The Spread / Alex Mustard – Diving with Dinosaurs
Marine iguana feeding. Taken with a Nikon D5 and Nikonos 13mm, Subal housing, two Retra strobes. 1/125th @ f/14, ISO 500.
MARINE IGUANAS are found only in Galapagos. For many photographers they are top of the list of what they want to have stored safely on their hard drive before the long flight home.
Marine iguanas evolved from their land-bound relatives. They found that the barren islands offered little food while the rich seas were packed with tasty seaweeds. They learned to freedive, powering themselves down with muscular tails, then gripping the rocks with large claws to feed.
Photographically they are straightforward if you can get in front of them, which starts by going to Galapagos and diving in the right place.
Then you have to get close, and the trick is to wait until they’re feeding.
Try to approach one when it’s looking for food and it will be off, but once it starts feeding it’s possible to move right in, slowly, with a wide-angle lens. Patience brings rich rewards.
The largest iguanas are found on the western edge of the archipelago off Isabela and Fernandina Islands, where the water is cold and the seaweed grows richly.
Being cold-blooded, the iguanas start their day by heating up, soaking in the sun with their black skin. The sunnier the day, the more head into the water and feed. Mid-morning, or dive two of the day, is the right time for good encounters.
You still need some luck: a sunny, low-wind day is a big benefit. Iguanas feed in relatively shallow water, so the sites can be blown out by the weather.
Furthermore, not all Galapagos liveaboards plan a dive with the iguanas, so check the itinerary before booking.
Finally, the National Park does, periodically, close some dive-sites as part of their management. All of which makes the chance to photograph this iconic species extra-special.