San Cristobal - Tortoises Surbound
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San Cristobal island is comprised of four fused volcanoes encompassing an area 557 km2 (215 mi2). San Cristóbal is the fifth largest and easternmost island of the Galapagos

Islands. Its older English name of Chatham is named after William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham. The island is home to the oldest permanent human settlement of the Galapagos Archipelago. It was on San Cristobal Island where the famous naturalist Charles Darwin first went ashore in 1835. Interestingly, a penal colony was built here in 1880 for inmates from mainland Ecuador. The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal Island is the capital of the Galapagos province. The island is home to many government offices, an Ecuadorian Navy facility, and an airport with daily flights to the mainland. There are approximately 5,400 residents making San Cristobal Island the second largest human population in Galapagos, after Santa Cruz. The majority of inhabitants make their living in government, tourism, and artisanal fishing.

Having a port town with an airport, San Cristóbal is especially susceptible to the potential of new introductions of exotic and sometimes aggressive species. Several of the more serious exotic species introductions have occurred first in San Cristóbal Island. San Cristóbal is also home to the largest of the fishing fleets in Galapagos, represented by two separate fishing cooperatives. Fisheries and conservation have been at odds at times in the recent history of Galapagos; the challenge today is to work with the fishermen in establishing management strategies for the Marine Reserve that will conserve Galapagos biodiversity and provide a sustainable resource to a portion of the population.
Snorkeling and Diving

Snorkeling near the Galapagos Islands

For diving and snorkeling enthusiasts San Cristobal Island features Kicker Rock also known as León Dormido, Islote Five Fingers, Isla Lobos, and Whale Rock. Kicker Rock is the most dramatic of the sites, with its vertical tuff cone, rising almost 148 m straight up out of the ocean. Erosion has split the rock into two parts, forming a narrow channel that small vessels can pass through. Blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, frigatebirds, and sea lions line the shore. This is an excellent location for snorkeling and diving; Manta Rays, sea turtles, and sharks are often spotted. At the other sites, divers can see sea lions, large numbers of pelagic fish species, Galapagos sharks, eagle rays, sea turtles, and at Islote Five Fingers, there is an abundant display of benthic organisms that is very colorful.

WIldlife encounter under water at San Cristobal Island.
WIldlife encounter under water at San Cristobal Island.

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno was founded by the colonist General Villamil in the mid-nineteenth century, the town was named after Alfredo Baquerizo Moreno, who in 1916 was the first Ecuadorian president to visit the islands. It is the second largest community in Galapagos, after Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. Puerto Baquerizo Moreno has also become the focus of the Galapagos’ growing reputation among South Americans as a surfing hotspot.

One sites to visit is Sea Lion Rookery, which is a coral sand beach located about 10 minutes from the airport. A large number of sea lions rest in the sand and rocks along this coast. In addition to sea lions, birds such as Yellow Warblers, frigatebirds, and numerous species of finches can be seen.

A must visit is the Galapagos National Park Visitor Center. The Center features a complete and documented history of the Galapagos, its ecosystems, flora and fauna. The Center focuses primarily on the history of the archipelago, from its volcanic origins to the present. A trail leading off from the Interpretation Center heads up Frigatebird Hill. Here it is possible to see Magnificent Frigate Birds and Great Frigate Birds in the same colony. This is the perfect place to compare and learn to distinguish them.

Male Frigatebird on San Cristobal
Male Frigatebird on display.

For nature and wildlife enthusiasts, Punta Pitt is a must see. Disembarking onto a small beach, visitors are welcomed by the strong stench and cacophony of barking sea lions; this is a bachelor colony. A steep gully leads up the cliff to a breeding ground for Boobies of all three species: Red-footed, Blue-footed and Nazca. Two species of frigatebirds are also present, as are Swallow-tailed Gulls and Storm Petrels. The view of sea lions from the top of the cliff over the beach is magnificent, as are the contours of the barren, wind-eroded peaks of the island. From Saltbush and spiny shrubs next to the beach the trail leads up to an area of Palo Santo trees, big yellow-green shrubs, tiny cacti and, in the dry season, carpets of red Vesuvius. San Cristobal Island is a great place see the giant Galapagos Tortoises in their natural habitat. Other sites of interests on San Cristobal Island include Cerro Brujo, Ochoa Beach, Isla Lobos, Puerto Grande, Puerto Chino and the Tortoise Reserve. Here visitors can both observe giant tortoises living in a semi-natural habitat, but also learn about their origin, evolution, and threats by introduced animals.

Tortoises in San Christine.
Tortoises on San Cristobal Island

Conservation Issues

Due to the intensive use of the highlands of San Cristóbal and the presence of goats and aggressive introduced plants species, many native and endemic plant species have been decimated. In the late 1990s, a complete survey of the island was initiated to locate rare and endangered plant species. While many of the most endangered species were located, their survival remains questionable without reducing the population of feral donkeys and goats. Following the successful completion of Project Isabela, the Galapagos National Park initiated goat eradication work on the other islands. The eradication project have successfully eliminated approximately 3,500 goats on San Cristóbal, with an estimated 3,000 still remaining in the northern half of the island. Their complete elimination is critical for the endangered plant species.

Sources: Galapagos Conservancy Website
Wikipedia: San Cristobal Island