Fernandina is the third-largest, the geologically youngest and most volcanically active of the Galapagos islands. This uninhabited island is also the most remote and least visited of the main islands. Volcan La Cumbre
[1463 m or 4,877 ft
] erupts regularly, most recently in 1995 when lava flowed into the ocean for over a month, and the cone of the volcano shifted and changed in shape. Columns of sulfurous smoke and steam rose 4,000 m [13,332 ft
] into the air, with extremely loud echoing explosions and a cacophony of hissing and popping and low-level thumps. Dead mesopelagic fish from the depths floated on the steaming and bubbling surface of the water, which reached a temperature of 60?C [140?F
]. Biology was in confusion.
. Exactly 170 years earlier the captain of the American schooner Tartar
, which was off the coast one night in February 1825, wrote this account of an eruption on Narborough, as the island was then called. “The heavens appeared to be one blaze of fire, intermingled with millions of falling stars and meteors; while flames shot upwards from the peak of Narborough to the height of at least two thousand feet in the air… the boiling contents of the tremendous caldron had swollen to the brim, and poured over the edge of the crater in a cataract of liquid fire. A river of melted lava was now seen rushing down the side of the mountain, pursuing a serpentine course to the sea… the demon of fire seemed rushing to the embraces of Neptune; and dreadful indeed was the uproar occasioned by their meeting. The ocean boiled and roared and bellowed…” The captain also recorded that when the temperature of the sea rose to 150?F [65?C
], melted pitch ran from the vessel’s seams and tar dropped from the riggings. Had not a lucky breeze helped its escape, the Tartar
would certainly have fell apart and sank.
. As well as one of the world’s most volcanically-active islands, Fernandina is also considered one of the most pristine for lack of non-native plants and animals. There are no feral dogs or donkeys on Fernandina, nor goats, rats, pigs and cats. With such an environment to protect it is easy to understand why the National Park Service
insists on precautions to avoid transportation of seeds or any animal forms to the island — visitors are required to wash their shoes before landing. Because of these measures, neither marine iguanas
nor flightless cormorants
have predators on the island and are left to multiply in safety. In this sense Fernandina is the only place in the Galapagos where you can travel back in time and see the island before arrival of humanity.
Fernandina has been associated with illegal harvesting and smuggling of protected sea cucumbers
. Encouraged by Japanese fishermen, Ecuadorians have harvested huge quantities of these creatures off the coast of Fernandina for shipment to Asia.
Places to visit
Fernandina has only one visitors’ site, at Punta Espinosa on the northwest coast, opposite Isabela
. Here thousands of marine iguanas
lie about in the sun, digesting their dinners and shooting sprays of salt water into the air in fits of iguanic sneezing. There are also sea lions
, flightless cormorants
and a few Galapagos penguins
Things to do
swimming in the clear waters of the lagoon will see rays
, white-tip sharks
and plenty of brilliantly colored tropical fish.