By Sally Kettle
27 February 2016
Isla Espanola (BBC News) – The Pacific Ocean laps just before me and a warm breeze reminds me I'm in the tropics. But this is no beach holiday and there's not a tourist in sight - just the raucous barking of a sea lion pup intent on making himself heard across the entirety of the otherwise peaceful island.
My loud companion is a Galapagos fur seal - they are found on most of the beaches and surrounding waters of the archipelago. They frolic above and below the waves and sleep languidly on hot rocks and warm sand. […]
Climatic events thousands of miles away have the power to transform this landscape. Some fear that by the end of the year there will be no pups barking by the shoreline. A phenomenon called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation has precipitated widespread changes in sea-level pressure across Indonesia, Australasia and the tropical Pacific. The effect can push warmer, nutrient-poor waters towards the Galapagos, and influence the weather as far away as Europe. […]
With a shortage of essential nutrients, there is a sharp increase in marine mortality and breeding failure among creatures dependent on the ocean - marine iguanas, seabirds and of course the fur seals.
In 1998 the islands experienced one of the most powerful El Niños on record. All of the fur seal pups died - their mothers were unable to find food close enough to the islands, meaning the little ones were left alone for longer than usual and died of starvation. The vast majority of the marine iguana population also perished as the algae they scavenge from the sea floor failed to grow in the warmer waters. [more]