A few weeks ago we shared some details regarding the very beginning of the hot season in Galapagos. Now, as we reach the first half of January, we have witnessed a noticeable decrease in the strength of the southeast trade winds that have been coming in from South America.
Consequently, the movement of the cooler, south equatorial current has ceased within the tropics, giving way to the gradual arrival of tropical balmy waters that had formerly been sitting right beside Central America for quite some time.
As a result of these changes, the “oceanographic equator” now sits closer to Latitude 0°0’00”. Whenever we see this, we can technically say that the islands have entered their tropical stage or season. From here on out, the islands will experience a gradual increase in humidity, water temperature, and super clear days. Check out the satellite surface temps from NOAA as of January 11, 2018:
Interpreting the graph is quite easy. See that yellow area? Those are “true tropical waters” that hover around 26 °C (79 °F). These are the waters that steadily head south towards southern latitudes. Some of these tropical temperatures will even make it as far south as the coast of Peru. Consequently, the Galapagos Islands will face a dramatic and rapid change in terms of how it looks. You could visit the same location, and in a matter of just 14 days it’ll go from arid to humid, filled by green lushness. Wildlife, quite naturally, adapts and reacts to these conditions.
It’s quite a sight, especially when you consider the fact that tropical lands birds (such as finches, mockingbirds, warblers, flycatchers, doves, etc.) have all been enduring a non-tropical for a series of months. The arrival of the hot season provides not only relief to these populations, but also provides them with the right conditions for the reproduction of their species. This is the fabric of natural selection at work! When it comes to adjusting its natural history to the hot season in Galapagos, perhaps one of the most interesting species is the Marine Iguana (a member of our BIG15 group of iconic species). These reptiles synchronize their needs to the first sign of hot days by establish territories. By mid/late January, females are already laying eggs in places like Punta Espinoza on Fernandina Island. This is located in the far western side of the archipelago.
Vegetation has now sprouted in vast amount, providing nesting material and habitats for land birds. This means that there’s also food for land reptiles such as land iguanas, lava lizards and giant tortoises. Underwater, things have quieted down somewhat for the sea-dependent land species. On land, however, everything has become a world full of action and commotion. Explorers coming to the islands during the months of January, February, March, April, and early May (Hot Season) will find themselves lucky enough to see these all these changes, as they only happen during this half of the year. One of my personal favorites to see are the vibrant yellow and orange colors of land iguanas as they contrast against the emerald green of the vegetation. It’s quite a stunning sight!
Explorers who love aquatic activities will be spending quite sometime in the water, as the balmy temperatures will allow for greater chances of having unique encounters with the underwater life. Tropical fish species will be busy feeding, as the warmer temps help promote the growth of reef-forming corals. Parrot fish are delightful to see, as guests will often see them biting out chunks of coral the same we take bites of an apple. You can even hear the crunching/munching sounds underwater too if you get close enough! Because warmer waters carry less plankton, visibility tends to be amazing during these days. Most places will average 15m (40-50ft) of visibility, if not higher.
Expedition itineraries need to showcase the outstanding and ever-changing features of these islands. Make sure your choice includes variety, a good exposure to the BIG15 group of iconic species, and good geographic coverage in order to witness the spectacular diversity of landscapes and wildlife as the hot season begins to kick in in full force! Some specific and rewarding suggestions for actively witnessing these changes during the hot season include Yacht La Pinta’s Western Islands. If space is not available, then go for Yacht Isabela II’s Central or Southern Islands Galapagos itineraries. Viva La Hot Season!
Text, Photography & Video Clips by Francisco “Pancho” Dousdebés – Galapagos Expert
Other Image Credits: NOAA
Sullivan Bay, San Salvador (James) Island – GALAPAGOS, January 24th, 2018 :: Lat: 0°28′59″ S / Long: 90°56′54″ W