Fernandina is the youngest and westernmost island in the Galapagos. It sits across the Bolivar Channel opposite Isabela. Our destination is Punta Espinosa, a narrow spit of land in the northeast corner of the island, where a number of unique Galapagos species can be seen in close proximity. As our panga driver skillfully navigates the reef, penguins show off by throwing themselves from the rocks into the water. Red and turquoise-blue zayapas crabs disperse across the lava shoreline, while herons and egrets forage through the mangrove roots. The landing is a dry one, set in a quiet inlet beneath the branches of a small mangrove forest. A short walk through the vegetation leads to a large colony of marine iguanas—a schoolyard of Godzilla’s children—resting atop one another in friendly heaps along the rocky shoreline, spitting water to clear their bodies of salt. Nearby, sea lions frolic in a sheltered lagoon. This is one of the few places you can glimpse iguanas grazing on seaweed underwater.
Dominating this landscape from high overhead looms the summit of La Cumbre, 1495 meters (4,858 feet), one of the most active volcanoes in the world, reporting seven eruptions from its 6-kilometer-wide caldera (mouth) since 1968. Farther down this stretch off shore, the world’s only species of flightless cormorants have established their colony near an inviting inlet frequented by sea turtles. Because these birds evolved without land predators—it was easier to feed on the squid, octopus, eel and fish found in the ocean—the cormorants progressively took to the sea. They developed heavier, more powerful legs and feet for kicking, serpent-like necks, and wet, fur-like plumage. Their wings are now mere vestiges. Back toward the landing and farther inland, the island’s black lava flows become more evident, forming a quiet, inner lagoon. Galapagos hawks survey the entire scene from overhead