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El Niño in Galapagos: How Will Your Trip Be Affected by Natural Climate Cycles?

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Friends practicing snokel in Galapagos
Whenever there is an El Niño in Galapagos, travelers usually worry about how to schedule their holiday. Sensationalized weather forecasts suggest that El Niño is always accompanied by flooding and devastation, especially if you’re planning a trip to the tropics. People are somewhat correct to anticipate that an El Niño will impact their journey to the Galapagos. They are ignorant of the fact that it is a good one. El Niño years bring warm, swimmable water and an abundance of vegetation that supports the survival of terrestrial species.

The Impact of Climate Cycles on the Galapagos

It’s not necessary to be a fisherman to observe El Niño’s effects in Galapagos. Because marine and terrestrial life are easily accessible on the islands, even the uninitiated tourist can observe changes in their populations. El Niño has diverse consequences in the Galapagos Islands, with a decline in marine life and an abundance of terrestrial creatures. During El Niño seasons, animals such as finches, Galapagos tortoises, land iguanas, and others that feed on the regenerated plant life multiply and prosper, providing a lush spectacle for island visitors. Travelers benefit from additional advantages such as calm seas and warm waters, ideal for swimming and snorkeling because of the absence of trade winds. Without the nutrient-rich, chilly surface waters, marine life and flightless birds like cormorants and penguins, on the other hand, struggle to obtain food.  El Niño’s opposite is called La Niña. Instead of there being no trade winds, there are many of them, and cold water currents also reach South America’s coast. While terrestrial life faces drought and poverty, marine life thrives during La Niña. The La Niña years are a terrific time to see land iguanas, finches, tortoises, and plants! 

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What Occurs During El Niño in Galapagos?

Though there haven't been significant damages in recent years, El Niño in Galapagos has been known to be very dangerous to the ecosystem.
Though there haven’t been significant damages in recent years, El Niño in Galapagos has been known to be very dangerous to the ecosystem.
El Niño, La Niña, and neutral patterns are all alternated by the Pacific Ocean’s trade winds and ocean currents. Trade winds often blow across the Pacific to the west. The coasts of Australia and Southeast Asia receive a push of warm water moving westward. Cold water upwells along the coast of South America, providing nutrient-rich water for marine life. In these conditions, the Australian coast experiences rain, while the coastal regions of South America are dry and akin to deserts.  Fishermen in South America noticed that the trade winds would sometimes diminish around Christmas, allowing warm surface water to reach the coastal area. As a result, a large number of Galapagos fish—which were dependent on the nutrient-rich cold water currents—would perish. Because of the abundant rainfall during these years, terrestrial life flourished in an otherwise parched environment. When climatologists started investigating this shift as a meteorological and oceanic phenomenon, they dubbed it El Niño, after the Christ child. Check out this NOAA video for further scientific facts if you’re interested. 

Preparing for El Niño?

Over the approximately sixty years that researchers have examined these climatic trends, El Niño has shown to be almost hard to forecast. For instance, in 1995, a significant El Niño event was forecast, but the atmospheric conditions were mild. Two years later, the strongest and most destructive El Niño on record occurred in 1997. Similar dire predictions were made for the 2015 El Niño cycle, but what actually occurred was unusual and, more importantly, uncharacteristic of past climate trends. Although surface ocean temperatures reached some of their most significant points since the 1950s, atmospheric conditions remained unchanged, and trade winds did not cease, in contrast to previous El Niño years. The coastal area experienced some cold water upwellings, although marine species populations were not as negatively impacted as in prior El Niño years.
Many scientific efforts have been made to maintain the Galapagos ecosystem despite El Niño in Galapagos.
Many scientific efforts have been made to maintain the Galapagos ecosystem despite El Niño in Galapagos.
Very little scientific research has been done on how El Niño affects the Galapagos Islands’ biodiversity. Nonetheless, biology professor Dee Boersma of the University of Washington, who also wrote the TED talk Pay Attention to Penguins, is beginning to expand on the topic: She uses penguin population observations as a primary measure of oceanic health. Boersma observed specific detrimental effects of the warm ocean surface temperatures on the penguins during a visit to the Galapagos in February 2016. These effects included the penguins not breeding and many being covered in algae from spending so much time in the water searching for food. Marine iguanas and sea lions were similarly malnourished and skinny. Boesma did determine, nevertheless, that the penguins seemed to be in good condition overall.

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In the equatorial Pacific, recent NOAA reports indicate the onset of La Niña conditions. Other marine species, including Galapagos penguins, will be able to recuperate, put on weight, and carry on reproducing due to the cold water inflow, enabling more algae to bloom. Climate issues tend to be unpredictable, as some experts have pointed out about this year’s aberration. The professor states, “What was normal is no longer normal.” Our ability to adjust to the islands’ shifting climate will need to continue, just like that of the Galapagos animals. Recent Galapagos archipelago in a variety of ways throughout the equatorial Pacific. Due to the cold water inflow, other cycles of the Pacific. No matter, if the climate is “normal” or experiencing El Niño, continues reproducing, the opportunity to witness the distinct marvels of this extraordinary ecosystem.

Updated:June 4, 2024

Published:January 6, 2017

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