Diving for a Difference
At 26 years of age in September 1835, Charles Darwin stepped off the deck of the HMS Beagle and on to the terra firma of the Galapagos Islands. The young Darwin spent five weeks island hopping in the Ecuadorian archipelago, time well spent as his observations here heavily informed his thinking, and played a critical role in his 1859 work ‘On the Origin of the Species.’
It appears Darwin himself underwent an evolution of sorts after his journey aboard the Beagle, once a firm creationist, the amateur naturalist’s ideas began to change as he noted that on each island, natural selection and evolution proceeded independently of each other, producing new species.
On land, Darwin’s attention to fauna was largely focused on the marine iguanas (when they were not submerged), tortoises, and, of course, the finches that now bear his name. Lacking the necessary equipment needed to safely explore under the surface, the adventurers on the Beagle missed out on perhaps the world’s most intriguing underwater environment.
Nevertheless, Origin of the Species did what few scientific texts achieve; designated a destination as of key importance to ongoing scientific endeavors, a role the archipelago still holds today. As the years rolled by, the Galapagos Islands took on another role, that of near-magical tourism destination, a beacon to lovers of the wild, the wild at heart, and the most intrepid of travelers from around the world.
Bucket-list goals & uncomfortable truths
Today, exploring the Galapagos is a bucket-list trip for many, a chance to follow in Darwin’s footsteps and discover these “shores fit for pandemonium,” as the Beagle’s captain fittingly put it when referring to the islands’ craggy volcanic outlook. For divers, the mere mention of the Galapagos is enough to draw sighs of longing and a wistful look.
Imagine an underwater vista where penguins shoot past giant marine iguanas of up to a meter and a half in length. A place where sea lions mingle with sharks and cool currents carry nutrient-rich waters to support the ecosystem, along with divers who hitch a ride on the back of the drift.
For those divers who live for epic shark encounters, the Galapagos is it. Schooling hammerheads in their hundreds provided the kind of thrill only found on those hard-to-reach equator islands. Yet, as is the case across the world, these sharks are under increasing threat.
The sheer number of sharks here, unfortunately, belies an uncomfortable truth: researchers estimate that the world’s shark numbers have declined by more than 90 percent. A key threat in the Galapagos is illegal shark fishing, followed closely by overfishing and environmental changes. As apex predators, sharks have a critical role to play keeping balance in the ecosystem and regulating the populations of other species.
As divers, the onus is on each of us to select companies that help protect the magical places we want to dive, including the Galapagos. Enter Galapagos Shark Diving, a dive company with a difference.
Diving for a difference
Founded by Jenny, a five-year member of the respected research group the Galapagos Whale Shark Project, Galapagos Shark Diving offers a unique perspective on diving in the archipelago. Not only are the company’s trips eco-friendly and eminently responsible toward the environment, but they actively engage divers with the issues facing sharks and the world’s waters as a whole.
While linked to the Whale Shark Project, Galapagos Shark Diving is primarily focused on diving itself and all the serious science-related activities, such as deploying satellite tags and taking blood samples, are kept separate from diving trips. Instead, divers aboard the liveaboard vessel are taught more about conservation in a way that requires no scientific background.
And they’re in good hands. Helping Jenny to raise awareness, teach divers a little more about the area, and pass on his in-depth knowledge is Johnathan, the Director of the Whale Shark Project for the past 10 years and a long-time Galapagos aficionado with more than 30 years of experience working in the archipelago.
They’re joined by Simon Pierce, a man synonymous with whale sharks and a highly respected shark expert worldwide. Simon has been supporting the Galapagos research team for more than eight years and brings an encyclopedic knowledge of whale sharks from multiple other destinations around the globe.
In the trip’s Citizen Science presentation, whale shark experts (there are always two onboard each liveaboard) regale divers with a unique insight into the Project’s ongoing work along with information on how divers can actively support its aims. But it’s not all whale sharks, each trip offers up plenty of additional information on the archipelago as a whole, the unusual biodiversity, geography, and much more.
Perhaps what really sets Galapagos Shark Diving apart from its competition is that the company puts its money where its mouth is, literally. Each diver taking part in the trip contributes an automatic US$300 dollar donation to the Whale Shark Project, which is included in the overall price. This is a gesture all divers serious about conservation will appreciate. In a world where far too many tour companies pay lip service to conservation but do very little in reality, Galapagos Shark Diving stands head and shoulders above other operators.
Biodiversity on a grand scale
At this point you may be wondering whether whale sharks are so endemic to the region that they warrant a whole project, after all, the Galapagos is famous for hammerheads more than it is whale sharks, right?
But in actual fact, in the waters around Wolf and Darwin islands in the archipelago’s northern region, whale sharks are a common sight between June and December. Reaching up to 15 meters in length, these gentle giants of the ocean are just one of the Galapagos’ pelagic species divers can spot. Here, biodiversity is on a grand scale and the islands support more shark species than anywhere else on the planet.
Astonishingly, there are more than 40 sharks that call the volcanic archipelago home, many of which are rare and found nowhere else in the world. Besides the whale sharks and the schooling hammerheads, divers are delighted by silkys, white and black tipped sharks, Galapagos sharks, Port Jackson sharks, and many other lesser-known species.
While pelagic predators may be the key calling card for some divers, others are happy enough to see that most curious of creatures and the world’s only oceangoing lizard, the marine iguana.
Darwin may have called these beasts of land and sea “hideous looking” but for divers and snorkelers, they represent an opportunity to see and experience something completely out of the ordinary. And hideous is far from the adjective that springs to mind when thinking about these reptiles; fascinating seems far more apt.
As if sharks in their hundreds, lizards that can dive, and penguins at the equator weren’t enough to keep even the most cynical of travelers happy, the Galapagos also plays host to around 450 distinct species of fish. Outside of the predatory jacks and tuna floating in currents in the blue, the rocky reefs house plenty of colorful reef fish in a dazzling array of shapes, patterns, and sizes. A true feast for the eyes at every fin kick.
On land, the unusual flora and fauna continues. Giant, ancient tortoises might be the most popular island inhabitant, but there are others that are just as intriguing. Blue-footed boobies and the awkward flightless cormorant are oddly unperturbed by human visitors. Like many animals in the archipelago, these birds seem more than happy to grace visitors with their presence.
A trip of a lifetime
Embarking on an Eco Shark Conservation Dive Liveaboard with Galapagos Shark Diving means embarking on two endeavors at once: a commitment to learning more about protecting the marine environment and, just as importantly, one hell of a trip!
Across the board, divers who have traveled to the Galapagos have nothing but praise for what most call the trip of a lifetime. And this is readily apparent in guest reviews for Galapagos Shark Diving’s liveaboards. Rated top marks with a full suite of five-star reviews on Tripadvisor, Facebook Reviews, and Google, the company has the kind of reputation many other liveaboards strive for but never achieve.
Much of this is down to the personalized diving on offer. Unlike so many other operators, Galapagos Shark Diving limits group sizes to a firm maximum of just three or four divers per divemaster. Additionally, trips are kept to just 14 guests so that each diver gets the level of attention and care you would expect from a five-star trip.
An added bonus for burgeoning photographers is the tutelage of underwater and land photographers Johnathan and Simon, who offer divers practical advice and help to get those perfect shots.
And if something special happens to show up in the water, say a whale shark or a surface loving mola mola, Galapagos Shark Diving is happy to let divers get in the water for a quick snorkel in between dives.
All the details you need
Discovering a dive destination outside of the ordinary and doing your bit for conservation has never been easier than with Galapagos Shark Diving. Here’s what you need to know about delving into the depths of this truly unique archipelago on your liveaboard trip:
Where you’ll go on your Galapagos Shark Diving liveaboard and which dive sites you’ll discover:
Morning: Santa Cruz – Baltra airport
Afternoon: Santa Cruz – Baltra Island (one check dive)
Morning: Cape Marshal / City of Mantas (two dives)
Afternoon: Cape Marshal / City of Mantas (one dive)
Morning: Darwin Island (two dives)
Afternoon: Darwin Island (two dives)
Morning: Darwin Island (two dives)
Afternoon: Wolf Island (two dives, including 1 night dive)
Morning: Wolf Island (two dives)
Afternoon: Wolf Island (one dive)
Morning: Punta Vivente Roca (one dive)
Afternoon: Cape Douglas (one dive)
Morning: Cousin’s Rock (two dives)
Afternoon: Santa Cruz – Highlands & Giant Tortoises
Morning: Baltra Airport departure
Designed with comfort in mind, the Eco Dive Liveaboard vessel is gutsy enough to carry divers to the furthest destinations in the Galapagos, yet smooth enough to ensure a good night’s rest.
Nine cozy and comfortable cabins boast the kind of amenities liveaboard junkies love: think private en-suites, orthopedic mattresses, air conditioning that you actually have control over, and enough plugs to charge your camera and your phone simultaneously.
Outside the cabins, it’s all about the relaxed vibe. Plenty of space for lounging on the deck or in the spacious dry lounge means room to spread out, kick back, and truly experience the destination.
The sundeck let you relax while socking up some sun or watch the stars and milkyway at night. This is truly an incredible view as the light pollution is nearly zero.
Oh, and the onboard bar means you can do all of that with a cold beer in hand, too.
Booking your eco-adventure
For more information on Galapagos Shark Diving, you can head to the company’s website here www.galapagossharkdiving.com, or drop them an email on this address [email protected]. Want to book your eco-adventure in person? You can also get in touch with the Galapagos Shark Diving team on WhatsApp: +49 163 401 70 13.
An evolution in dive travel
Galapagos Shark Diving is much more than a liveaboard operator. With all the experience of years of serious conservation work behind the team’s core members, divers choosing to travel with the company are actively doing their bit for ongoing research and learning lots that they can then share with other divers across the world.
Thanks to the company’s links to the Galapagos Whale Shark Project, this truly is a liveaboard with a difference, and one that represents a serious evolution in dive travel. We think Darwin would be proud.