Fernandina

Galapagos Island Guide

Area Size: 642 Km²
Maximum Altitude: 1,476 metres / 4,842 feet
Island Highlights: Flightless Cormorant, Marine Iguana, Land Iguana, Sea Lion, Galapagos Penguin, Punta Espinosa, Las Cumbres

Introduction
Fernandina is the third largest Galapagos Island and was named in honour of King Fernando of , who historically sponsored the legendary voyage of Christopher Columbus. She is the westernmost Galapagos Island and is situated on the Bolivar Channel opposite Isabela Island . With an exceptionally striking volcanic landscape, Fernandina is the most volcanically active island in the Galapagos archipelago, with eruptions occurring every few years.

The only visitor site on Fernandina is Punta Espinosa: a narrow spit of land in the northeast corner of the island. This is a great location in which to encounter unique Galapagos species a favourite vantage point from which to encounter one of the highest concentrations of endemic marine iguanas. 

Wildlife
Fernandina is considered to have one of the world's most pristine island ecosystems, free from the invasion of foreign species. Undoubtedly one of the most significant inhabitants of Fernandina is the flightless cormorant, an endemic Galapagos species which have formed a colony along the island's coast.  The cormorant evolved into a flightless species on the island, which at the time, was completely free of predators. Their need to fly was unnecessary and subsequently lost. Whilst their ability to fly has disappeared, these cormorant's legs have evolved to be heavier and more powerful and consequently better capable of propelling themselves through the water in the pursuit of fish prey.

Other significant birdlife to be found on Fernandina include the endemic Galapagos penguins, pelicans and Galapagos hawks.  Herons and egrets can often be seen foraging amongst the mangrove roots.

An inviting inlet on the island's coastline is not only the resting place for the Flightless Cormorant, but is also regularly frequented by sea turtles. Red and turquoise-blue zayapas (Sally lightfoot) crabs can often be spotted dispersing across the lava shoreline, while sea lions enjoy basking in the sun.

The Galapagos islands are renowned for their colonies of land iguanas, which over the years have slowly adapted to their habitats, sustaining themselves on cactus and other land plants. Today, there are two species of these land iguanas in the archipelago, with a third species that managed to survive on a diet of seaweed, thus becoming the only marine iguana in the world.

Fernandina is home to the largest colony of marine iguanas. Punta Espinosa is one of the few places where one can glimpse them grazing on seaweed both above and below water. The usual feeding pattern for the marine iguana is to dive to about 3 metres below water and remain there for 5 to 10 minutes. However, larger males have been recorded to descend to as deep as 12 metres, where they have stayed for up to an hour.

A tourist trail at Punta Espinosa leads through black lava beds to a barren patch of land, rich in wildlife amid sporadic mangroves. During the first half of the year, iguanas make their nest here by burrowing small holes in the sand.

Marine Life
An inviting inlet on the island's coastline is not only the resting place for the Flightless Cormorant, but is also regularly frequented by sea turtles. Red and turquoise-blue zayapas (Sally lightfoot) crabs can often be spotted dispersing across the lava shoreline, while sea lions enjoy basking in the sun.

The Galapagos islands are renowned for their colonies of land iguanas, which over the years have slowly adapted to their habitats, sustaining themselves on cactus and other land plants. Today, there are two species of these land iguanas in the archipelago, with a third species that managed to survive on a diet of seaweed, thus becoming the only marine iguana in the world.

Fernandina is home to the largest colony of marine iguanas. Punta Espinosa is one of the few places where one can glimpse them grazing on seaweed both above and below water. The usual feeding pattern for the marine iguana is to dive to about 3 metres below water and remain there for 5 to 10 minutes. However, larger males have been recorded to descend to as deep as 12 metres, where they have stayed for up to an hour.

A tourist trail at Punta Espinosa leads through black lava beds to a barren patch of land, rich in wildlife amid sporadic mangroves. During the first half of the year, iguanas make their nest here by burrowing small holes in the sand.

Conservation Issues
The Galapagos penguin and flightless cormorant are currently categorised as threatened in the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of threatened species.  The main threats to these species include El Niño and the potential risk of floods; predators such as cats, dogs and rats eating their eggs and unauthorised net fishing and fuel spills.

El Niño events prevent the arrival of cool nutrient rich waters which bring with them large schools of fish. Without these fish arrivals, many Galapagos species go hungry and starve. In 1983, El Niño events wiped out approximately 50% of the flightless cormorant population, reducing it just 400 individuals. However, the population recovered quickly, almost doubling in size to 900 by 1999. The same El Niño event claimed the lives of 77% of the penguin population, all of which starved to death.  Fortunately the population has since shown a steady increase in size.

Geology
Dominating the island's landscape is its shield volcano, Las Cumbres, which is the world's youngest volcano at only 700,000 years old. In 1968, the summit caldera (mouth) collapsed, subsequently causing the floor to drop 350 metres over the course of two weeks. Las Cumbres is one of world's most active volcanoes, having had 24 eruptions since 1831, including 8 eruptions from its 6 km wide caldera since 1968.

Following the volcano's most recent eruption in April, 2009, Fernandina is subsequently looking rather grey and rocky in appearance. Consequently, the island has limited plant life, characterised by its abundance of lava fields, which are interspersed with colonies of lava cacti. There are however, extensive concentrations of mangroves along the coastal areas of the island.

Further inland, the island's black lava flows become increasingly evident, with a trail that eventually leads to a hidden inner lagoon, where hawks can often be seen circling overhead.

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