Latitude Zero from underwater

September 3, 2013

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

By Jorge Silva

Once your eyes go below the ocean waterline, you know that there is an immense parallel universe brimming with images.

Ever since I began taking pictures I haven’t discovered anything that grabs me like diving does. Luckily, I don’t have to neglect photography while diving; they are perfectly complementary.

GALLERY: GALAPAGOS POSTCARDS

Photographing underwater is a challenge due to the inherent demands of diving, and the technical difficulties that underwater photography presents.

Diving requires calm and concentration, with control over every variable – floatability, depth, air, and time, while shooting underwater can break that calmness.  Going after an image can require me to swim a little more than expected, and consume more air than calculated. The human body requires more oxygen to move more muscles.

The Galapagos Islands are a dream come true for both divers and photographers, even more so when they are combined into one. Located on the geographical equator in the Pacific Ocean, this volcanic deep sea archipelago consists of 15 major islands and 107 islets, is home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Galapagos National Park and the Galapagos Marine Reserve. The latter is the second largest marine reserve in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Thanks to the complex system of ocean currents which bring nutrients for marine life, more than 2,900 marine species have been reported to exist. Of those, more than 18 percent are endemic. It is one of the richest and most complex ecosystems on Earth.

Scientists, naturalists and tourists have visited the islands for decades now, but only in the past 20 years have they become a diving destination.

For me, it was like travelling to another planet. We embarked on a seven-day journey (with a dose of seasick pills every eight hours) by boat along the north side of the archipelago, with the goal of diving in the two northernmost islands, Darwin and Wolf. Their waters hold the largest number of marine fauna.

After the second night of sailing we woke up next to a breathtaking cliff, about 100m high. We had reached Wolf. At 6:30 am, just like every morning, we began our series of dives (up to 4 a day).

Down under, with strong currents and cold water as low as 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit), there were dozens of hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks and the occasional whale shark. We swam through huge fish banks, which sometimes were so dense that they almost blocked the sun.

It was a breathtaking display of the perfect choreography of the underwater species.

Formerly a pirate haven, then a scientific paradise, and now a phenomenal source of tourism revenue, the islands face a future riddled with challenges. They must preserve a sound balance between the conservation of their spaces and species, and economic development. Their efforts are concentrated in the promotion of sustainable tourism, stopping the migration of invading species and new settlers, and maintaining restrictions against industrial fishing.

All this, in addition to their significant vulnerability to global warming, threatens its endemic species. Is paradise at risk?

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Funnily enough, I don’t think I’ve ever written about the beach, even though I love going there. I do somehow seem to have sailboats crop up in a lot of my stories, even though I know NOTHING about sailing.Ocean Photo Prints

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