South Plaza is a tiny .13 square kilometer island in the Galapagos that was formed by uplifted lava. It is covered by opuntia cactuses, a tree-like cactus endemic to Galapagos. There are two big draws to South Plaza, the large sea lion colony and the colorful yellow and red land iguana. When visiting the island, you can barely take a step without fear of treading on one of these animals and you have to be really alert while walking along the trail. The last thing you want to do is step on a resting bull sea lion and have him get angry at you.
There are multiple sea lion colonies that call South Plaza their home. Each colony of 15-20 females is ruled by a bull male who is “king” for about three months. After his exhausting tenure is over, he returns to the bachelor herd and gives up the strenuous task of mating to another bull.
Nearby is North Seymour, a small island in the Galapagos that is also home to an amazing density of wildlife. Photography is especially fun on this island with easy and direct access to all of the animals. The visitor trail around the 1.9 square kilometer island is a short 2 kilometer (1.4 mile) loop that takes you along cliffs, shoreline and interior regions teeming with wildlife.
One of the interesting stories about this island involves the land iguana. In the 1930s, Captain G. Allan Hancock noticed that the island didn’t have a population of Galapagos Land Iguanas. Thinking he was helping out the population, he brought over a small population of land iguanas from South Seymour. A few years later, some of the other islands in the Galapagos where the land iguana was native went through a drought and the population died off. North Seymour didn’t suffer through the same drought and the land iguanas thrived there. They were able to use the remnant population from North Seymour to repopulate the other islands in the Galapagos.
These days, wildlife managers and resource managers are very careful about moving species of animals from one island to another because they understand that animals in the Galapagos have specialized to live on specific islands. In fact, specialization animals adapting to distinct environments is what makes the Galapagos quite unique. In the case of the land iguana though, Galapagos wildlife managers use the North Seymour’s iguanas for their captive breeding program throughout the island chain.