June, 2013, Trip Report By Shannon Conway

Shannon Conway, photographer and world adventurer, led a group of 15 divers to the Galapagos Islands in June, 2013.  Their mission to photograph incredible sights and marine life while diving the Galapagos was a great success! Enjoy Shannon’s commentary on the M/V Galapagos Sky and his beautiful images of the wonderful  Galapagos diving that mesmerized them!

Galapagos Trip Report, Shannon Conway, DiveQuest

Taking a group of underwater photographers to this iconic destination took 3 years of planning. The result was Divequest in conjunction with Divencounters, organising an extended 10 day trip for my group giving us more time at the Darwin and Wolf sites.

The group met at the very welcoming and comfortable Casa Jardin Turi Quindi, just outside Quito. Some guests had already spent a few days in Ecuador enjoying some site seeing in Quito and the local cloud forest.

After an early transfer we departed Quito’s new and efficient airport bound for Baltra Island via Guayaquil, where our liveaboard Galapagos Sky was anchored.

We were welcomed aboard by the charming crew and after an informative briefing were allowed to settle in to our cabins and unpack. After lunch we did a check dive at a local site to make sure all our equipment had survived the travel and everybody was happy with there weighting.

After a good nights sleep, wonderful breakfast and detailed briefing by lead Divemasters Santiago and Natasha, we were ready for diving.

Pinzon Island

The species mentioned in the briefing that caught my attention was the Red Lipped Batfish. On entering the cool water I was stunned by the amount of fish life and within a few minutes Santiago had spotted the first Red Lip. We were able to find 6 or 7, ample for every body to get images. I counted at least 10 Longnose Hawk fish, a free-swimming snake eel etc. etc. etc. The number of species of fish and invertebrates that I could see that were new to me, just on this first dive, was incredible. This was going to be a great adventure.

Pinzon
Pinzon
Red Lipped Bat FIsh
Red Lipped Bat FIsh

Second dive at Pinzon Island I concentrated on shoaling fish like the Yellow Tailed Surgeon but also got distracted with several Turtles. There was so much marine life it was hard to decide on a subject and not get too snappy! Towards the end of the dive a group of very playful Sea lions arrived and entertained us with their speed, agility and natural curiosity.

Yellow Tailed Surgeons
Yellow Tailed Surgeons
Curious Sea Lions
Curious Sea Lions

 Roca Blanca/White Rock

After lunch we moved to Roca Blanca, a fairly new site opened for diving in 2012. We were not disappointed despite a drop in visibility. Diving the edge of the plateau there were Turtles, and sleeping under the overhangs White Tip Sharks much larger than any I had seen anywhere before. As we came up the ridge and dived the Plateau we watched a couple of passes from an impressive school of Cow Rays, as well as more Turtles, Marble Rays, Stingrays and inquisitive Sea Lions.

Roca Blanca
Roca Blanca
Cow Rays
Cow Rays

Dive number four of the day and 3 hardy soles decided to dive the shallows with the Roca Blanca Sea Lions. What a great way to end our first day of diving.

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 After a lovely evening meal served by Gonzalez, our very efficient Matradee, Waiter, Barman and Entertainer, we travelled on to our next destination.

Cape Marshall

 This near vertical wall of volcanic rock plummets into the abyss. The dive site is famed for it’s Manta and Mobula Rays, Hammerheads, Sun fish, and huge shoals of the endemic Salema Fish.

The Salema didn’t show but we did get amazing displays of Manta’s, a school of Mobula Rays numbering hundreds and a Shoal of Chevron Barracuda too many to number. The current was swift at times and the visibility made it challenging for photography but this was another amazing day. It is very difficult to explain what a fantastic dive this was; it was just something completely unique to anything I had seen or experienced before.

 

Manta Ray
Manta Ray
Mobula Ray
Mobula Ray

 

That evening, after 4 dives at Cape Marshall we set sail for the famous Darwin Island. Most were in bed early in anticipation of what may await us in the morning.

Darwin Island

The morning briefing from Santiago and Natasha was detailed and very helpful. What will we get to see? Was it going to live up to its reputation?

The current was mild, which was helpful for the photography and the visibility was good for the first few dives though as predicted tailed off during the day.

It definitely lived up to its reputation. I have never seen so many Sharks. We had Galapagos, Silky and what seemed like hundreds of Hammerheads. We spent much of our time hiding in the rock walls at 15-25m trying to photograph the Sharks as they came in to be cleaned.

Spacing our selves out was essential so as not to frighten these amazing creatures. As we dived more and more we improved our technique.

For myself and many of the group the second dive of the day was the highlight. We went to the wall as before and for 35-40 minutes were able to photograph the Hammerheads as they arrived in waves, interspersed with the large Galapagos Sharks. We then swam into the channel to be greeted by a darkening cloud, the largest shoal of Jacks I have ever seen. Silky, Galapagos, Hammerhead and Black tip Sharks all feeding around the Jacks, Tuna and clouds of Creole fish. Well, I lost our small group during this excitement so decided to make my safety stop. I was watching 5 or 6 Galapagos Sharks circling below me when a large truck came round the corner. A 12m Whale Shark looking very pregnant just cruising down the channel.

Only two more dives today.

Jacks
Jacks
Hammerheads
Hammerheads
Face to face with Hammerheads
Face to face with Hammerheads
Darwins Arch
Darwins Arch

After our stunning day at Darwin we got underway to another iconic dive site.

Wolf Island

Very similar in some ways to Darwin’s Arch but the diving was still spectacular. We seemed to see even more Hammerheads here, which was unbelievable. Not so many Galapagos  Sharks but we were able get closer to the Hammerheads. We had lots of friendly turtles, Sharks in the shallows and a very inquisitive Eagle Ray. Most of us did 4 dives here. Another Spectacular day.

Sea Turtles
Sea Turtles

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Hammerhead Crossing
Hammerhead Crossing

That evening we set sail on a 14 hour trip to Cape Douglas via Roca Redonda. Conditions were a little rough at Roca Redonda so we ploughed on to Cape Douglas.

Cape Douglas

I was really looking forward to this dive. We waited patiently, had lunch, and then finally the call came from our Captain. “They are getting in the water.” This was to turn into a spectacular shallow dive with the Marine Iguanas. We all rushed to get in the Pangas and into the water.

It took a while to spot our first Iguana so I took the opportunity to take a few images of the “Koi” Harlequin Wrasse. After 10-15 minutes suddenly the Iguana’s seemed to be everywhere. This was a stunning experience and was certainly worth the long trip and the waiting.

Marine Iguana watching the show!
Marine Iguana watching the show!
Wrasse
Wrasse
Marine Iguana leading the divers!
Marine Iguana leading the divers!

I think everybody agreed that today had been one of the highlights of the trip so far.

After another 14 hours we were back at Wolf for breakfast and another full day.

Wolf & Darwin Island

We spent the next 3 days diving wolf and Darwin, getting great encounters with all its stunning marine life.  This area is a dream to dive and having the extra time with a 10 day trip was well worth it.

Fly by turtles
Fly by turtles
Eagles glide by...
Eagles glide by…
Full Frontal Hammerhead
Full Frontal Hammerhead
Schooling Hammers
Schooling Hammers
Are you looking at me????
Are you looking at me????

Reluctantly we left Darwin and Wolf behind and sailed away into the sunset. We awoke to another superb breakfast and Bartolome Island. Walking on land. That should be a novelty.

Bartolome Island

We walked the boards up to top of the extinct  volcano taking in the stunning views and spartan wildlife. We then took the Pangas on a trip around the island spotting Blue Footed Boobies, pelicans, Iguanas, Sealions, and Little Penguins.

Coming ashore!
Coming ashore!
On top of the world! Or at least on top of the Volcano...
On top of the world! Or at least on top of the Volcano…

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Blue Footed Booby Bird
Blue Footed Booby Bird
Galapagos Penguin
Galapagos Penguin

In the Afternoon we took a trip to Highlands of Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz Highlands

The highlands were very interesting with larva tubes, sink holes but the highlight for me was the Giant Tortoise reserve.

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 After a fantastic day and a rather late evening our trip was nearly over.

I’d like to thank the Crew of Galapagos Sky. They were superb. We could not have asked for a more flexible and professional bunch of people. Nothing was too difficult and I would especially like to thank our Captain for his entertaining announcements. You had to be there. So go, you won’t regret it.

Galapagos lived up to and exceeded my high expectations.

Shannon Conway