Galapagos Islands Information
The Galapagos Islands is an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, 972 km west of Ecuador, consisting of 13 main volcanic islands, 6 small islands and 107 rocks and alluvial areas. It is believed that the first island was formed 5-10 million years ago as a result of tectonic activity. The youngest islands – Isabela and Fernandina – are still at the stage of formation, the last volcanic eruption was observed in 2005.
The Galapagos Islands belong to the state of Ecuador and make up the province of Galapagos. The population of the archipelago is 25,124 (2010). The area is 8010 km².
The islands are known primarily for the large number of local species of fauna and for the study of Charles Darwin, which served as the first impetus for Darwin to create an evolutionary theory of the origin of species.
Origin of name
The islands got their name from the giant sea turtles that lived on them, in Spanish they were called in the plural “galápagos” – “land turtles”.
The Galapagos Islands were officially discovered in March 1535 by a Spanish-born priest, Thomas de Berlanga, who sailed from Panama to Peru but accidentally deviated from his intended path. On February 12, 1832, Ecuador annexed the Galapagos Islands. In 1835, an expedition, which included the young naturalists Charles Darwin and Robert Fitzroy, explored the islands.
In 1936, they were declared a National Park (before that, the islands were a place of exile for convicts), in 1978 – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in 1985 – a World Biosphere Reserve. In 1953, Thor Heyerdahl visited the islands in search of the heritage of the Incas.
The islands are located near the equator. From 1° 40′ north latitude to 1° 36′ south latitude, and from 89° 16′ to 92° 01′ west longitude. There are practically no sources of fresh water on the islands.
The archipelago is famous for its flora and fauna. A large number of the inhabitants of the archipelago are endemic. This attracts many tourists. Diving is widespread. Volcano Wolf – the highest point of the Galapagos Islands (1707 m above sea level).
Despite the latitude, due to the cold current, the climate in the Galapagos is much cooler than other areas at the equator. The water temperature sometimes drops to 20 °C, and the average annual is 23-24 °C.
Although the first environmental legislation in the archipelago was adopted as early as 1934, and supplemented in 1936, no action was taken to control the local flora and fauna until the end of the 1950s. Only in 1955, the International Union for Conservation of Nature made a fact-finding mission to survey the archipelago. Two years later, in 1957, UNESCO, with the assistance of the government of Ecuador, organized another expedition to study the conservation situation in the archipelago and select a site for the construction of a research station.
In 1959, on the centenary of the first publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, the government of Ecuador announced the creation of a National Park on the Islands, the total area of which amounted to 97.5% of the entire terrestrial territory of the archipelago. In the same year, the international Charles Darwin Foundation was founded, headquartered in Brussels. The original goals of the Foundation were to ensure the preservation of the unique ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands and to promote the scientific research necessary for the conservation of nature. Conservation work began with the establishment in 1964 of the Research Station. Charles Darwin on Santa Cruz Island. In the early years, the station workers carried out work to remove imported, non-native species of animals and plants from the archipelago; and the protection of native species.
After the founding of the National Park, between 1,000 and 2,000 people settled on the island. In 1972, a population census was conducted, and on its basis, there were already about 3,488 people in the archipelago. By the 1980s, the population increased significantly, reaching 15,000 people, and in 2006, according to rough estimates, there are already about 25,000 people on the islands.
In 1986, the surrounding area of 70,000 km² was declared a “marine conservation area”, the second largest after the Australian Great Barrier Reef. In 1990, the archipelago became a haven for whales. In 1978, UNESCO declared the islands a World Heritage Site, and in 1985 a Biosphere Reserve.
The main threat to the archipelago is introduced (accidentally or specially introduced) various species of plants and animals, such as goats, cats or cattle. Reproducing rapidly, these species devastate the habitat of the native inhabitants. Due to the small number of natural predators on the islands, native species are defenseless against introduced species and often become their victims.
The most harmful plants for the archipelago are guava (Psidium guajava), avocado (Persea americana), cinchona (Cinchona pubescens), pyramidal ochrom (Ochroma pyramidale), blackberry (Rubus glaucus), various citrus fruits (orange, grapefruit, lemon), fragrant dope (Datura arborea), castor bean (Ricinus communis) and elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum). These plants have spread widely and displaced native species in the humid areas of the islands of San Cristobal, Floreana, Isabela and Santa Cruz. Many species were brought to the island by pirates. The well-known traveler Thor Heyerdahl pointed to documents that indicate that the Viceroy of Peru, knowing that pirates eat wild goats on the islands (brought and released by them), ordered dogs to be released there to destroy these goats. After the unsuccessful colonization of Florean Island, José de Villamil ordered the distribution of goats, donkeys, cows and other domestic animals from the island’s farms and other islands for future colonization. At present, the archipelago is still inhabited by many foreign animals such as goats, pigs, dogs, rats, mice, cats, sheep, horses, donkeys, cows, poultry, ants, cockroaches and some parasites. Dogs and cats attack defenseless wild birds and destroy their nests, catch iguanas, land and sea turtles. Pigs cause even more damage by destroying the nests of turtles and iguanas, as well as destroying natural vegetation in search of insects and roots. It is possible that pigs caused the extinction of iguanas on the island of Santiago, although they were there in Darwin’s time. Black rats (Rattus rattus) attack small Galápagos tortoises when they leave the nest, and as a result, the tortoises stopped breeding on Pinzón Island for more than 50 years; now only adults can be found there. Also, with the advent of the black rat, the local endemic rat disappeared. Cows and donkeys eat all the available vegetation in the area and thus take away the already small amount of water from local varieties. In 1959, fishermen brought two goats and one goat to Pinta Island; in 1973, the National Park Service estimated the number of goats on the island at over 30,000. In 1967, goats were brought to the island of Marchena, and in 1971 to the island of Rabida.
The rapid growth of poultry on uninhabited islands has raised scientists’ concerns about the possibility of disease transmission from poultry to wild birds and the emergence of an endemic. The waters of the Galapagos Islands are threatened by illegal fishing, among other problems. Of particular concern are the hunting of native sharks and the off-season harvesting of sea cucumbers. Also of concern is the rapid development of the tourism industry and the increase in the local population caused by a high birth rate and illegal immigration. The recent accident on the oil tanker “Jessica”, which resulted in a large oil slick, caused a surge in public attention in the world to the problems of the archipelago.
National parks of the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands National Park is the first and largest park in Ecuador. The main inhabitants of this unique place are giant tortoises, boobies, cormorants, albatrosses and marine iguanas.
Currently, about 90% of the territory of the archipelago is under protection, so tourists should follow strict rules for visiting. Firstly, you should only walk on permitted trails (there are 62 permitted sites and trails between them). Secondly, all visitors must be accompanied by a guide from the park service. It is also forbidden to perform any actions that can harm wildlife, ranging from loud noises to making fires.
Entrance to the Galapagos Islands National Park is paid (currently the cost is about 100 USD). Payment is made only on the spot, directly upon arrival in the Galapagos – and only in cash.