Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sierra Negra y Volcan Chico

3/23/11- The class made a field trip to one of the 5 active volcanoes on the island of Isabela. The hike was a total of 10 miles around the caldera and to another smaller volcano and we hiked from around 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM including many snack/tree climbing/enjoy the view breaks. Volcan Sierra Negra has the largest caldera of any volcano on earth, measuring in at (if I remember correctly) 10 km in diameter. If you wanted to see a bigger caldera, you would have to go to Mars. From the place that the chiva dropped us off it was a 30 minute hike up to the edge of the caldera. This part of the hike was super steep, but once we reached the top it was all worth it when we went over the top of the hill and got our first glimpse at the largest caldera on earth....
Sierra Negra caldera- doesn't even fit in one frame!

We walked along the rim of the Sierra Negra Volcano for a while which led us a little farther down the outer slope of the volcano. There were giant trees in one little area with benches underneath and we stopped for some much needed food and tree climbing. We continued on to Volcan Chico. The path brings you over several lava fields with really neat formations. Volcan Chico is located right next to Sierra Negra because it was a magma intrusion that split off from the main caldera during an eruption and created several smaller cones and lava flows. 

another day in the classroom- our professor Falk with Ryan and Colby
We are biologists, not geologists, so when we stumbled across this skeleton under a rock we were all a lot more fascinated than we should have been, but we had been looking at rocks all day. We aren't sure what this is a skeleton of because there are no wild mammals in the Galapagos besides rats and bats. Our closest guess was a feral cat. 

The view from Volcan Chico was amazing. You could see all the way down to the water and see the skinniest part of the island of Isabela and the water on either side. The next volcano north, Alcedo, was also visible along with Fernandina. I was so excited to finally get a glimpse of Fernandina because not many people get to see it. There are no towns on the western coast of Isabela or on Fernandina and boats rarely make their way over to that side of the island. That being said, the western coast is where the majority of the upwelling is located making it prone to lots of fish species and also the flightless cormorant.  
view down the slopes of Volcan Chico to the water

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Quick Facts

Hello internet! The internet connection to Isabela has not been functioning for the past 48 hours and was rather inconvenient when I had to sign up and pay a deposit for my housing next year before my spot was given away! Problem avoided and now I am confirmed to be living in the UV next fall. YAY!
Geology class started on Monday and has not lived up to my expectations, but we did go on an awesome field trip yesterday to Sierra Negra and Volcan Chico. We hiked from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM, covered 10 miles and ate lunch while looking over the largest active caldera on earth. (That's a fact).
Other exciting news- last weekend the moon was super close to earth. The closest it had been in the past 18 years generating a crazy high tide that pushed waves over the pier and into Iguana Bar, washing out the sand floor. :(
It's also been really hot outside lately, but there has also been a nice breeze.
My host dad just got back from a hunting trip and wasn't able to kill anything, so we all are bummed about that. And my family could really use the money right now because the school year is coming up and Maithe just got her supply list.
Did you know it costs $10 for a small tub of ice cream here? We've been dying for milkshakes lately and the one place that sells them hasn't been open whenever we go so we decided to make our own- until we found out the price of the ice cream.
In two weeks I will be in the United States.
We are going to be in Quito the whole day of April 6th and are planning a trip to the equator!!!!! Which I am dying to see although I know I will be disappointed when there is nothing there but a plaque.
My watch is breaking and I really hope it lasts through the Spain trip.
Speaking of which, I submitted my scholarship application and am crossing my fingers.
I think that is it for today's fast facts. Check in soon for some awesome pictures of the volcanoes of Isabela

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Marine Conservation Final Paper

Over the past two weeks I have explored the natural area around Puerto Villamil on the island of Isabela in the Galapagos. Through many field activities to a variety of locations I was able to gain a broader understanding of the ecosystems in the Galapagos and the current status of the species that live in those ecosystems. Fishing, snorkeling, walking, and other modes of exploration were utilized in order to view the habitats in as many ways as possible and earn a deeper understanding of this region. There are a wide variety of charismatic megafauna along with other smaller organisms that can be easily viewed and observed without looking extensively for them. It is important to understand where they are and what they are doing along with their conservation status so that scientists can know what their status is and how best to help conserve them if they need it. Visitors should also educate themselves about these animals in order to gain respect for them and educate others to also protect and conserve the entire Galapagos environment.
Loberia Chica is a small lagoon located near Tintoreras, a rocky islet near the port in Puerto Villamil. The bay is semi-protected from the open ocean by lava rock formations below the surface of the water and mangroves above. I have been snorkeling three times in this location during my stay in Puerto Villamil and have been able to watch the progression through this hot, rainy season that is present from January to May. In January, large numbers of green sea turtles gathered in this area to feed. They gather in this place in order to mate in the open water of the port, but many can be found feeding on algae in Loberia Chica. In January, around 20 individuals were seen in this area feeding on Ulva. On March 8, 2011, only a solitary female was observed. Most turtles will tolerate being watched as long as they are given enough room to move from one group of algae to the next. They will continue their eating and breathing behavior patterns even when humans are close by. Some of these sea turtles show an interest in humans and will approach and hold eye contact for an extended period of time.
The Green Sea Turtle is the only species of sea turtle that is known to lay eggs on the beaches of the Galapagos. This species does not become sexually mature until age 26-40, making them vulnerable to changes in population. If a large number of sea turtles are killed, or the population is reduced, there will be very few reproducing adults left to repopulate. This slow life history makes them especially vulnerable to overharvesting and bycatch which still occurs in some countries. The biggest threat to the turtles in the Galapagos is the destruction of their nests and eggs which gives them a status of endangered with the IUCN Red List. Cats, feral pigs, and fire ants are predators that will dig up a freshly laid sea turtle nest and eat the eggs and young. If the turtles hatch during the day, they are also vulnerable to frigate bird predation. About 1400 females a year nest in the Galapagos, and I have witnessed females coming to shore in order to lay their eggs on the beach right outside the reaches of town in Puerto Villamil. One female that I observed on March 12, 2011 had made her way from the water to the sandy road and was moving down the road to find a spot to bury her eggs. She was a smaller female so it may have been her first time laying eggs and she did not know the right location. I followed her tracks and she had been walking down the road of unsuitable habitat for a long time. In the morning if you walk the beach, you will see tracks that look like they originated from a snowmobile and these tracks lead to a large mound under which the eggs are buried. It is important to protect these nests because the Green Sea Turtles are an endangered species and young turtles are constantly needed to increase the population and add genes to the gene pool. Unfortunately, the benefits of saving eggs and young turtles are not seen for decades because it takes the females so long to mature and lay eggs of their own.
Another animal that is fun to observe is the Manta Ray. These animals usually are located swimming near the surface filter feeding on plankton. On March 16, 2011, I was able to witness the behavior of several of these creatures between Los Tuneles and the Puerto Villamil harbor. At first sight they are overwhelmingly large, growing up to 9 meter wingspan, although the ones we observed had about a 15 foot wingspan. We witnessed a manta ray in the distance breech the surface of the water three times in a row. We also came across ones that were closer to the boat and the wingspan of one could almost reach the bow and the stern of the boat as it swam underneath us. When we entered the water with masks and snorkels we learned how fast these animals really were while we were trying to get close to them. These rays move by undulating their pectoral fins which enable them to “fly” through the water. The larger their wingspan, the more distance they can travel with a single movement. When we reached the manta rays, they did not seem alarmed by our presence and continued to swim around us. Twice they passed directly beneath me within reaching distance. After they passed below the group they turned downward and appeared to be diving.
Manta Rays are protected in the entire country of Ecuador, but they are hunted elsewhere for their liver oil and meat. They are considered near threatened according to the IUCN Red List. It is important to protect these animals for their sheer aesthetic value. They are stunning creatures, maybe the most stunning in the Galapagos and they hold a high value with tourists. I would come back to the Galapagos again and again in order to just view these creatures.
All of the organisms in the Galapagos are amazing in different ways. These two organisms, the Green Sea Turtle and the Manta Ray are both representatives for all of the organisms in the Galapagos. Conservation is important to protect both of these species and ecosystems that they live in. Ecosystems around these islands are all connected by the Pacific Ocean and it is important to value each component of this system. If one species is no longer well represented, the ecosystem is vulnerable to major changes which in turn can affect other populations and species. If conservation and awareness are made important, however, ecosystems can thrive and be amazing places to observe. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Fishing Take Two

Colby and Ryan getting fish at the same time
It has been exactly one week since the tsunami threat and life has returned to normal. We went fishing this morning to finish off Beth's class and it was awesome. The weather was great, seas were relatively calm, and the fish were biting! This is the first time I had ever been real deep sea fishing and overall I would give it a thumbs up. I really didn't enjoy the fish being speared in the side in order to get them on the boat, the bleeding of the tuna, or the clubbing of the wahoo, but besides that it was fun!
Well deserved giant Yellow fin Tuna and Wahoo
Colby is the fisherman of the group and although we each got a turn to reel in the fish, he did most of the work mainly because he know's what he is doing and a lot stronger than us. None of the girls could reel anything in by themselves. He would help us hold the rod while we reeled and would take over if anything happened such as a bull sea lion coming over to tear apart the Wahoo before it was fully reeled in.
Marina's Wahoo- the first of the day. It weighed 53 pounds
When it was my turn I reeled in the fish only to find that it was a little yellow fin tuna- too small to take with us, but I had fun reeling it in and taking pictures with it.
Thank you to Marina who photographed while I "fought" the fish

I look frightened because my fingers are stuck through his gills and less than inches away from its teeth. Also, it was still alive and very feisty.
Marina and I letting the boys do the hard work
4/5 of the awesome boat group
Ryan, me, Erin, and Colby
All the fish were stuck in a whole in the deck in the middle of the boat. By the end there was a nice pool of blood also. It was pretty gruesome. The fish were also too big to fit. You may notice that I am wearing only one sock in all of these pictures and it is because I have a wound on my foot that just scabbed over and I wanted to protect it without using a bandaid and having the adhesive rip off my scab. The sock trick worked perfectly. 
Even bloody, dead fish get a thumbs up
Our wonderful boat and the 5 fish we caught
The aftermath- one foot socked, the other one covered in yellow fin blood!
Tonight we are having another IOI bbq/ fish bake. We took the smaller Wahoo which was 43 pounds and the largest yellow fin and tonight they will both be in our bellies!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Los Tuneles

Today was the first day of Fiesta de Isabela and things started off with a parade. It was a little lame due the lack of participation. The government officials, park rangers, IOI, and the kid's sports camps marched and the whole thing was over in less than 30 minutes. The marines did a marching routine with instruments which needed some practice, but wasn't that bad considering we had never heard them practicing before.
We left for Tuneles around 10 and it was starting to rain. We saw some manta rays in the water during the boat ride and one of them jumped into the air 3 times. We were all screaming because it was so amazing. We also saw a giant manta right next to the boat. We went on a small hike around Tuneles which was beautiful. The water was calm and there were bridges, arches, and tunnels that were right along the shore. It was different from what I was expecting, but it was still beautiful.

Photo by Ryan McMinds

We went to a different sight to snorkel and although the visibility wasn't great, we saw a lot of neat stuff. I wore my 5mm wetsuit and probably didn't need it, but I was the warmest person in the world and floated like a balloon. 
Seahorse A- "Stop it, don't look at me"

Seahorse B- "Why are you trying to take a picture of me?"

Seahorse B- "I'm trying to take a nap"

unidentified fish
On our way back to Puerto Villamil we once again saw manta rays swimming very close to the boat. They were about as large as the boat itself which had 6 students on it and 2 captains. This time we asked if we could jump in the water and the captain said yes. We all jumped in with our masks and started swimming like crazy towards the mantas. It took a while, but we got to where they were and we got to witness them swimming around us. I had two of them swim directly beneath me within touching distance. I was screaming out of excitement along with Megan, Marina, and Amy, and now my throat hurts. These were not your average sting rays. These rays were at least 15 feet across. That is a big sting ray. Seeing them that close is both breathtaking and life changing. We all agreed that we could die in that moment and our lives would be complete. It was one of the greatest moments in my life and I try to keep replaying the image in my head so I will never forget. Marina has a really good video of it and I will post a link to it whenever she puts it on the internet.
Photo by Ryan McMinds before we jumped in with them. The two parts that are sticking out of the water are the wing tips

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


This afternoon we went kayaking around the bay near the port and tintoreras. We saw penguins, pelicans, frigate birds, turtles, marine iguanas, and others. It was nice to spend the afternoon on the water although it included a lot of splashing each other and a brief tip over. Beth's class is really interesting and is a good contrast to Mike's class which was all about about fish. Today lecture was on sea lions and turtles. Every field trip we have to write a field journal entry about and I am really enjoying taking detailed notes about locations and animal behavior. Tonight, Johann, the guy who basically runs IOI, is spending his last night here before his vacation so we are going out to spend some time with him. Tonight also marks the start of Fiesta de Isabela. It was supposed to start last Friday night, but if you refer to my post about the tsunami it's apparent that no one was in town for a fiesta. Tomorrow we are going to Tuneles which is a snorkel spot I have been waiting for for....forever. So excited!

Colby did absolutely no fooling around for the record. At the end he tried to race Ryan and I to shore and failed miserably when he fell out of his kayak, but his foot (with 10 stitches) thankfully remained on the boat. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Friday, March 11, 2011- I planned to get up at 5:30AM because we were going fishing for class, but Lorena woke me up at 5:20 by knocking like crazy on my door. She told me a whole bunch of things, but I was not awake and the only Spanish I understood was English- tsunami. We went into their bedroom and watched the news as reports of the earthquake, nuclear power plant explosion, and tsunami came through. I called Johann at IOI and asked if we were going fishing (the tsunami was still 12 hours away) and he said no, but he still wanted everyone to come to IOI at 6 for a briefing. 
6 AM- I get to IOI and surprisingly not everyone has heard about the tsunami so I got to inform everyone that this may be their last and day alive and everyone was going to die :). Johann gives us a briefing about what the plan of action was and what the state of the situation was. The Ecuadorian government had ordered an evacuation of all coastal regions and Johann instructed us to stay with our families as we evacuated to the highlands and we were to meet again at 10 for an update (later they told us to just go to the highlands and not meet again).  
7 AM- I take a nap in the IOI library because I need to be rested in order to enjoy my last day alive. Lauren begins to call all of our host families to learn their plan of action. She tells me that my family is leaving to go to the highlands soon and to bring a book for entertainment. I grab "The Beak of the Finch".
8 AM- I ride my bike home to find that Lorena has packed everything we could possibly need in order to spend an entire month in the middle of nowhere- pots, pans, cleaning supplies, silverware, sleeping bags, tents, clothes, blankets, pillows, every item of food from the kitchen- frozen food, vegetables, fruit, books, stools/chairs, shoes, sheet, towels, EVERYTHING. My first thought- Oh man, I'm a little behind. I pack a bag of warm clothes, food, playing cards, and my ipod. A little after 8:30 my uncle's truck pulls up in front of the house and we load our stuff on and jump in. 
9 AM- We arrive in the highlands. I knew that my family had a plot of land, but I didn't know this included a little house. When we arrived it was filthy and the women (my host mom and her sisters-in-law) sent everyone outside while they scrubbed down the entire house down. It's a small house with one bedroom and one bathroom and a living/kitchen area. From what it looked like when we arrived it appears as though my host dad and his brothers use it as a base camp when they hunt cows. When we were allowed inside, it was still pretty dirty, but it was comfortable enough. 
10 AM-5PM- Two more truck fulls of people and their stuff arrived including multiple mattresses. Junior's entire family was there. This included his 2 brothers, 2 sisters, their spouses, mother, and all the grandchildren. It was a lot for such a small house. I spent the day reading, listening to music, playing with the kids, going on walks, etc. We had a TV with us and an antennae so we were able to watch the news. The women made homemade chicken noodle soup for lunch and chicken and rice. 
Maithe and Pamela

the cutest pig in the world- notice the two different color eyes

they had the most gorgeous flowers

the name of the area we were in

Me, Maithe, and Pamela on a walk

My crazy uncle trying to scare me

Sharpening a machete- he worked on clearing the driveway of overgrown grass
5 PM- Supposedly this is when the tsunami should have hit. We walked to a point where we could see the water, but we were so high up it was impossible to see anything. We listened to the report of a 6m wave on the neighboring island of Santa Cruz (this turned out to be not true), but it worried us that we were getting the same. Lorena kept saying things like “If we go back and our house isn’t there, at least we have each other”. Depressing. We ate dinner which was more chicken fried rice and tortillas. 

This was taken around 5 PM- supposed time of the tsunami. We were so high up you could barely see the water.
7 PM- For some reason we all got ready for bed and turned off the lights. The reina of Santa Cruz (kind of like Miss Santa Cruz) was also with us so we began to play pranks on each other like throwing an apple stem and calling it a spider. Lorena grabbed all of her covers and ran away with them. One of the families brought a giant speaker with them because they didn’t want to lose it in the water and we hooked up a blackberry to it and had a dance/jump on the bed party. We had a lot of people in the house so Maithe, Lorena, and I shared a mattress on the floor. People filled up the three other mattresses and some people were in sleeping bags on the floor. Even more people slept outside either in the truck or in a tent. I used my uncle's blackberry and a calling card to call my dad. I told him that everything was safe. He had talked to Dr. Peterson at UM who had talked to Johann who didn't evacuate IOI and he reported only a 1 foot wave in Puerto Villamil. At the same time a police car drove by and announced the "all clear". We all were able to sleep a little better knowing this (but I still had to deal with the noise of the cows who thought 2 AM was a perfect time to moo, horses, roosters, and dogs)
the main room

the bedroom and the mattress I slept on
5 AM- Apparently this is the appropriate time to wake up in the highlands. People started making noise and moving around.
6 AM- Everyone is up and out of bed. Lorena gives me breakfast which was fruit, corn flakes, and yogurt. I read some more. Listen to some music.
7:30 AM- Lorena says I can go back in the first truck load of people and I gladly do. 

one truckfull this morning- notice the tv, coffee table, and two mattresses
8 AM- I put my bag down in my room in town. The floor is dry. Everything is safe. I ride my bike down to IOI and go out to the beach. The high tide during the full moon a couple weeks ago got more of the beach wet than the tsunami. We got off easy. The other islands got it worse, but nothing really bad. So that’s my story and I survived. 
I took this early Saturday morning- the wet portion is how far the "tsunami" traveled