The most famous explorer in the Galapagos Islands was Charles Darwin. His journey aboard the HMS Beagle was a true world-class adventure and once on the islands, his great powers of observation kept him very busy taking notes on everything he could find. These observations would leave a deep impression on Darwin, and would be the basis for his masterpiece 25 years later, his book “The Origin of Species”. Darwin’s masterpiece would not have made any sense if the Galapagos hadn’t been part of the HMS Beagle’s planned voyage.
The Galapagos became the most enigmatic tropical desert of the entire trip. How could a place with tropical vegetation also have penguins? How was it possible for the sea temperature to be so tepid while the equatorial line crossed the islands from east to west? It was these observations that left Darwin intrigued; just as a present day visitor is excited to snorkel with penguins, explore the upper reaches of the islands in search of giant tortoises, and marvel at the marine iguanas going out to sea in search of algae on the rocks or diving to great depths in search of food.
The islands have many stories to tell, and today each visitor writes his own. Many, for example, remain in silence to watch the courting ritual of blue-footed boobies, or the gathering of huge cetaceans in the waters of Canal Bolivar in the west of the Archipelago. Every day the Galapagos tells a story and does so with full force and deep sincerity. It is these stories that made many explorers feel deeply connected to the islands. In the early 40s, the United States leased Baltra Island to use as a military base because it is strategically positioned to protect the famous Panama Canal during World War II.
The Galapagos experience can be very rewarding underwater too. To see a variety of different species, such as penguins together with tropical fish, sea lions with sea turtles, and more, are unique and unimaginable elsewhere in the world. The integrity of the Galapagos Marine Reserve plays a vital role in the survival of the species on land. Two hundred years ago, the Galapagos had already been explored, and although it was discovered by accident in 1535, it was the buccaneers, pirates and whalers who took advantage of the economic possibilities the islands had to offer.
This reality demonstrated to all past explorers the strategic value in visiting the Islands. It was precisely those first buccaneers and whalers who found, in the emblematic giant tortoise a great source of food, and as a result their numbers dropped drastically. Today, thanks to the efforts of the Galapagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Research Station, the numbers and state of the surviving populations are success stories. The methods used in the Galapagos have been utilized by other countries to develop other conservation programes. In very little time, the Galapagos Islands have become a driving example for everyone.
The Galapagos experience can be very rewarding underwater too. To see a variety of different species, such as penguins together with tropical fish, sea lions with sea turtles, and more, are unique and unimaginable elsewhere in the world. The integrity of the Galapagos Marine Reserve plays a vital role in the survival of the species on land.
Ninety-five percent of the Galapagos Islands’ biodiversity remains intact. In other words, the presence of man on the islands has only caused a 5% loss of original biodiversity. This reality makes the Galapagos the best conservation model of oceanic islands.
There’s no doubt that Darwin’s finches are a group of birds that may seem simple because they are not particularly attention-grabbing. However, modern studies of natural selection and evolutionary biology base their research on these groups of birds in order to prove their principles. When exploring any island in the Galapagos, it is well-worth taking the time to appreciate these birds. Some islands are perfect for understanding the differences between the 13 species of finches.
Islands such as Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, to Española, Isabela and Genovesa allow you not only see different species of finches but also marked differences in the size of the beaks and feeding behaviour of each. This unique bird has been an example of evolution that Darwin observed and draw for ours and days. The key to obeserve these creatures is a good pair of binoculars and careful attention to details. The different beak sizes fit perfectly with the idea of different tools that serve several functions.
This is the basis of natural selection: different available niches have been occupied by various adaptations of the original forms. This is the magical world we see and appreciate on the Galapagos islands.
These islands are of course a national park, but they are also a marine reserve. The marine habitat supports most of the species we see on land since their survival is dependent on the ocean. It is in the sea where albatrosses, boobies, frigate birds, penguins, cormorants, sea lions, seagulls, herons, and many more feed. And it is on land where we see the entirety of these species.
The colours of the islands come from the tropical equatorial light and the extensive volcanic eruptions from different volcanic islands. The tuff is a series of layers of compacted ash that forms when magma comes into sudden contact with sea water at a shallow depth. The colours of these formations range from yellowy-brown, dark brown, orange, to dark red and their respective ranges. These, mixed with the light from sunrise or sunset will make any visitor fall in love with the Galapagos islands.