Sunday, April 12, 2009

Volcano Eruption in Galapagos National Park

La Cumbre volcano in the Galapagos Islands started spewing lava, gas and smoke on the Fernandina Island. The most recent volcanic activity on Fernandina Island occurred in May 2005. I was fortunate to attend a course that focused on the biology and evolution of the Galapagos last summer - I never stepped foot on Fernandina because my group explored the eastern portion of the archipelago.

It still breaks my heart that this eruption may have a detrimental effect on the wildlife endemic to the island. The following excerpt was taken from the Glob Gazette News Blog.
In a statement it said the eruption is not a threat to people living on nearby Isabela Island. But it added that lava flowing to the sea will likely affect marine and terrestrial iguanas, wolves and other fauna.

The iguanas we encountered on the islands were unlike any reptile I've ever seen. They also were oblivious to our presence - or mildly annoyed at worst.

This picture (left) features the Galapagos marine iguana. One of their interesting and diagnostic features was the little white cap that each wore atop their heads. Due to the high salt content in their diets, they have evolved a mechanism to maintain an internal osmotic equilibrium. They sneeze to expel excess salt from salt glands that are located above the eye. This in combination with the wind results in an accumulation of white salt on their head. When I was in the Galapagos, an ongoing pursuit among group members was to photograph a marine iguana mid- sneeze, as they expelled excess salt every few minutes. Sadly, no one was successful. I will say that there is nothing cuter than a sneezing iguana.

The majority of land iguanas we saw were on Santa Fe Island. They were visible because the island had low-growing vegetation that surrounded a sparsely distrubuted Opuntia cactus forest. 

The land iguanas were quite visible, startlingly large, and usually munching on yellow purslane flowers (Protulaca lutea).

I hope the population of critters who were affected by the recent eruption are able to quickly rebound. I don't know the impact's severity at this point, but I can't say enough about the importance of conserving the Galapagos Archipelago. It represents a thriving pristine wilderness as untamed territories elsewhere - everywhere - are increasingly being forced to share resources with fatal human co-inhabitants. 

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