Before you head off to the Galapagos for a dive adventure read up. The water isn’t always warm, the visibility isn’t always fantastic, the currents can be strong (make that incredibly strong), the surface conditions can be challenging and don’t expect to see myriads of brightly coloured tropical fish. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
With that said, the Islands offer some incredible land and sea experiences. On the watery side you can expect to see a number of species of big sharks, marine turtles, sea lions, nudibranches, barracuda, eels; eagle, leopard and manta rays; and a variety of reef and blue water fish.
Before I bore you with the details of specific dive sites I shall start with the memorable moments...
Imagine hovering in open water at a depth of about 20 m and spotting a big turtle heading straight at you. It just keeps on moving effortlessly towards you and just a foot before imminent collision with your mask, glides inches over your head and soars steadily off past the limits of visibility.
You’re hanging loose at 15 m traversing across a pinnacle when you notice a turtle parked at a cleaning station being attended to by two dinner-plate sized fish. Then you see another turtle also being cleaned, and another, and yet another in the queue. I could have hovered there all day but my cylinders weren’t big enough, and besides, the dive master and my buddies were heading off in search of foe with sharp teeth and dorsal fins.
We were diving on a wall at about 30 m when a sea lion torpedoed past. You turn to seen it disappear upward and, with another photo opportunity missed, set off along the wall. Suddenly something is gnawing at your fins. The sea lion has returned to investigate - you!. Seconds later it has again disappeared.
It’s late in the dive and your buddy has just got to low on air when a school of six big 3 m+ (10 ft) hammer head sharks cruise past just 10 m away with what looks like a great white in their midst. Your buddy want’s to stay down in case they come back, but he’s at 30 bar it’s time to call it a day.
A huge Galapagos shark powers past you and you buddy, right at the limits of visibility. You fin like crazy hoping to catch up with the beast but it, and the photo opportunity, have gone.
Now for the dive sites:
Gordon Rocks (4 dives)
A school of big hammer head sharks and a huge Galapagos shark, marine turtles, sea lions, numerous reef fish (parrot fish, cleaners, cod), sea cucumbers and nudibranches. Look for turtles at cleaning stations near the pinnaces. The dives were to 27.7 m with no more than 15 m visibility. The water temperature was about 20°C but with big thermoclines at about 15 m and the temperature dropping sharply. There was a big surface swell and strong currents on the dives. In traversing between the two islands take care to work on your buoyancy control and watch your depth gauge and compass (there aren’t too many references to work off).
Santa Fe (4 dives)
The dives here were drift dives in a strong current to a depth of about 30 m. The water temperature was about 18°C with visibility from 10 to 15 m. Sand eels, leopard and manta rays, some barracuda, puffer fish, parrot fish, star fish, turtles, nudibranches.
Seymour (2 dives)
Daphne Minor (1 dive)
A good wall dive with plenty to see. Depth to about 30 m with 12 m visibility. Some big gorgonian fans. Look out for sea lions and remember to give them about 3 m.
Sand Spit. The dive tracks along the edge of a sandy shelf with a wall dropping away to about 45 m.
In closing there are three points worth mentioning.
1. Unless you’re on a live-aboard, the travel time to the dive sites can be significant. Most dive days required at least an hour to get to where you’re going and the sea state is not always pristine.
2. Show some courtesy and environmental neutrality. If there is a big turtle just sitting there then give it some space and allow other divers to come, have look-see, and leave the critter in peace. Racing up to touch the beast, or flapping around with your peripheral vision entirely obscured by your camera’s view finder (and in the process displacing everyone else’s mask and regulator) is simply not good form.
3. Watch your dive profiles. Three of the dives on this adventure pushed my computer beyond recreational dive limits into decompression diving. All of my buddies headed straight for the surface when they reached low-on-air (some managed a five metre three minute safety stop), but none signalled the requirement for mandatory decompression and all ignored, did not understand, or were too low on air to complete decompression stops. I have experienced this before in New Zealand where a dive buddy was focused on his air and oblivious to decompression. Yes, watch your air but watch your nitrogen saturation levels too. Don’t expect the dive master to look after this for you. He (or she) may be totally oblivious to the requirement, and my Spanish was too lousy to explain!