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A closer look at Galapagan wildlife

Caramie SchnellVail, CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily
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In one photo a wide-eyed chocolate brown sea lion peeks its head between gray, pockmarked volcanic rocks. In another a pair of sea birds, called blue-footed boobies, maneuver seaside rocks on shocking turquoise webbed feet.

After a trip to the Galapagos Islands last summer with their three children Anna, J.T. and Ben Joe Schmitt and Jane West came home with close to 800 photographs they took on the remote chain of volcanic islands. The group of islands, consisting of 13 main islands and six smaller islands, are located 600 miles west of Ecuador. The family, who lives in Eagle, narrowed the collection down to the best 20 wildlife photos, which are hanging in the community room at the Avon Library through the end of the month.Perhaps the most stunning part of the exhibit are the extreme close up shots Joe and Jane managed. And its not because they had a long range lens, rather its because they were able to get extremely close to the animals. When Jane photographed the expressive sea lion, she was standing just a few feet above it, looking down, she said.It was such a stupendous experience because we could get so close, Joe added.

An exhibit introduction, written by Jane, hangs beneath the family vacation photo and explains that travelers to the area are able to get close to the creatures because the wildlife native to the Galapagos has lived for centuries without native predators. In short, theyre not afraid, Jane said.While snorkeling off the coast of one of the islands, Joe and Anna spent nearly 10 minutes swimming next to a giant tortoise. The distinguished tortoise was only about 6 to 15 feet away from them the whole time, Joe said. The trip was much more than a vacation for the family it was an indepth science and history course on the islands as well. Before the trip, the five family members had many dinnertime conversations about the islands and their storied history. The oldest island is thought to have formed between 5 and 10 million years ago. Spanish adventurers who thought the shape of some of the giant tortoises shells resembled saddles galapagos in Spanish named the islands such. Charles Darwin has significant connections to the islands known for the vast number of endemic species because his research there contributed to his natural selection theory of evolution. The Charles Darwin Foundation and Research Station on Santa Cruz Island is a conservation minded organization that partly focuses on sustainable and responsible tourism in the islands.



A corner in the community room at the library is courtesy of 7-year-old Ben it features a poster and diorama the then-Kindergarten student made himself. As the youngest member of the family, Jane thought it especially important that the trip have a significant educational component for Ben. She spent time studying the islands and their native animals before the trip with Ben so that hed be more likely to absorb more while he was there.In the end, the family came away with a tremendous sense of appreciation and trepidation for the habitat, which is under pressure from non-native mammals, human developments and visitors like themselves, who came for a peak at the wonders of its nature and inevitably leave a trace of our presence. In the past 16 years, the number of visitors to the islands has tripled, Jane said.We left ever mindful of the need for our footprints into the natural world to be as light and respectful as possible, the familys letter, posted next to the exhibit, said.Arts & Entertainment Writer Caramie Schnell can be reached at 748-2984 or cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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