Position: 01 16.02’ S 081 03.66’ W
It was slightly overcast as the Prince Albert II dropped anchor in front of Isla de la Plata, Ecuador. There was a stiff breeze, but the sea was calm. We could see several large sea turtles swimming around the ship, and manta rays jumping out of the water. We had our first glimpse of the world famous Blue Footed Boobies, as they circled around the ship, as well as other seabirds, like Frigatebirds and Pelicans.
What we did NOT see was the boat with the authorities that were supposed to clear our ship into Ecuador… As Ignacio, our Expedition Leader, the Captain and several others took steps to remedy our situation, our guest speaker, Jon Bowermaster showed us one more installment of his Ocean 8 series. When the lights came up after the video, the ship had already been cleared by the Ecuadorian authorities, and the boats and guides from our tour operator were arriving.
Here in Ecuador we do not have permission to use the ship’s Zodiacs, so some local boats came from the mainland (about one hour away) to take us from ship to shore. We landed in front of a small building, the only construction in the island, and organized ourselves for the different activities.
Toby and Claire led the long walk. The trail followed the bed of a dry river up to the foot of the plateau, where a series of steps are carved in the dirt and some rickety handrails have been installed for our convenience. The trail then meanders among the nesting Blue Footed Boobies and eventually emerges close to the colony of Frigate Birds. The view is quite spectacular, and it is absolutely amazing how close we can get to these birds. They have no native land predators, so they are not afraid of us, and allow us to get quite close to their nests. In the case of the Blue Footed Boobies, the nest is nothing more than a shallow bow, dug on the dust, encircled by a ring of guano. Some brave (or stupid) birds nest right on the path!
The Frigate Birds build a rough platform on top of trees to use as nests. Some males had their red pouch inflated as they displayed for the females, trying to attract a mate. Their colony is on the windward side of the island because these great birds need the aid of the wind to take off! Their name derives from the frigate boats used by pirates because these birds exhibit some piratical behavior. They are often seen trying to steal fish from other sea birds, even though they can fish for themselves.
JJ led the group of birders, first along the beach, then up the plateau. They saw 17 different species of birds, which is quite amazing considering that this is a small, semi-arid island. I led the short walk, and we went only as far as the top of the stairs. There is a small hut where we caught our breath, drank some water, and watched the waves crashing on the hills of the windward side. We walked down the path until one point where we could see some nesting boobies.
The water is getting colder – today it was 24 C, and only two guests opted for the snorkeling, but those brave people were rewarded with views of large schools of large fish. The most spectacular was a school of Yellow Tail Surgeonfish that congregated to graze on the sea floor.
Lunch was waiting for us as we came back on board, and at 15:00 we had another presentation by Jon Bowermaster – this time he discussed his kayaking trip to Antarctica last season. At 15:00 Claire shared with us her knowledge of the peoples of Ecuador, where she lived for a few years.