South Plaza Island
The Plazas are a pair of islets situated just off the east coast of Santa Cruz. Only South Plaza is a Visitor Site and is another example of a geological uplift. In this case, the southern portion of this narrow islet (only a couple hundred yards wide) has considerably more uplift to it, forming cliffs with spectacular views.
South Plaza is one of the smallest islands to be visited. A large colony of sea lions, numbering about 1,000 bulls, cows and pups, occupies the smooth rocks here.
The small cactus forest is populated by land iguanas, which can be seen sunning themselves or feeding on Opuntia pads and fruits. Along the cliff edge nesting swallow-tailed gulls are the predominant seabirds, along with tropicbirds and shearwaters. During the rainy season the dormant ground cover undergoes a drastic change. The red Sesuvium turns bright green and the leafless evening-blooming Portulaca bursts into large yellow flowers relished by the land iguanas.
Land Visitor Sites
South Plaza Island visitor site:
The tour begins with a dry landing. There is often a sea lion guarding the natural dock; let the Guide take care of the situation (which is often achieved with little more than a clapping of the hands).
The trail leading to the cliffs goes through a combined Coastal and Dry Vegetation Zone with prickly pear cactus and extensive patches of salt-tolerant Sesuvium. The Sesuvium is usually seen as distinctive red mats, although it turns green when rainfall is abundant.
One of the first stops is in a small “forest” of prickly pear (Opuntia) cactus, which provides ample food to a population of land iguanas, also found in this area. For most visitors, it will be the only opportunity to see land iguanas. Over the last few years, a small population of “hybrid” iguanas have been observed here – basically, a cross between a land and a marine iguana. The hybrids look quite different, with a “striped” appearance and a facial structure that is not as flattened” as a marine iguana nor as elongated as a land iguana.
The trail on this Island features a walk along stunning seaside cliffs. Red-billed tropicbirds whistle overhead and frequently, the chance to witness mating rituals is available.