This blog post was written by Video Projects Producer, Jim Burch in the National Geographic Creative Department. We’re sharing National Geographic staff and friends’ stories about nature to celebrate the Great Nature Project. To share your own nature photos of plants and animals with National Geographic, visit greatnatureproject.org.
For 25 years Nat Geo has held the National Geographic Bee, a geography-knowledge competition for students. This year, for the first time, Nat Geo held a staff GeoBee. I’ve always been fascinated by geography, and the poster implied that they’d give us easier questions than the kids, so I gave it a shot.
Thanks to a little studying, an awful lot of luck, and especially the generosity of the National Geographic Bee and its director Mary Lee Elden, I was privileged to somehow win the extraordinary first prize: a trip for two to the Galápagos Islands. And so, on August 10, my brother Martin and I set out for what would prove—I think for both of us—to be a transformative journey.
Our traveling group was overwhelmed with vivid experiences at beautiful and strange sites. Even the first excursion to North Seymour Island’s dry brushland showed us a succession of wonders. During a single walk, we stumbled upon nesting blue-footed boobies, crossed paths with a land iguana, observed two colonies of frigatebirds—famous for the male’s red throat pouch—and finally, witnessed an elaborate mating dance between a male and female booby.
Every outing revealed variations of the islands’ characteristics: from the stark volcanic slopes of Bartolomé overlooking the eroded spire of Pinnacle Rock to the comparatively lush farmland of Santa Cruz, where we encountered giant tortoises slowly making their way across the highlands.
On Fernandina, we circled the nesting area of many marine iguanas basking on the hot rocks and watched the interactions of sea lions as one of their group returned from the shallows. At Punta Vicente Roca, on the largest island Isabela, we snorkeled as a large group of sea turtles floated among us. And we had many more surreal moments, venturing among penguins, sea lions, and even a school of sharks—the latter were small enough creatures that we felt wonder in place of fear.
Perhaps the most important lesson that emerges from this remarkable adventure is that, despite how things look here in civilization, true wilderness really exists, and there’s still time to protect it. Certainly I’ve never seen wildlife so close. But if such nature is a rarity, the fact that these islands have been preserved and, in some cases restored, means that real conservation is possible.
I’ve witnessed my traveling companions and myself as merely visitors to a land dominated by reptiles and birds, giving up the arrogant claim to the title of dominant species. In the process, I’ve somehow awakened a forgotten nature within myself.
And so, wandering as we did among the lava floes, cactus trees, and tortoises, we saw something that was easy to misidentify as another world. In fact, this is our world as it might be and still is in some special places.
By Jim Burch, National Geographic Video Projects Producer