Exploring Galápagos Island

Jay Fleming,
Susan Elnicki Wade
Photo by Jay Fleming Photography

Since the 1500s, visitors ranging from pirates and European explorers to tourists and renowned scientists (such as Charles Darwin) have sailed to the Galápagos Islands. Located about 600 miles west of Ecuador, this Pacific archipelago delights guests with a menagerie of unique and exotic creatures that live on rocky land forged from volcanic eruptions.

Among last year’s nearly 300,000 island sightseers was photographer, Jay Fleming, best known for his books and photos that chronicle the Chesapeake Bay. In January 2023, Fleming embarked upon a five-day Galápagos tour with Holbrook Travel, along with a dozen expert birders, travel professionals, fishery scientists and a college professor as his cruising companions.

After a couple nights in Ecuador’s capital city of Quito, they flew to San Cristóbal Island to board the Galápagos Legend, a 301-foot steel hull vessel that served as a hospital ship in the Vietnam War and passenger ship in the Baltic Sea before transforming into a luxury cruise ship in 2002. Fleming and his crew were slated for a southern Galápagos island-hopping excursion to four destinations: San Cristóbal, Española, Floreana and Santa Cruz.

Photo by Jay Fleming Photography

After departing from San Cristobal, the first stop was Española, an island uninhabited by humans but bustling with wildlife and nesting colonies of Nazca boobies and albatross. A two-mile hike around the western side of the island introduced them to other feathered residents such as Galápagos hawks and swallow tail gulls.

Next on their itinerary: Floreana, a small, inhabited island about 30 miles west of Española. The morning’s snorkeling expedition took place on a protected beach along Post Office Bay, where Pacific green sea turtles, white tip reef sharks, Mexican hogfish, parrotfish and other species put on a dazzling aquatic display. The afternoon excursion entailed a deepwater snorkel at Devil’s Crown, a rock offshore of Floreana, and a hike to meet nesting sea turtles at Punta Cormorant.

Photo by Jay Fleming Photography

The island of Santa Cruz presented a new destination to observe up close more amazing flora and fauna. The crew hiked around a beach and lagoon in an area called Dragon Hill, which was home to American flamingos and oystercatchers, black-necked stilts, and the endemic lava heron. Land iguanas fed on fallen fruit from a cactus, while finches and Galápagos flycatchers posed for Fleming’s camera. The afternoon trip brought them to a beach at Punta Bowditch, south of Dragon Hill landing. The waters shimmered with schools of parrotfish, Mexican hogfish and black-striped salema.

For the final voyage, the group packed up their luggage and gear and headed to the Itabaca Channel, a small passage between Santa Cruz and Baltra.

After disembarking, they loaded into a small bus that transported them to El Chato Ranch in the interior highlands of Santa Cruz Island where dozens of Galápagos tortoises roamed the property. After returning to the United States, Fleming began building a portfolio of his work from the Galápagos journey and preparing photography workshops for others to explore the islands. Marinalife is honored to present a sampling of his images from the trip.

To learn more about Jay Fleming Photography and his workshops, go to jayflemingphotography.com

To view the entire photo spread, check out the full story on pages 30-35 of our Winter 2024 issue.

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