The Ambiguous Boundary between Life and Death on an Ancient Landscape

Lava flows from island peaks like giant rivers, huge billowing clouds fog the coastline and boil wildlife alive, and female iguanas rumble against one another for prime pockets of 130-degree volcanic ash to incubate their eggs. To live on the archipelago of the untamable Galapagos Islands is to travel through the mists of time back to an ancient landscape.
Following the migration patterns of Galapagos’ land iguanas, National Geographic filmmakers David Parer and Elizabeth Parer-Cook described these prehistoric creatures as “cat-sized monsters… like refugees of a lost world.”
081126133413[1]Very little is documented on this species that wanders a “hazardous moonscape of lava as brittle as glass.” The land iguana’s home, Fernandina Volcano, sticks out of the sea like a belly button. Because it is one of the most active volcanoes on present-day earth, the pristine island remains among the world’s most untouched lands. For a land iguana, life is a carefully balanced mix of good planning, flexibility and the ability to respond instantaneously to the unpredictable.
As for the intrepid female iguanas, the jaws of this sleeping, but stirring giant are the ideal nursery for hatching their young. Nesting in volcanic fumaroles comparable to powder kegs presents the iguanas with a tightrope walk between budding life and all-consuming death.
To film this migratory life-cycle process is just as hazardous for the human documentarian. Merely scaling the seven blistering hours of lava rock to the volcano’s rim is taxing enough. The three-hour descent into an eruptible hot bed of magma, however, is work of the truly intrepid. Scrambling down the loose rock landscape could trigger avalanches of rocks. But as Parer weighed the possibilities of the perilous adventure, he decided that if Fernandina were to blow up in his face, he would enjoy the extraordinary spectacle while he could…


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