Fernando Zambrano: Diving in Galapagos: An Interview with Sub-Aqua Founder

Tery Byus and Elisa Behnk

Fernando Zambrano: Diving in Galapagos: An Interview with Sub-Aqua Founder

Tery Byus and Elisa Behnk

Jan 2012

What makes Galapagos such a hot diving destination?

For people who are used to calm waters, shallow reefs, and small and colorful marine life, Galapagos is a different dive experience. Here, we routinely dive to depths of 15-25 meters (roughly 50-80 feet). We often see hammerhead sharks, sea turtles, manta rays, golden or eagle rays flying in formation, moray and garden eels, and playful sea lions. The richness of our sea life is mainly due to cold water coming up from the deep – a process known as upwelling – bringing nutrients to the layer of the ocean at which photosynthesis occurs and producing large amounts of phytoplankton, the start of the food chain. The diversity of the species is mainly due to the position of the Galapagos on the crossroads of the main East Pacific Equatorial Currents, where tropical and semi-temperate waters meet. The many kinds of marine habitats (sandy, rocky, coralline, muddy) also play a role in the bio-diversity we find here.

What are the most important issues to consider about diving in the Galapagos?

Here, you need to be in good physical shape and feel confident when diving in currents, surges and under limited visibility conditions. Having good buoyancy control is a must, since we usually dive along walls and with thick wet suits.

There are generally two seasons in the Galapagos, shaped by the changing sea currents and wind systems:
- In the warm season (December to May), water temperatures range from 22 to 28°C (71-82°F) at the surface. Below the thermo cline, however, the water can be 5 degrees colder, especially in dry years when the upwelling is abnormally strong. In general, this season affords better visibility and calmer seas.
- The cold season (June through November – with July, August and September being the coldest months) can turn the water to 16°C (60°F) or less, requiring a full wet suit including hood and gloves. Some may even want a semi-dry or even a dry suit (as standard, we provide all diving gear with wet suits). This cold season is known for the “upwelling” and the resulting high rate of “plankton bloom,” that is the key factor in the somewhat diminished visibility.

What has been your most exciting or extraordinary dive experience to date?

I can think of three right away, and they all occurred in Galapagos:
- The first time I found myself in the middle – literally – of a school of hammerhead sharks…. I was guiding a TV crew from Spain at Gordon Rocks off Isla Santa Cruz in the early 1990s. I turned a corner on the southern rock and I found myself going the wrong direction on hammerhead highway, facing maybe 30 of them. My subconscious, which had always been helpful to me in diving, told me “go easy” and “relax.” Hammerheads, as it turns out, are quite harmless if you keep a low profile.
- The first time I saw a whale shark… This was at Darwin Island. I turned around while diving in the blue and I saw something resembling a small bus coming toward me. My guests told me afterwards that they could tell I did not believe what I was seeing – the whale shark coming directly at me. They were right, I couldn’t believe my eyes!
- Scuba diving in the middle of a large school of dolphins… During the last El Nino in late 1997 we were diving at Isla Pinzon. A large pod of dolphins appeared in the distance and we went to follow them. One of our guests suggested that we go in the water. I agreed and we spent some 20 minutes in very shallow water, surrounded by many dolphins.

Although not run-of-the-mill experiences, they illustrate the thrills and surprises of diving in the Galapagos.

*This article was published by Lindblad Expeditions, Inc. in the Summer/Fall 2001 newsletter.