The fertile waters, coral reefs, rocky beaches and mangroves surrounding the Galapagos Islands are protected as part of the Marine Reserve. They are as rich in wildlife as the famous Islands themselves and snorkelers and divers will be amazed by the large number of vividly colored fish, sea stars and urchins on the coral reefs.
More than 60 tourist locations have been identified in the Reserve of which only a few are
visited with any frequency, others receive no more than 100 tourists per year, and some have never been visited at all.
The Galapagos Marine Reserve is truly special. Created in 1998 to protect to the famous Galapagos Islands, this protected area is considered to be as important as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in terms of diversity. It is also one of the largest protected marine areas in the world (138,000 km2) and in 2001 was declared a World Natural Heritage site by UNESCO.
One of the more dramatic species that the visitor will find living beneath the surface is the immense manta ray, which can grow to over 7 meters long, while several species of shark also live here, including hammerheads and the 12 meter long whale shark. This is the largest type of fish recorded, but fortunately this shark only feeds on plankton, and poses no threat to humans. In total the visitor will find 447 species of fish in the Reserve, including 29 species of shark.
The Reserve also contains a large number of marine mammals, and here the visitor will find 23 species of dolphins and whales, including the largest animal on the planet, the blue whale, which can reach 30 meters in length and up to 150 tons in weight. Other mammals include sperm and killer whales, several species of dolphins, and the distinctive and unique Galapagos sea lions, which bask on the beaches with their black-furred pups and are not afraid of humans.
The sea turtles are also unperturbed by human presence, and will calmly swim past divers. The green turtles, the only species to nest on the Islands, are critically endangered as a result of hunting and the value placed on their eggs. The Marine Reserve is an important refuge for these creatures.
The fascinating marine iguanas that the tourist will find here are unique to the Galapagos. They are capable of submerging for thirty minutes and the saltpetre (Potassium Nitrate) they expel from glands in their snouts gives them their characteristic white faces.
Aside from their abundance and uniqueness, the fearlessness of the animals is what sets the Galapagos apart from any other region on the planet. Getting up close to sea lions, penguins and giant tortoises is breathtaking, while swimming underwater alongside sea turtles – and sea lions – is a truly exhilarating experience.
Thanks to the coral reefs, this is also one of the favorite places for snorkeling and diving, for both experienced divers and beginners.
January to May are the hottest months, with temperatures hovering around 31–33°C, the cooler moths are from June to December when the temperature ranges between 19 and 26 °C . The water temperature depends on the ocean currents and ranges from 22 -24°C in the months between May and November, when the colder and nutritionally richer southern current prevails, and between 24 and 26°C from December to June when the temperature rises with the arrival of the warmer and nutritionally poorer tropical current of Panama.
What to bring:
Light, protective clothing (long sleeved shirt and long trousers).
Diving or snorkeling equipment, if not provided by the tour operator.
How to get here:
All planes to the Galapagos Islands leave from the coastal city of Guayaquil. However, tourists can easily find connecting flights from Quito. The airlines running this service are Aerogal and TAME.
The area by numbers
• 4,000: The depth, in meters, of the deepest water of the Reserve.
• 2,909: The total number of marine species in the Reserve, of which around 18% (524) are endemic.
• 88: The number of species of coastal and sea birds which inhabit the Reserve.
• 29: The number of shark species found here.