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My journey to the Galapagos

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Last week,  Shree Bose, the 2011 grand prize winner of Google Science Fair, traveled to the Galapagos with National Geographic Expeditions as part of the grand prize. We invited Shree to write about her experience in the capital. - Ed.

Two deep chocolate eyes stared into mine as I stood a few inches away, paralyzed in the beauty of the moment and at the unique, amazing creature before me. Wrinkled eyelids drowsily closed before slowly opening again to reveal eyes that seemed to hold the wisdom of the 160 years the tortoise had been alive. He looked about at the group of tourists close enough to touch him and showed no fear, dipping his head down by his leathery neck to chomp on some more grass and the bright green poison apples only tortoises can eat. As I quietly backed away, the tortoise looked up with a bored expression before heaving up his patterned swirled shell eroding with time and ambling away in the other direction for more food. I was in the Galapagos. 

There's a huge difference between reading about a place like the Galapagos in school textbooks and actually visiting it. I road on a rubber boat motoring around the islands of the Galapagos and felt the salt water of the Pacific spraying up against my skin. I felt the red sands of the Rabida Island between my toes, and walked straight up to a giant Galapagos tortoise to say hello. I was no longer reading about a place, but experiencing it first hand. 

The ten days in the Galapagos were like stepping into a different world. I had heard that animals on this island would not show any fear because they have very few natural predators, but I had no idea what to expect. I met vibrant red, Sally Lightfoot crabs, blue footed boobies I had learned about since freshman year, Galapagos tortoises, and Darwin finches. Sea lions played happily on beaches, close enough to chase me, and one did.  A marine iguana, one of those species found nowhere else in the world, climbed up to me, its face less than a feet away before cocking his head sideways to regard me. A blue footed booby dove down into the water for fish a few feet away from the kayak my brother and I were paddling, before surfacing and coming up to our kayak and pecking on it. I come from a city where it isn't possible to get within a few feet of any bird. But there, even the tiniest of birds, like mockingbirds and finches, hopped about within a foot of our legs as we walked by. We went snorkeling in the clear, beautiful Pacific Ocean and I saw schools of brilliant fish and even a solitary turtle in there. I looked down once and realized I was directly above a school of eagle rays a few feet below, and once, I even looked down to see the shadow of a shark swimming away. 

Shree with Marine Iguanas 

The Galapagos are special for several reasons. One is that they’re so isolated, a place where humans haven't had a great impact on the natural environments. Another is the biodiversity. This island chain lies at the crossroads of three currents that carried in a wide variety of species—in fact, there are lots of species here that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. A third is its scientific history. The Galapagos are where Darwin, during his 19 days on land there, noticed the incredible diversity of species and came up with his theory of natural selection and evolution. After ten days there, I realized all of these special things about the Galapagos, and decided to add one more: inspiration to keep exploring the amazing things our world has to offer and so much more beyond.

- Shree