Waved Albatross Espanola Island - SurboundThe 60 km2 (37 mi) Española Island is one of the oldest island among all the Galapagos Islands. This four million-year old Island, was created from a single volcano located on

the center of the island, but now extinct. Over time, and through the effect of erosion, Española Island has resulted in the flattest of all islands. The island also features the lowest elevations in the Galapagos Archipelago. This island is one of the most remote in the archipelago. As such, it harbors species found only here including Española Mockingbird, Española Lava Lizard, and the Waved Albatross. The magnificent Waved Albatross, the only tropical Albatross, breeds only on Española Island.

The island also features the lowest elevations in the Galapagos Archipelago.  This island is one of the most remote in the archipelago. As such, it harbors species found only here including Española Mockingbird, Española Lava Lizard, and the Waved Albatross.  The magnificent Waved Albatross, the only tropical Albatross, breeds only on Española Island.

Waved Albatross Colony

Española Island is a key part of the Waved Albatros life cycle. Every year the entire world’s population of adult Waved Albatrosses returns to Española during the nesting season, from April to December. With such a confined breeding range and due to other present-day threats, the Waved Albatross is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

The Waved Albatross faces multiple conservation problems. The population continues to decrease due mainly to water pollution and oil spills. Other sources of Albatross dead includes, dead on long line fishing, weather events, and even as intentional harvests by humans. The warm water of El Niño events causes population declines, as does natural depredation of eggs by the native Española Mockingbirds.

Lava Lizard on Española Island
Lava Lizard on Española Island. Photo: Creative Commons

Current efforts to establish joint conservation policies between Ecuador and Peru are underway. Waved Albatrosses are the largest birds in Galapagos. They are remarkable birds, standing nearly 1 m high with wingspans of 2 to 2.5 m and living up to 40 years. A highlight of visiting Española Island is walking along the edge of the Waved Albatross breeding colony. About 25 to 30,000 adult birds can be found on Española Island between the months of April and December. They mate for life and perform an elaborate mating dance.

Seals at Gardner's Bay.
Seals at Gardner’s Bay. Photo: GalapagosVolunteer.

Waved Albatross pairs produce a single egg each year and share responsibility for its incubation and feeding. Their grace in the air is sharply contrasted by their comic clumsiness on land. Visitors will observe Waved Albatrosses wobble awkwardly to the cliff’s edge before launching themselves into the wind to take flight—many of them for the very first time in December. The entire colony leaves Española by January to fish for three months before returning. The young albatrosses will remain at sea for about five years before returning to Española to find a mate.

Sites to visit on Española Island

Punta Suarez has an amazing variety and quantity of wildlife. Lazy sea lions may greet visitors at the rocky landing site, forcing visitors to step over or around them to get to the trail. Brightly-colored red and green marine iguanas can be found lining the coastal areas near the landing site. They are the only marine iguanas that remain brightly colored throughout the year. Galapagos Hawks, Española Mockingbirds, three species of Darwin’s finches, and Galapagos Doves can all be found in Punsta Suarez. There is also nesting colonies of Blue-footed and Nazca boobies, who make their nests right along the visitor trail near the western cliffs of the island. Swallow-tailed Gulls and Red-billed Tropicbirds dash in and out of the cracks in the cliffs. Continuing inland, the trail leads to a cliff on the southern side of the island overlooking the ocean. Waves crash into a lava fissure, creating a blowhole that sprays water nearly 30 m into the air at high tide.

Nazca Booby on Española Island
Nazca Booby on Española Island. Photo: Creative Commons

The beach at Gardner Bay offers one of the best beaches to experience “relaxing beach time” in Galapagos. The expansive white sand beach (one of the longest in Galapagos at 2 km) attracts many napping sea lions, as well as tourists. Three species of Darwin’s finches and Española Mockingbirds may be seen at this site. Española Mockingbirds are fearless and frequently land on visitors’ heads and shoulders in search of food. Visitors can swim or snorkel along the rocks in the shallow water near the beach. Green Sea Turtles may be found gliding through the water or hauling themselves onto the beach for a rest or for nesting (between January and March).

Tortoise Repatriation

Españolan Tortoises were rescue from the brink of extinction. Largely to the easy access to the island, whaler and other seamen took many tortoises. Then, goats obliterated the habitat, further reducing the population size to only 14 individuals. The government of Ecuador undertook a recovery program including a captive breeding the remaining tortoises. Such program was a success with nearly 1,500 young tortoises having been repatriated to Española and tortoises already reproducing on the island. As of the year 1978, goats were removed from Española and the recovery programa now aims to restore the once extensive cactus and scrub habitat on Española Island.

Sources:  [Galapagos Conservancy], [wikipedia]