Galapagos Islands, climate change, El Niño, La Niña, effects, flora, fauna, snorkeling

What does El Niño 2015-2016 mean for the Galapagos Islands?

What can you expect during your visit to the Galapagos Islands during the latest El Niño? Read on to find out.

El Niño is once again visiting the Galapagos Islands, and as is the case every 15 years or so, its presence is very much felt. With the increased rains, the landscape is lusher and greener, providing benefits for some of the islands natives – and disaster for others.

El Niño – the common name for the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a weather phenomenon that affects the Pacific Ocean every three to seven years. Water temperatures rise along the Pacific coast of South America and winds blow from Asia to America (instead of from America to Asia). This causes heavy rains along the South American coast and Galapagos, and drought in Asia. Approximately every 15 years, El Niño is particularly severe, as in 1982-1983 and 1997-1998.

By August 2015, this El Niño event already was as strong as the one in 1997-1998. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting it will begin to weaken in approximately May-July 2016.

In the Galapagos Islands, an El Niño event causes heavy rains. Terrestrial animals – like giant tortoises and land iguanas – flourish in this weather. Unfortunately, invasive species like fire ants also benefit from an El Niño, by being able to extend their range. This spells disaster for lizards and birds, who will find their hatchlings and nests attacked by swarms of ants.

On the other hand, because the ocean currents into the archipelago are warmer, food is scarce for marine iguanas, Galapagos penguins and other sea animals. During the severe 1997-1998 El Niño event, penguin, marine iguana and sea lion populations were hard-hit, with a 45 to 90 percent mortality rate. Scientists hope the effects of this El Niño will not be so severe.

What can you expect during your visit to the Galapagos Islands during this visit of El Niño? There will be short tropical storms and perhaps localized flooding. Bring a rain jacket and bug spray. Land animals – iguanas, giant tortoises and birds like Darwin finches and hawks – will be plentiful. Because of the warmer, clearer waters, snorkeling will be excellent. Keep a proper distance (the Galapagos National Park recommends at least 2 meters / 6.5 feet) distance from the animals that will be stressed by the weather phenomenon: marine iguanas, sea lions, flightless cormorants and Galapagos penguins.

Have you travelled to the Galapagos islands during a previous El Niño? Share your experience with fellow nature lovers in the below.


Galapagos Travel Planner - FREE Download


Photo credit: NOAA

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