The day began early as the Melville came into Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, where it underwent customs inspections for the next several hours. After we made it to land, we began a trip to the Charles Darwin Observatory, where we were guided through how the park maintains conservation of its land, with particular emphasis on the tortoises (to settle the question once and for all, tortoises are land-based and have elephant-like feet, while turtles are sea-based and have flippers). Much work is done inside the park to prevent the spread of introduced species. While it has been difficult to maintain the islands as they once were, several invasive species have been eradicated from the islands. We then learned about the tortoise breeding program, including how the tortoises are cared for from when they first hatch, and as they are raised for the first decade of their lives in semi-captivity to allow for them to mature. At first, they live in a small enclosed area, but are covered at night to prevent predators from attacking them. Following that, they are placed in areas that are increasingly more wild, until they are eventually tagged and released into the wild. We also saw some very old tortoises that had been brought into the research station from captivity around the world. The highlight was seeing Lonesome George, who is the last member of his species. He is from Pinta Island. In the early 1900s, it was believed that all of the tortoises from Pinta had become extinct, only for Lonesome George to be found in the 1960’s. Attempts at finding other tortoises on Pinta were \unsuccessful, so the station has tried for many years to get George to cross breed with tortoises from nearby islands. Two females from Espanola Island were placed in his compound, but since he had spent the majority of his life alone, he shied away from other tortoises. It was only in 2005 that he mated with one, although the eggs did not survive. The following year, the same thing happened, so it’s unclear whether Lonesome George may be infertile or whether he may someday produce some offspring.
The day continued with a trip to the highlands of Santa Cruz, where we were able to view the tortoises in their natural habitats. This provided an excellent comparison with the station by showing us how tortoises that are not constantly monitored at the observatory act in the wild. Following the trip to the Highlands, we explored a lava tunnel, which was a 6 kilometer tunnel inside of the island that originated as molten lava passed through a large cavity in solid lava. Our tour concluded with viewing 2 pit craters, also formed from when Santa Cruz was an active volcano. These are probably formed when solid lava collapses over a lava tube, leaving a huge crater above it. Following our tour, we had a party hosted by the science team with the Melville crew, then dinner at a local restaurant, and concluded our day by watching a less-than-ideal Lakers victory over the Celtics, and returned to the boat.
Our view as we came into port.
A view out onto the harbor.
Some crabs along the beach. Their bright colors show that they are mature adults.
Schlitzer sitting next to a tortoise.
Baby tortoises in their first residence, where they are sheltered.
Several marine iguanas laying on a dock.
Bone and Ally at our lunch spot.