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Study Abroad Opportunity

Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Island Ecology Study Abroad Course will be offered this Spring Semester. The application deadline is October 18th, and you are welcome to contact Kim McDaniel (Study Abroad), Mike Romano (Biology), or Susan Romano (Biology) for more information. We will also hold interest meetings soon. See activity details below for this amazing experiential learning experience.

Class meetings will be held early in the semester to review important topics in evolution and ecology in preparation for the trip to Galapagos Islands during spring break.

Contact Info:
Department of Biological Sciences
Western Illinois University
Macomb phone: (309)298-3387
Quad Cities phone: (309)762-9481


After an early breakfast, depart northwest with your guide and private Bellavista Cloud vehicle for a pleasant, 90-minute drive to the Bellavista Cloud Forest Forest I Quito Or equivalent Reserve. Cloud forests, correctly termed pre-montane/subtropical rain forests, cloak the steep slopes of the Andes from about 2,950 to 8,202 feet above sea level. They are forests of high biodiversity, with a profusion of little-studied wildlife and plants. Bellavista is at the southern edge of the Choco/Andean hotspots of biodiversity, which stretches from southwestern Colombia to northwestern Ecuador, and is home to over 300 different species of tropical birds and numerous other animals. Equally important, Bellavista is part of the Mindo Area of International Importance for Birds, the first area so designated in South America, by Birdlife International in 1997. Descend the flanks of the Andes from Quito to 4,015 feet above sea level and watch the landscape change dramatically as lush green forest and waterfalls dominate. The first stop is Bellavist Cloud Forest Reserve. Proceed on a guided hike through Bellavista's network of trails in the beautiful Tandayapa Valley, observing wildlife along the way. Over 14 species of hummingbirds, numerous species of tanagers, toucans, and many I more have been spotted on the trails surrounding the Bellavista lodge. Western Illinois University students will compare and contrast the cloud forest ecosystem with the Galapagos ecosystems during their visit. After lunch, transfer to the quaint village of Mindo where you will slide on a harness and clip in for an exhilarating zipline canopy tour of the surrounding cloud forest. Keep your eyes out for toucans, owls, quetzals, hummingbirds, and the beautiful Cock-ofthe-Rock as you explore the forest's canopy. A series of 13 zip lines connected by built-in tree platforms allows you to journey over 2 miles across the upper level of the cloud forest.

Galapagos Islands

San Cristobal Island, is the easternmost island in the Galapagos, and is ranked among the older group of islands. This island is also where Charles Darwin first went ashore in September 1835. After a kayak briefing and transfer to the beach, we will load up in our sit-on-top kayaks, and set out to explore the coast. The slow pace of the kayaks gliding over the water and the freedom to navigate on your own makes this afternoon in Galapagos a special experience, and a great way to begin your visit to the Islands. While kayakers can't disembark anywhere they please, the boats are maneuverable enough to cruise rocky shorelines that motorized vessels cannot. Paddlers often attract curious animals, especially near-sighted sea lions, which tend to approach you for a closer look! Continue along the west point of the island until you reach the turquoise-blue waters of Las Tijeretas Bay. From your kayak, observe marine wildlife such as Blue-footed Boobies, sea lions, frigate birds, or brown pelicans whose eight-foot wingspan helps them to dive-bomb for sardines. Make your way back to the beach at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. This small attractive port is nestled along a crescent-shaped bay and is the provincial capital of the Galapagos Islands.

You will board a small motorboat for a day of snorkeling, swimming, and exploration along the northwest coast of San Cristobal Island. The first stop is Lobes Island for a chance to swim with sea lions, sea turtles, and observe various tropical fish. After a box lunch, continue along the coast and observe nesting places for seabirds such as Masked Boobies and Frigate birds. This is a great place to snorkel with friendly Galapagos sharks, sea turtles, and spotted eagle rays. Late afternoon arrival at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and transfer 30 minutes to a campsite in the highlands of San Cristobal. The campsite boasts spectacular ocean views and over 120 acres of open space.

Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Reforestation Project Participate in conservation efforts by planting endemic and native plants and trees in its Native Plant Garden. Species to be planted include: Alternanthera, Walteria, Palo Negro, Lecocarpus, Muyuyo, Algodoncillo, Cafetillo, Romerillo, Senna, Opuntia, Calandrin, Galapagosa, Scalesia, Palo Santo, Guayabillo, Chala, Matazarno, and Una de Gate. Literature about these endemic species and the importance of our reforestation efforts will be provided to Western Illinois University participants. Enjoy a delicious barbecue dinner, campfire, and sunset off the coast.

Floreana Island is the first island that saw a permanent settlement of Ecuadorians in 1832. Floreana has the most intriguing human history with visitors including pirates, prisoners, and whalers. Today a resident human population of 100 inhabitants accompanies the local wildlife. Before your arrival at Floreana, you'll snorkel at La Loberia, one of the best snorkel spots in Galapagos, located just off the coast. Keep your eyes out for white-tipped sharks, rays, sea turtles, sea lions, and countless tropical fish. Disembark at Puerto Velasco Ibarra and transfer a few kilometers inland to the humid zone, which is home to the Medium Tree Finch, found only on Floreana Island, and the dwellings of the original settlers of the island. After lunch and a swim at Playa Negra, board the boat and continue northwest to lsabela Island (approximately 1.5 hours), the largest island in the Galapagos Archipelago and perhaps the most biologically and geologically diverse. Check in at your hotel in Puerto Villamil and your Naturalist Guide will lead a discussion about today's sightings and brief the group about tomorrow's activities.

Galapagos Islands

The highlands of lsabela are where you will hike up the flanks of Sierra Negra Volcano, one of Ecuador's most active volcanos, which last erupted on October 22, 2006. As you approach the crater rim, located at an elevation of nearly 4,890 feet above sea level, take in spectacular views of the 30-square mile caldera. The crater's steaming fumaroles, charcoal-black landscape, and petrified lava formations are testaments to its recent eruption and ongoing volcanic activity. Enjoy a picnic lunch before descending the volcano and returning to Puerto Villamil. This afternoon travel across the bay with your guide to Tintoreras Island. The island is called Tintoreras because it's a resting place for white-tip reef sharks, "Tintoreras" in Spanish. On the way, keep your eyes out for Galapagos penguins, the smallest species of penguins in the world and endemic to the Galapagos. A short hike allows you to observe one of the largest colonies of marine iguanas in Galapagos, white-tip sharks, sea lions, Sally Lightfoot crabs, and Blue-footed Boobies. Return to the bay for some spectacular snorkeling with sea lions, rays, and many different species of tropical fish.

After breakfast, board a speedboat and transfer two hours to Puerto Palmeras Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, the largest port town in Galapagos with shops, restaurants, and the Charles Darwin Research Station. Proceed on a guided visit of the Darwin Station, where you will learn about current scientific research on the islands and the Station's mission to ensure the conservation of the environment and biodiversity in the Galapagos Archipelago. The Station is also a tortoise breeding and rearing center. Observe how tortoises of different subspecies are prepared for reintroduction to their natural habitats. After lunch transfer to the highlands of Santa Cruz Island.As you ascend, you will travel through several different vegetation zones and witness the landscape become increasingly lush and green by the minute. El Chato Tortoise Reserve. This afternoon you will have the opportunity to view the islands' most famous reptile: the Giant Galapagos Tortoises in their wild habitat. It's a real treat to see an endangered species roving in this lush environment! The vegetation of the area includes the Scalesia Forest (an endemic giant daisy tree) and birds such as the vermilion flycatcher will delight everyone with its scarlet feathers against an emerald green forest. Look for Darwin's finches (most of them from the tree-finch group), particularly the famous Woodpecker Finch.

South Plaza Palmeras Island. This small island with steep cliffs was formed by rising lava and is now covered by Opuntia cacti. It is also home to one of the largest sea lion colonies as well as colorful yellow and red land iguanas. The most characteristic plant is the Sesuvium. During the rainy season its color is a greenish to yellowish tone and in the dry season (end of June through January) a bright red. (Depending on boat permits and itineraries, the excursion to South Plaza Island may be changed to Bartolome Island or North Seymour Island.)

A final project related to Galapagos Island ecology and evolution will be a course requirement.