For its relatively small size (.13 sq km), South Plaza Island in the Galapagos is home to a large amount of species as well as some pretty fantastic flora. It took us about an hour to get there by boat from the Itabaca Channel on Santa Cruz Island. Before we could even step foot on the landing dock, our guide had to shoo away several lounging sea lions. Each island we visited in the Galapagos was unique in some aspect. South Plaza island was at a complete slant: we disembarked along a beach and then hiked to the top where there was a drastic drop-off into the ocean below. The island was covered with prickly pear cactuses and a succulent called Sesuvium which is orange & rusty looking during the dry season (when we were there), but explodes into a bright green during the rainy season.
South Plaza Island
When we finished walking to the top of the island we found ourselves looking down into the crashing ocean below. There are no guard rails or barriers to block the drop off (just a little “stop” sign) even though people have fallen to their deaths here. We were extra careful and kept a close watch on our little ones who kept creeping closer to the edge because they “just wanted to see”.
Here’s a better look at the drop off. South Plaza Island was formed by lava upstreaming from the bottom of the ocean – below you can see all the black lava rock forming the island. Within the nooks & crannies of those rocks were (thousands?) of nesting birds: red-billed tropicbirds and swallow-tailed gulls. They would fly out in great numbers and fill the sky around us.
South Plaza Wildlife
There is no shortage of wildlife throughout the Galapagos Islands. Although it sometimes felt like we were in a wildlife park because of the abundance of animals and our ability to get up close to them, we were often given a stark reminder that these animals are in fact wild. As I mentioned here, we were sometimes taken aback when we’d come across a dead animal decomposing on the beach or in the middle of a path. On South Plaza Island, we found some dead fish and iguanas which were fully in tact just very dried out. We were not allowed to touch live animals, but we could pick up bones or anything dead. It was a bit odd to find these fish on the top of the island – birds must have dropped them from the air, but why didn’t they pick them up and eat them? Some (not all) of the kids enjoyed picking them up and recreating a fight that surely must have happened. Don’t worry, they were under the watchful eye of our Galapagos guides and left the carcasses where they found them and perfectly in tact.
Most of the sea lions who inhabit South Plaza Island are males living in exile. As I mentioned in our day trip to Santa Fe Island here, male sea lions “own” a certain beachfront and all the females & babies that inhabit that area. That is, until the male is challenged by another male and they fight until one wins. The loser must leave and can go challenge another male for a different area. But when these males get too old or too tired to fight they go off to rest – South Plaza is home to many of these males. Doesn’t look like a bad life to me!
We spent a lot of time in just this one little spot watching the forceful waves crash below us and the sea lions ambling around. Despite their lazy appearance as they lounge on the rocks, they were quite agile climbers. We watched them as they descended down the rocks from the top where we were to the water and back up again. I was nervous for them, but they seemed to have it under control!
There were lots of birds nesting in the bushes on the island. Many had fuzzy little babies with them – check out the little guy peeking out from behind the rock where his parents are snoozing.
This was the tiny dock where we landed. Our larger boat stayed farther out in the channel and a little zodiac came to pick us up.
To get out to the dock above, we had to step over this guy.
These colorful crabs scurried about on many of the islands. They don’t camoflauge very well, but they sure are pretty!
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Next up: Galapagos: Deep Sea Fishing