About Me

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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Playa Espumilla; where Darwin walked

A highlight of my recent life was a week in the Galápagos Archipelago; so much to say about that, but for now I'd just like to share an amazing morning's experience on Santiago Island - not that much happened, and it wasn't the most spectacular scenery or wildlife we saw, but it moved me for a very particular reason. 
The (faint!) pink arrow in the centre of the map indicates the location of
Playa Espumilla ('Foamy Beach') on Santiago.

Looking south along Playa Espumilla.
On 8 October 1835 a young Charles Darwin went ashore on this beach, accompanied by Surgeon Benjamin Bynoe and "some servants". They spent a week on the island, including a visit inland to some Spanish fish-dryers and tortoise flesh salters.

He commented that the Land Iguanas were so numerous that "we could not for some time find a spot free from their burrows on which to pitch our single tent". (These were nesting burrows.) Sadly Land Iguanas are no longer to be found on Santiago.
Land Iguana (Conolophus subcristatus), Santa Fé Island.
Darwin also commented fairly matter-of-factly that a few years previously a party of sealers had murdered their captain - "and we saw his skull lying among the bushes"! We did not see his skull, but we did see others, which were those of feral goats which had been on the point of destroying the entire island ecosystem when they were systematically eradicated from Santiago by the end of 2005. It was an astonishing feat, removing every single one of 80,000 goats from 60,000 hectares; such a scale of feral animal removal had never before been attempted and it inspired land managers elsewhere with an example of what was possible. As a result the vegetation, which had previously been eaten to the ground, has now recovered magnificently.
Mangrove-fringed lagoon, with Playa Espumilla behind.
Espumilla is also significant as a Green Turtle nesting site.
Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) tracks, Playa Espumilla.
Green Sea Turtles mating.
Darwin - and many since him - commented too on the tameness of Galápagos wildlife; that hasn't changed.
Small Ground Finch (Geospiza fuliginosa), Espumilla Beach.
(The legs are Australian, rather than Darwinian; or perhaps both...)
Given the turn-over of beach sand, I know that my sandals probably didn't tread on a grain that Darwin's did (in fact I'm probably more likely to have in my lungs a molecule of oxygen that he breathed), but they might have... And that excites me.


1 comment:

Susan said...

We've been watching the new Attenborough on the Galapagos -- terrific stuff (although a teensy mistake about penguins).