SCUBA Diving in the Galapagos Islands

Posted by on October 11th, 2019

At 7:20 a.m. we headed down the Tiburon Martillo Dock to board the Wreck Bay diving boat for our full day SCUBA excursion in the Galapagos Islands. The day before, a representative of the dive shop had met us at our hotel in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno to fit us with our wetsuits, BCDs, and fins, and we signed our releases. All our gear was onboard, ready for us to hit the water.

After a quick safety briefing on board, we set off to Playa Mann, a 20-minute ride away. Here, we suited up in a full wetsuit with a shortie on top to add extra protection against the chilly 66-degree water. A member of the crew helped us prep our masks with a squirt of baby shampoo to prevent fogging, and once we had all geared up, we rolled backwards off the boat into the water for a quick skills check in groups of 4. We descended to the sandy bottom, just 15 feet deep, and we each took turns rinsing and clearing our masks at depth; and taking out our regulators, finding them, and putting them back in our mouths. Though it had been several years since I had done a skills check, it never hurts to go through the basics. This also allowed our dive masters to get a read of our abilities and how we would handle any potential situation that could arise during our dives.

The skills check just took a few minutes, and soon we were back on board, headed for Kicker Rock, where we would be diving. In the 45-minute ride, we were told which marine animals to look out for and briefed on the conditions of the dive. We already knew that the water would be chilly from our skills check. We were told to keep an eye out for white tipped reef sharks, though there are never any guarantees under the water. Visibility would be about 30 feet, and we would have one dive master in the front, leading our group, and one in the back, keeping an eye on the rest. Since we were a group of eight divers, all at different skill levels, they told us to be conscious of our own air consumption and signal when we reached 1000 ata. Once we were all in the water and had signaled we were ready, the group descended to a depth of 64 feet. We were right at the crack between the two granite towers of Kicker Rock, and we were able to clearly see the large chunks of lava rocks that lined the bottom. We started by crossing through the channel, where we could clearly see several brightly colored angelfish and parrotfish among the silvery schools of grunts.

A school of grunts closes in

We slowly circled clockwise around the larger granite tower in our drift dive. The boat must have been keeping close tabs on us, because my husband Franco, a newer diver than me, ran low on air at about 20 minutes from the start of our dive. The divemasters checked our consumption at that point, and one surfaced with three divers who were between 700 and 1000 ata. Once those divers were safely at the boat, he came back down to continue the dive with us.

I was inspecting a Pencil Spined Sea Urchin clinging to the granite wall when I felt a tap on my shoulder. Assuming I would be asked about how much air I had in my tank, I checked and was ready to signal when I realized the divemaster was pointing out into the water, a bit above my eyeline. Fifteen feet away, gliding silently, sharply through the water was a white tipped reef shark. I squealed with joy into my regulator, eyes glued to the shark’s perfect silhouette. A few minutes later, another shark followed, and then a third. When I finally got low on air at the 43-minute mark, we had spotted at least six sharks, one during our three-minute safety stop.

Safety Stop

We had a surface interval of an hour, during which we snacked on fruit, nuts, and cookies. Since Franco had surfaced so much sooner than some of the other divers, he was given the option to snorkel near the boat while we were still underwater. He didn’t have the same luck of spotting sharks, but we still had another dive to go. Once some more of the nitrogen was out of our systems and we had warmed in the sun, we were ready to go back under. The boat had slowly circled around Kicker Rock and we were now on the northeast side, where the water was much choppier at the surface. The crew had switched out all our tanks during the surface interval, and we wriggled into our gear and rolled backwards into the water. Once again, we descended to a depth of about 64 feet and slowly circled around the rock towers, counterclockwise this time.

Eventually we happened upon a massive, flashing school of grunts, moving in complete unison. My line of sight was filled with shining, silver grunts in all directions. It was beautiful and strange and a little disarming to be so completely engulfed in a school of fish. Then, the grunts parted, and a mossy-looking Pacific Green sea turtle appeared, gliding ever so slowly in the water right in front of me. The turtle eyed me, expressionless, and I watched, fascinated, while he slowly continued along his way. There were more shark sightings during this dive: a Galapagos shark, and the other divers saw a hammerhead (I was engrossed in observing a sea star and didn’t turn around quickly enough). We also saw another sea turtle during the safety stop, a bit further away this time.

Aboard the boat en route to Punta Grande

The dive came to an end all too soon, but our day wasn’t over. We continued around San Cristobal Island to Punta Grande, a clear, shallow bay where the waters were calm. We had lunch on board, a simple, tasty fare of roast veggies, pasta, pesto sauce, and a cut of chicken or an omelet. After lunch we had the option to swim to shore or take the zodiac to the beach, where we had some time to explore and observe the local wildlife. Our naturalist guide taught us about the strange behavior of the ghost crabs—he thinks he’s camouflaged, the guide said about the perfectly still, bright red crab huddled against a mound of white sand. We waded through a lagoon and over a crop of lava rocks to the mostly decomposed body of a frigate bird. Our guide pointed out features of the bird’s anatomy and showed us how the sharp beak is useful for stealing freshly caught fish from other birds; how the scissor shaped tail is useful for making sharp turns mid-flight on the sea breeze.

We had some time to lay out on the clean, white sand, careful to shoo away the occasional biting horsefly, and enjoy the afternoon. At 2:00 p.m. it was time to board our boat again and start the hour-long sea journey back to the dock to disembark.

If you are interested in visiting Ecuador or the Galapagos Islands to snorkel, SCUBA dive, or to learn more about the native wildlife of this isolated archipelago, just contact us about one of our itineraries.

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