The Islands of the Galapagos: Baltra & Santa Cruz

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This is the first post of a five day hopscotch series. Join me each day this week as I share with you our discoveries in the Galápagos Islands.

Baltra

Isla Baltra is a small, flat island located near the center of the Galápagos. Created by geological uplift, the island is very arid and vegetation consists of salt bushes, prickly pear cactus and Palo Santo trees.

During World War II Baltra was established as a United States Army Air Force base. Crews stationed at Baltra patrolled the eastern Pacific for enemy submarines and provided protection for the Panama Canal. After the war, the facilities were given to the government of Ecuador.

Today the island continues as an official Ecuadorian military base. The foundations of buildings and other remains of the US base including the old airfield can still be seen on the island.

Upon arriving into Baltra, all visitors are transported by bus to one of two docks. The first dock is located in a small bay where the boats cruising the Galápagos await passengers. The second is a ferry dock which connects Baltra to the island of Santa Cruz via the Itabaca Channel.

We were transported to the ferry dock and from there, boarded a panga with which we crossed the Itabaca Channel to Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz

Situated in the center of the archipelago, Santa Cruz is the second largest island after Isabela. Its capital is Puerto Ayora, the most populated urban centre in the islands. There are some small villages whose inhabitants work in agriculture and cattle raising.

Highlands of Santa Cruz

The island is a large dormant volcano. It is estimated that the last eruptions occurred around a million and a half years ago. Upon our arrival, we boarded another bus and drove up into the highlands of Santa Cruz  which offer exuberant flora and are famous for a gigantic lava tunnel that is over 2000 meters long. Along the drive, we were fortunate to observe a Galápagos Rail (an endemic, flightless bird) on the roadside but sadly we weren’t able to capture a photograph.

We enjoyed a wonderful lunch al fresco (the first of many) and from our table could watch giant tortoises doing the same. Thereafter we put on our wellies (which were provided for our use) and were then guided around the property. Here, we observed the large tortoise populations up close. Though it is rare to see females in the highlands (they nest in the dryer area of the lowlands) – we did see one.

We visited the highlands once again on our sixth day – touring the property of a cattle ranching family where we were able to walk around at our own leisure. It was here that we enjoyed a little spelunking in a lava tube. It reminded us of the lava caves in Central Oregon and Hawai’i that we’ve explored previously.

We drove up to Cerro Mesa for a fabulous view of the island. It was quite overcast and cloudy but the view was incredible. A short distance from the peak was a huge crater with steep walls that were covered in diverse, lush vegetation – even cactus.

bachasbeachLas Bachas

On our fifth day in the islands, we spent the morning on Playa Las Bachas sunbathing and exploring the fringes including a small brackish lagoon where we hoped to see flamingos.

Snorkeling near the shore, I loved seeing hundred of sea cucumbers, evidence that the fishing restrictions were aiding in the comeback of these echinoderms. [I had read about the illegal harvesting of sea cucumbers in Galapagos at the Crossroads: Pirates, Biologists, Tourists, and Creationists Battle for Darwin’s Cradle of Evolution.]

landiguanaCerro Dragón

In the afternoon, we hiked along a trail near Cerro Dragón where we observed land iguanas foraging. The area is also known for its flamingo lagoon but these elusive pink birds eluded us all week. It was here on this hike that we really began to understand the geography of the islands [Developing Map Skills in the Galápagos].

Puerto Ayora

The Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) and the headquarters of the Galápagos National Park Service (GNPS) are located on Santa Cruz. The GNPS and CDRS operate a tortoise breeding centre here, where young tortoises are hatched, reared, and prepared to be reintroduced to their natural habitat, which we visited on the afternoon of the sixth day of our 8-day voyage.

The hatchlings we observed were just a couple years old. They remain in captivity – gradually moving from one enclosure to another – each with less ‘protection’ and a more natural environment. Hatchlings are highly susceptible to predation so the efforts at the research station have dramatically improved the population numbers.

CDRSHere, were also had the opportunity to see saddleback tortoises, two of whom had been “roommates” with Lonesome George who sadly passed away just two years ago.

The most memorable moment at the research station was watching “Charlie” – one of the tourists in our group – befriend a little cactus finch. The finch was so curious, she must have spent 10 minutes hopping about on his arm and shoulder, pecking every now and then. It was clear that the nickname we had given him was well suited.

Read my other posts in The Islands of the Galápagos series:

Isabella

Fernandina

Santiago & Bartolomé

Española

hopscotchjan2015

Interested in following along on another hopscotch? Check out the topics by the iHomeschool Network bloggers.

 

The Galápagos Across the Curriculum

This fall, our family will be taking a journey to the Ecuador and Perú. I am so very excited as we will be traveling to the Galápagos and Machu Picchu – two locations on my dream list.

In preparation for this excursion, I have created a multidisciplinary unit study, Galápagos Across the Curriculum,  and am delighted to share it with you.

Please Note :: This unit study includes lessons and activities on Darwin and evolution.

Galápagos Unit Study

The Galápagos islands were originally called the “Enchanted Isles” because the capricious meandering of the Humboldt Current had the effect of making the islands disappear and reappear to passing ships. The islands were discovered accidentally in 1525 by Tomas de Berlanga, the Bishop of Panama, who wrote of the strangeness and mystery of the Galápagos, “such big tortoises that could carry a man on top of itself, and many iguanas liked serpents … and many birds like those of Spain, but so silly that they do to know how to flee …”

galapagos unit

Come along and discover the mystery of the Galápagos for yourself. The Galápagos Across the Curriculum unit study incorporates lessons in history, literature, writing, biology, ecology, geology, taxonomy, meteorology, and oceanography.  Specific unit vocabulary is defined and an extensive list of additional reference materials is provided.

Scavenger Hunt

To help build excitement, I have also created an online scavenger hunt for my newsletter subscribers. All correct responses will be entered into a drawing to win a fun surprise package from our travels this fall. I will reveal the winner on September 29th, so if you haven’t yet entered, there is still time.

Simply hit ‘Return’ or ‘Enter’ on your keyboard to submit your email address and subscribe to my newsletter. 

New Life Science Curriculum Available!

I am so very excited! I have finished the life science curriculum series I envisioned so many years ago, Life Logic: Dialectic Stage Life Sciences.

A complete full year life science curriculum … Botany, Zoology, and the previously completed Ecology!! botanyLife Logic is an inquiry based, hands-on life science curriculum for middle school students. It is created to provide teachers with the tools and inspiration to engage their students in meaningful, hands-on, inquiry based science and service learning experiences through tangible curriculum, shared resources, and real-world contexts.
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The curriculum was originally field tested in the public school classroom and more recently in the homeschool or co-op setting. Life Logic is comprised of three disciplines (Botany, Zoology, and Ecology).
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The units can stand alone or can be combined for a complete academic year curriculum.

They are available for purchase today!

National Moth Week 2014

The annual National Moth Week is coming up in just a few months. Coordinators are now planning events and working together to make this year’s mothing event one to remember.

National Moth Week’s main goal is to promote moths, and more generally, biodiversity, by encouraging interested parties to organize events at their local park, environmental education center, university, or homes.  Moth Week will be held worldwide July 19-27th.

mothweekWhy Moths?

Moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth.  Scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species – with colors and patterns so dazzling or so cryptic they define camouflage.

Moths can be important bioindicators. A bioindicator is a species or taxon that tells us about the health of an ecosystem. A greater diversity of moths typically means there is a greater diversity of plant species, which leads to a greater diversity of other species as well.  They can help us monitor food plant populations and they are important food sources for many nocturnal AND diurnal organisms.

Moths typically have a reputation of being drab, dull pests. However, that is certainly not the case. An extreme minority of moth species can cause trouble to humans, but most moths either have no impact on our lives or may serve important ecosystem functions such as pollination. Many moths are actually very interestingly patterned and colored.

Moths are a world of sphinxes, hawks, owls, and tigers, all waiting for you outside your door, or perhaps in your home. Visit the National Moth Week website to learn more about this wonderful citizen science opportunity. 

Florida Ecology Unit: Free Unit Study for Earth Week 2014

It’s Earth Week and to celebrate,

I have put together a Florida Ecology Unit Study!

florida unit study

This unit study is FREE for a limited time so spread the word.

Tell your friends and family to come by and

get the 15 page eBook for themselves.

Offer is available only until midnight, April 26th.

Download the Florida Ecology Unit Study Now!

BioBlitz 2014 – Citizen Science in Golden Gate National Parks

Coming in March – the National Parks Service, National Geographic, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and Presidio Trust are teaming up to host a 24-hour BioBlitz species count and two-day Biodiversity Festival.  Participants will have the opportunity to learn about redwood canopy plants and animals, take a picture as a redwood tree climber, or look closely at redwood organisms.

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Be a Part of an Inventory Team!

A BioBlitz is a 24-hour event in which teams of volunteer scientists, families, students, teachers and other community members work together to find and identify as many species of plants, animals, microbes, fungi and other organisms as possible. 

The three national park units that make up the Golden Gate National Parks encompass more than 80,000 acres and 91 miles of shoreline along the northern California coast. These parks are home to an amazing array of biodiversity, including over half of the bird species of North America and nearly one-third of California’s plant species!  

The joint BioBlitz and Biodiversity Festival will be held Friday-Saturday, March 28-29, 2014 to help better understand, appreciate, and protect this natural treasure.

As part of BioBlitz 2014, Save the Redwoods League and scientists from Humboldt State University will be leading the first-ever biodiversity study of the redwood canopy at Muir Woods. Never before have the trees at Muir Woods been climbed.

Register Today!

Join an expert-led species inventory team to discover, count, map, and learn about the parks’ diverse organisms, ranging from microscopic bacteria, wildflowers, and seals, to hawks and towering redwoods. Choose the park location, date and time, or subject matter that interests you most. Spots on inventory teams go quickly.

For more information and to register as a part of the inventory team, visit Golden Gate National Parks BioBlitz 2014.