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Galápagos Islands

By Erin Beasley, North Carolina State University

During spring break of 2018, I traveled with thirty-one other veterinary students and two professors to the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador for a study abroad program.  I learned about the unique and diverse native species, local culture, and current scientific work with Galápagos tortoises.

After spending a night in Guayaquil, Ecuador, we flew to San Cristóbal.  Seeing the island from the air was fascinating because I noticed the different landscapes/geography of the island.  We walked to Darwin’s Cove and snorkeled there.  I was amazed by the plentiful wildlife, including sea lions, sea turtles, and many fish.  I was most excited to swim with the sea turtles.  While we were exploring the cove, I thought about how Darwin was there long ago.  Walking along the trail, we saw a beautiful sunset along with marine iguanas and sea lions.  We also spotted a marine iguana digging a nest.  The first day in the Galápagos Islands exceeded expectations, so we were excited for the rest of the week.

The next day, we performed health assessments on Galápagos tortoises at the Galapaguera.  I enjoyed learning about the handling techniques of the tortoises, the daily activities of the tortoises, and the involvement of the national park workers.  By the end of the day, I had taken temperature of tortoises, collected blood, obtained heart rates and respiratory rates, and observed their overall condition.  This experience showed me how field work is conducted in the islands, and it made me look forward to field work in the future.

Galápagos tortoiseWe also embarked on a SCUBA diving trip to Kicker Rock.  My favorite part was swimming within a very large school of fish.  Additionally, we swam with over fifty sharks, including a hammerhead shark.  It was interesting to compare the marine ecosystem with North Carolina’s.  Later that day, we hiked around La Loberia, where we saw dozens of marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and various gulls.

Marine iguana

We left San Cristóbal and arrived at Isabela Island.  This island was more remote.  We snorkeled at Concha de Perla, where I saw a variety of fish, sea lions, and marine iguanas.  One day, we hiked to the top of the volcano Cerro Negra and viewed the caldera.  This caldera is one of the largest in the world, and it was interesting to learn about the life cycle of lava from the tour guide.  I also biked to the Wall of Tears, which is a sad part of history in the islands.  However, it was good to learn about the history from a tour guide that is a descendent of the original inhabitants. 

Caldera of volcano Cerro Negra

After leaving Isabela Island, we traveled to Santa Cruz.  This island was more populated.  We visited the Charles Darwin Research Center, where we met the lead scientists there and saw Lonesome George.  I liked hearing about their current research and educational efforts.  We also visited the Darwin Animal Doctors Hospital.  This visit helped me understand how veterinary medicine can be conducted in remote settings.

When we returned to Guayaquil, we walked through the land iguana park, along the river, and climbed five hundred stairs to the lighthouse.  Through this adventure, I was able to observe the culture in this large city.

Overall, this study abroad program was fantastic.  I learned so much from seeing the various species in their natural habitat.  This experience also showed me public health issues and research opportunities there.  It was great to spend time with fellow classmates as well.  I am thankful for the support from the SAVMA Integrative Communications and Diversity Committee’s Diversity and Communications Development Travel Grant!

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