The day ashore was to have included a cycle ride but that had to be cancelled. Still, it didn't take anything away from the day as we were there to see giant tortoises!
First we visited the Charles Darwin Station to see the tortoises: one year old ones, some two year old ones, a few 60 year old ones and also a couple of 120 year old ones. Sadly Lonesome George had passed away a couple of years earlier but old timer Super Diago was still around. He had fathered 10,000+ offspring - the dirty dog.
All the tortoises were kept in corrals and had numbers painted on their backs to identify them. The numbers themselves were of different colors to indicate which island they had been removed form as eggs.
Once their habitat is cleared from non-native species they were all going to be reintroduced back to their original islands. A process that would continue until they all have healthy tortoise populations. The target date to do this by is 2050.
The main non-native species being targeted to be cleared are goats and rats.
Pirates had originally put goats on the islands to breed so they had food sources when they stopped by. Goats are omnivores and had numbered 40,000+ so were eating the tortoises out of house and home. The plan was get rid of them all. Relocation was too expensive so a cull was ordered. A single shot to the head. All were shot at a cost of $20m (10x the original estimate) from helicopters using hired snipers from Australia. Female goats were tethered to stakes and when the males appeared they were gunned down en masse.
Next for eradication were the rats. They had come off passing ships and were eating the tortoise eggs so they had to go too.
The rats were all poisoned by the park rangers. Unfortunately the iguanas also ate the poison so the Galapagos hawks - who dined on both the rats and the iguanas - got doubly poisoned and died in vast numbers. So along with the tortoise breeding program there is now a hawk breeding program too. Sigh.
For lunch we headed to a farm which incidentally has a few pet giant tortoises in their gardens. Then to visited an enormous underground lava tube - 400m long and about 5m wide and high. Impressive!
Finally we visited an area that had wild giant tortoises roaming wild. They were very amazing. Some were wallowing in mud, others grazing on grass and but all seemed happy to pose for photographs. If you got to close though they let out lots of air and retreated back into their shells. It was very special to see them.
The swell was still high when we returned to the ship which made for a hairy transfer back to the ship I can tell you.
In the evening after dinner we were treated to a Galapagean band complete with pan pipes and three local dancing girls. Charmingly quaint.