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Gardner Bay - Española Island

A visit to Gardner Bay consists of two different yet equally fantastic spots. The bay is mostly known for the gorgeous white sand beach, which is long, secluded, and features a colony of sea lions for some good photo taking. The surf in the bay is not particularly rough, and the swimming is excellent. If you're lucky, a sea lion may want to swim with you! The colony at Gardner Bay is quite friendly and unafraid of tourists.

As you sun yourself on the beach, the famous Española mockingbirds will most likely pay you a visit. Over the years, these clever birds have learned that tourists are a great source of drinking water, and will hop up to you and look directly up, as if to say "Come on, be a pal, give a poor bird a few drops of your water!" Guides have been discouraging visitors from giving them water, as it disrupts their natural life. Don't worry: there is enough water on Española for the mockingbirds, they just have to work a little harder for it when tourists don't give it to them.

The best part of a visit to Gardner Bay is the chance to go snorkeling off of Turtle Rock. Located just off the beach - a strong swimmer can make it there in less than ten minutes - Turtle Rock is a large rock formation that juts out of the water. When seen from just the right angle, the rocks look a lot like a giant sea turtle coming up for air.

On the side of the rock that is away from the beach, the water is a little deeper and there is a current, but it is there that you may see a white-tipped reef shark, manta ray or other spectacular marine life. On the other sides of Turtle Rock, the water is calmer and shallower and is generally easy for novice snorkelers. Go slowly and you'll see lots of fish, including schools of surgeonfish, parrotfish, wrasses and maybe even a Moorish idol, if you're lucky.

As you're swimming around the calm side of Turtle Rock, keep a close on the bottom, which is sandy with rocks and small bits of seaweed. If you're very lucky and observant, you may spot a scorpionfish. These fish are about a foot and a half long and sit on the bottom, where they blend in almost perfectly with their surroundings. There they wait until a small fish gets too close, then they gulp it down! They do have dangerous stingers which give them their name, but they are not aggressive and will not bother you unless you step on one. Scorpionfish are common in the Galapagos, but rarely spotted because they blend in so well.

Between Turtle Rock and the shore, the bottom is sandy but broken up by some larger rocks. As you swim along, keep your eyes open, as you may see one or more large stingrays resting on the bottom.

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