The Galapagos Islands is home to some incredible marine life. Deep under the water here, some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world thrive. Galapagos coral reefs are home to over 500 species of fish and countless other marine creatures like sea turtles and penguins. However, they’re not immune to threats like climate change and pollution. In this article, we take a look at Galapagos Island’s coral reefs. We look at why they’re important and cover some interesting and recent research on coral reefs in the Galapagos.
Why are coral reefs important?
Coral reefs are incredibly important. Like vibrant underwater cities, bustling with life, these fantastic habitats are intricate structures are made up of colourful coral polyps. Quite simply, coral reefs are a truly mesmerising display of nature’s beauty. And they serve more than just one purpose.
Marine life and biodiversity
First and foremost, coral reefs provide a habitat for an astonishing diversity of marine life. In fact, scientists estimate that they are home to around 25% of all marine species. This is incredible when you consider that only 1% of the ocean is home to coral reefs. As a result of their wonderful ability to house all kinds of marine life, coral reefs play a crucial role in maintaining the biodiversity of our oceans and supporting the various ecosystems and food chains that rely on them.
But they do even more than this. In fact, coral reefs can help humans too. Serving as natural barriers and protecting coastlines, coral reefs actually protect vulnerable communities from the impact of storms and tidal waves. Plus, they play a significant role in sustaining the livelihoods of millions of people around the world who depend on healthy reefs for fishing, tourism, and other industries.
Finally, coral reefs play an important role in climate change by serving as a natural defence against its impacts. Specifically, they help to mitigate the effects of climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Ultimately, this reduces the amount of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and ocean acidification.
Galapagos coral reefs
In the Galapagos Islands, located off the coast of Ecuador, a few coral reef environments lay under the surface of the water. Though the Galapagos Islands do not have the iconic, colourful coral reef environments like the rest of the famous snorkelling locations in the South Pacific, there are still a number of pristine habitats. In fact, Galapagos coral reefs are considered some of the most pristine in the world. They’re home to over 500 species of fish and countless other marine creatures like sea turtles and penguins. Whale sharks, seals and sharks also inhabit the waters in this beautiful part of the world.
However, the Galapagos’ coral reefs are not immune to threats like climate change and pollution. In fact, in recent years, warming waters, ocean acidification, and invasive species have put stress on the fragile ecosystem, making conservation efforts all the more important to preserve this unique and vital habitat.
Between 95% and 99% of the Galápagos Marine Reserve’s coral reefs were lost between 1983 and 1985 due to extreme weather conditions caused by El Niño. Coral bleaching and bioerosion due to the high presence of Sea Urchins were two impacts which effected the Galapagos coral reefs. Since this fateful time however, some coral reef communities have recovered.
More Galapagos coral reefs discovered in 2023
In recent months, during the Galapagos Deep 2023 Expedition, researchers made an extraordinary discovery in the Galapagos marine reserve. During their mission they found untouched deep-sea coral reefs in an unexplored area in the central part of the archipelago. At depths of 600 meters, the discovery revealed a diverse mix of deep marine life.
According to Dr. Michelle Taylor, a marine biologist at Essex University and co-leader, video footage revealed sightings of deep-sea creatures including pink octopuses, batfish, and squat lobsters among much more.
Raising hopes that healthy reefs can still exist in times of record sea surface temperatures and increased ocean acidification, the discovery of these Galapagos coral reefs brings optimism for researchers as well as Galapagos Island locals.
It is most likely that the coral reefs have existed sheltered for centuries, supporting diverse and potentially unique marine communities. José Antonio Dávalos, Minister for Environment in Ecuador, expressed satisfaction with the finding, stating that it reinforces the resolve of the country to expand the Galapagos marine reserve and enforce the creation of extensive and comprehensive marine protected areas in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.
Fingers crossed for the expansion of this marine reserve, which ties in well with a treaty between 30 countries to protect 30% of the planet’s land and sea by 2030.
Where are the coral reefs in the Galapagos Islands located?
Those looking to explore the underwater world might want to know where to find coral reefs in the Galapagos Islands. Especially since conditions in the water in this part of the world offer good visibility and the seas are home to a large variety of wildlife. Whilst snorkelling or diving here, you’ll find manta rays, white-tipped sharks, eagle rays, sea-turtles, sea-lions, -you name it! And what makes snorkelling in the Galapagos even more special is that you don’t have to go deep to see the marine life.
Having said this, coral reefs are not typically located in proximity to tourist hotspots and in order to reach these places. As a result, most people decide to explore the ocean at a number of easily accessible, and equally beautiful locations across the islands.
There are however some spots across the archipelago where coral reefs do exist:
Located off of Floreana Island, the Devil’s Crown is composed of a ring of jagged rocks which jut out of the water. They’re found not too far from shore and get their name from their crown-like appearance (their circular and pointy arrangement in the sea). Here at Devil’s crown, some delicate species of coral thrive and make home for a variety of marine life.
At Cousin’s Rock near Santiago Island (on the eastern side) is home to sloping coral-covered, volcanic rock and overhangs. Here, small sea creatures such as the frogfish, octopus, seahorse, and nudibranch are found.
Prior to the 2023 discovery of deep water coral reefs in the Galapagos, Wellington Reef, off the coast of Darwin Island, was thought to be among the few structural shallow coral reefs in the islands to have survived the 1982-83 destruction. Here, divers can find a wonderful reef full of life.
Where to stay in the Galapagos Islands
During a visit to the Galapagos Islands, opt for authenticity and luxury at Chez Manany Galapagos Ecolodge. Perfect for those who love and respect nature, the property offers its guests proximity to some of the best wildlife and marine life around. The property prides itself on its thorough sustainability initiatives too.