron.  The ruckus of the blue heron splashing in efforts to hang on to the salamander prey is what initially brought my attention to this battle.


Galapagos hawk tries to steal the heron’s food

The blue heron won and the salamander was the biggest loser of the day.

Next week, even more Galapagos photos.


12 thoughts on “Under water in the Galapagos

  1. What a great experience you’ve taken in, Harold! You did great with your underwater camera, and as such, it was fun to get what was probably 0.001% of what you experienced that day.

    And might I say, I’ve not been so proud until now to be associated with turtles. 😉

  2. there is that fun wit and humor!! The water was remarkably clear, perfect for snorkeling! I really enjoyed the video of the sea turtle and am happy to see the endangered blue footed booby up close and personal!

  3. Hi Harold, This is getting us prepped for our trip to the Galapagos next month. What camera did you use? Not sure I would get one unless they are cheap and easy to buy but just curious. Love the photos!!

    • Hi Bonnie, the underwater camera several of us bought for this trip was the Nikon Coolpix AW130 waterproof from B&H Photography in NYC. However, I just looked it up and see it is discontinued, no longer available. It may have been replaced by the Coolpix W300 which is listed for $386. Look at the B&H Site for all of your camera needs. I look forward to your posts and photos. I would bet Amazon or Ebay would still have the older Coolpix model, good luck.

  4. These are great Harold! Thanks for the excellent comments to go with them! You’re dry humour always appealed to me!

  5. Great adventures and thanks for swallowing the salt water and risking parasite infection to get images to share with us … I hope the guides told you that wet suits are supposed to be wet inside and out 🙂 FYI and you probably already know there are two new Nikon waterproofs. I have the W300 as my “pocket camera”. The hawk and heron and heron with his prize is a great ending.

    • Thank you Ken, I wish I was experienced enough to know to zoom out a bit and increase the shutter speed for the encounter with the hawk and the heron. It all happened so fast and I could hardly believe what I was seeing.

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