The Galápagos Islands (Official name: Archipiélago de Colón; other Spanish names: Islas de Colón or Islas Galápagos, from galápago, "saddle"—after the shells of saddlebacked Galápagos tortoises) are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed around the equator, 972 km west of continental Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean.
The Galápagos archipelago has a population of around 40,000, is a province of Ecuador, a country in northwestern South America, and the islands are all part of Ecuador's national park system. The principal language on the islands is Spanish.
The islands are famed for their vast number of endemic species and the studies by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle that contributed to the inception of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.
"Galapago" is an old Spanish word, meaning saddle. The large Galapagos Tortoises on some of the islands had a shell that resembled an old Spanish saddle, thus the name. The tortoise is a unique animal found only in the Galapagos Islands, yet there are no more than 200 in the 13 main islands.
Located in the eastern Pacific Ocean at 972 km off the west coast of South America. The closest land mass is the mainland of Ecuador to the east (the country to which they belong), to the North is Cocos Island 720 km and to the South is Easter Island and San Felix Island at 3200 km.
The islands are found at the coordinates 1°40'N-1°36'S, 89°16'-92°01'W. Straddling the equator, islands in the chain are located in both the northern and southern hemisphere with Volcan Wolf and Volcano Ecuador on Isla Isabela being directly on the equator line. Española the southernmost island and Darwin the northernmost island are spread out over a distance of 220 km.
The Galapagos Archipelago consists of 7880 square km of land over 45,000 square km. The largest of the islands, Isabela, measures 4,588 square km and making up half of the total land area of the Galapagos. Volcan Wolf, on Isabela is the highest point with an elevation of 1,707 m above sea level.
The group consists of 13 main islands, 6 smaller islands, and 107 rocks and islets. The islands are located at the Galapagos Triple Junction. It is also atop the Galapagos hotspot, a place where the earth's crust is being melted from below by a mantle plume, creating volcanoes. The oldest island is thought to have formed between 5 and 10 million years ago. The youngest islands, Isabela and Fernandina, are still being formed, with the most recent volcanic eruption in May, 2008 when the 5,541-feet- (1,690-metre-) high Cerro Azul mountain started spewing lava after 10 years of inactivity on the island of Isabela.
The main islands of the archipelago (with their English names) shown alphabetically. :
During World War II Baltra was established as a US Air Force Base. Crews stationed at Baltra patrolled the Pacific for enemy submarines as well as providing protection for the Panama Canal. After the war the facilities were given to the government of Ecuador. Today the island continues as an official Ecuadorian military base. The foundations and other remains of the US base can still be seen as you cross the island.
Until 1986, Baltra Airport was the only airport serving the Galápagos. Now there are two airports which receive flights from the continent, the other located on San Cristóbal Island. Private planes flying to Galapagos must fly to Baltra as it is the only airport with facilities for planes overnight.
Arriving into Baltra all visitors are immediately transported by bus to one of two docks. The first dock is located in a small bay where the boats cruising Galapagos await passengers. The second is a ferry dock which connects Baltra to the island of Santa Cruz.
During the 1940s scientists decided to move 70 of Baltra's Land Iguanas to the neighboring North Seymour Island as part of an experiment. This move had unexpected results for during the military occupation of Baltra in World War II, the native iguanas became extinct on the island. During the 1980s iguanas from North Seymour were brought to the Charles Darwin Research Station as part of a breeding and repopulation project and in the 1990s land iguanas were reintroduced to Baltra. As of 1997 scientists counted 97 iguanas living on Baltra 13 of which were born on the islands.
In 2007 and 2008 the Baltra airport is being remodeled to include additional restaurants, shops and an improved visitor area.
Its name was given in honor of Spain. It also is known as Hood after an English nobleman. It has an area of 60 square kilometres (23 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 206 metres (676 ft).
Española is the oldest island at around 3.5 million years and the southernmost in the chain. The island's remote location has a large number of endemic fauna. Secluded from the other islands, wildlife on Española adapted to the island's environment and natural resources. marine iguanas on Española are the only ones that change color during breeding season.
The Waved Albatross is found on the island. The island's steep cliffs serve as the perfect runways for these large birds which take off for their ocean feeding grounds near the mainland of Ecuador and Peru.
Española has two visitor sites. Gardner Bay is a swimming and snorkeling site as well as offering a great beach. Punta Suarez has migrant, resident, and endemic wildlife including brightly colored Marine Iguana, Española Lava Lizards, Hood Mockingbirds, Swallow-tailed Gulls, Blue-footed Booby,Red-Footed Booby and Nazca Boobies, Galápagos Hawks, a selection of Finch, and the Waved Albatross.
This island was named in honor of Queen Isabella. With an area of 4,640 square kilometers (1,792 sq mi), it is the largest island of the Galápagos. Its highest point is Wolf Volcano with an altitude of 1,707 meters (5,600 ft). The island's seahorse shape is the product of the merging of six large volcanoes into a single landmass. On this island Galápagos Penguins, Flightless Cormorants, Marine Iguanas, pelicans and Sally Lightfoot crabs abound. At the skirts and calderas of the volcanos of Isabela, Land Iguanas and Galápagos Tortoises can be observed, as well as Darwin Finches, Galápagos Hawks, Galápagos Doves and very interesting lowland vegetation. The third-largest human settlement of the archipelago, Puerto Villamil, is located at the south-eastern tip of the island.
Just north of the Baltra Airport is the small islet of North Seymour. North Seymour was created by seismic uplift rather than being of volcanic origin. The island has a flat profile with cliffs only a few meters from the shoreline, where swallowtail gulls and tropicbirds sit perched in ledges. A tiny forest of silver-grey Palo santotrees stand just above the landing, usually without leaves, waiting for rain to bring them into bloom. The island is teeming with life. Visiting the island you may have to give way to a passing sea lion or marine iguana. Flocks of pelicans and swallow tailed gulls feed off shore and seasonally masked boobies can also be seen.
North Seymour is an extraordinary place for breeding birds and is home to one of the largest populations of nesting blue-footed boobies and magnificent frigate birds. Pairs of blue-footed boobies can be seen conducting their mating ritual as they offer each other gifts, whistle and honk, stretch their necks towards the sky, spread their wings, and dance--showing off their bright blue feet. Magnificent frigatebirds perch in low bushes, near the boobies, while watching over their large chicks. The frigates are huge, dark acrobats with a wingspan. Male frigates can puff up their scarlet throat sacks to resemble a giant red balloon. Boobies and frigates have an interesting relationship. Boobies are excellent hunters and fish in flocks. The frigates by comparison are pirates, they dive bomb the boobies to force them to drop their prey. Then the acrobatic frigate swoops down and picks up the food before it hits the water.
Named after the Pinzón brothers, captains of the Pinta and Niña caravels. Has an area of 18 square kilometers (7 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 458 metres (1,503 ft). Sea lions, Galápagos hawks, giant tortoises, marine iguanas, and dolphins can be seen here. The Pinta island was home to the last remaining Pinta Tortoise, called Lonesome George. He does not actually live on Pinta Island any longer, he is at a research facility
A small island directly north of Santa Cruz and directly west of Baltra, this very inaccessible island appears, though unnamed, on Ambrose Cowley's 1684 chart. It is important as the location of multi-decade finch population studies by Peter and Rosemary Grant.
Although located on the Equator, the Humboldt Current brings cold water to the islands, causing frequent drizzles during most of the year. The weather is periodically influenced by the El Niño phenomenon which brings warmer temperatures and heavy rains.
During the season known as the "Garua" (June to November) the temperature by the sea is 22°C, a steady and cold wind blows from South and Southeast, and frequent drizzles (Garuas) last most of the day, along with dense fog which conceals the islands. During the warm season (December to May) the average sea and air temperature rises to 25°C, there is no wind at all, there are sporadic though strong rains and the sun shines.
Weather changes as altitude increases in the large islands. Temperature decreases gradually with altitude, while precipitation increases due to the condensation of moisture in clouds on the slopes. There is a large variation in precipitation from one place to another, not only with altitude but also depending on the location of the islands, and also with the seasons.
The following table corresponding to the wet 1969 shows the variation of precipitation in different places of Santa Cruz Island:
|Location||Charles Darwin Station||Devine Farm||Media Luna|
|Altitude||6 m||320 m||620 m|
|January||23.0 mm||78.0 mm||172.6 mm|
|February||16.8 mm||155.2 mm||117.0 mm|
|March||249.0 mm||920.8 mm||666.7 mm|
|April||68.5 mm||79.5 mm||166.4 mm|
|May||31.4 mm||214.6 mm||309.8 mm|
|June||16.8 mm||147.3 mm||271.8 mm|
|July||12.0 mm||42.2 mm||135.6 mm|
|August||3.8 mm||13.7 mm||89.5 mm|
|September||18.5 mm||90.9 mm||282.6 mm|
|October||3.2 mm||22.6 mm||96.5 mm|
|November||11.0 mm||52.8 mm||172.7 mm|
|December||15.7 mm||84.1 mm||175.3 mm|
|TOTALS||469.7 mm||1901.7 mm||2656.4 mm|
The precipitation also depends on the geographical location. During March 1969 the precipitation over Charles Darwin Station, on the southern coast of Santa Cruz was 249.0 mm, while on Baltra Island the precipitation during the same month was only 137.6 mm. This is due to the fact that Baltra is located behind Santa Cruz with respect to the prevailing southerly winds, so most of the moisture gets precipitated in the Santa Cruz highlands.
There are significant changes in precipitation from one year to another too. At Charles Darwin Station the precipitation during March 1969 was 249.0 mm, but during March 1970 it was only 1.2 mm.
The first English captain to visit the Galápagos Islands was Richard Hawkins, in 1593. Until the early 19th century, the archipelago was often used as a hideout by mostly English pirates who pilfered Spanish galleons carrying gold and silver from South America to Spain.
Alexander Selkirk, whose adventures in Juan Fernández Islands inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe, visited the Galápagos in 1708 after he was picked up from Juan Fernández by the privateer Woodes Rogers. Rogers was refitting his ships in the islands after sacking Guayaquil.
The first scientific mission to the Galápagos arrived in 1790 under the leadership of Alessandro Malaspina, a Sicilian captain whose expedition was sponsored by the King of Spain. However, the records of the expedition were lost.
In 1793, James Colnett made a description of the flora and fauna of Galápagos and suggested that the islands could be used as base for the whalers operating in the Pacific Ocean. He also drew the first accurate navigation charts of the islands. Whalers killed and captured thousands of the Galápagos tortoises to extract their fat. The tortoises could also be kept on board ship as a means of providing of fresh protein as these animals could survive for several months on board without any food or water. The hunting of the tortoises was responsible for greatly diminishing, and in some cases eliminating, certain species. Along with whalers came the fur-seal hunters who brought the population of this animal close to extinction.
Ecuador annexed the Galápagos Islands on February 12, 1832, naming it Archipelago of Ecuador. This was a new name that added to several names that had been, and are still, used to refer to the archipelago. The first governor of Galápagos, General José de Villamil, brought a group of convicts to populate the island of Floreana and in October 1832 some artisans and farmers joined.
The voyage of the Beagle brought the survey ship HMS Beagle under captain Robert FitzRoy to the Galápagos on September 15, 1835 to survey approaches to harbors. The captain and others on board including his companion the young naturalist Charles Darwin made a scientific study of geology and biology on four of the thirteen islands before they left on October 20 to continue on their round-the-world expedition. Darwin noticed that mockingbirds differed between islands, though he thought the birds now known as Darwin's finches were unrelated to each other and did not bother labelling them by island. The governor of the prison colony on Charles Island told him that tortoises differed from island to island. Towards the end of the voyage Darwin speculated that the distribution of the mockingbirds and the tortoises might "undermine the stability of Species". When specimens of birds were analysed on his return to England it was found that many apparently different kinds of birds were species of finches which were also unique to islands. These facts were crucial in Darwin's development of his theory of natural selection explaining evolution, which was presented in The Origin of Species.
José Valdizán and Manuel Julián Cobos tried a new colonization, beginning the exploitation of a type of lichen found in the islands (Roccella portentosa) used as a coloring agent. After the assassination of Valdizán by some of his workers, Cobos brought from the continent a group of more than a hundred workers to San Cristóbal island and tried his luck at planting sugar cane. He ruled in his plantation with an iron hand which lead to his assassination in 1904. Since 1897 Antonio Gil began another plantation in Isabela island.
Over the course of a whole year, from September 1904, an expedition of the Academy of Sciences of California, led by Rollo Beck, stayed in the Galápagos collecting scientific material on geology, entomology, ornithology, botany, zoology and herpetology. Another expedition from that Academy was done in 1932 (Templeton Crocker Expedition) to collect insects, fish, shells, fossils, birds and plants.
During World War II Ecuador authorized the United States to establish a naval base in Baltra island and radar stations in other strategic locations.
In 1946 a penal colony was established in Isabela Island, but it was suspended in 1959.
San Cristobal Canton with capital in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. It has the following parishes: Progreso, with the following precincts: La Soledad, El Socavon, Tres Palos and El Chino, and Santa Maria Island, with the town of Puerto Velasco Ibarra. The following Islands are under the jurisdiction of this Canton: Española, Santa Fe and Genovesa.
Santa Cruz Canton, with capital in Puerto Ayora. Its has the following parishes: Bellavista, with the precincts El Occidente, El Carmen, Santa Rosa, and Saasaca. Under its jurisdiction are the following Islands: Santiago, Marchena, Pinta, Pinzon, Rabida and Baltra.
Isabela Island, with capital in Puerto Villamil, and the following parishes: Tomás de Berlanga, with its precincts: Las Merceditas, San Antonio de los Tintos, Cerro Azul and Alemania. Under the jurisdiction of this Canton are the Islands of Fernandina, Wolf and Darwin.
There is a Provincial Judge, as well as Cantonal Judges to in each Canton to deal with misdemeanor cases, as well as Laboral Judges. But for felonies punishable with prison, the province is under the jurisdiction of the Criminal Courts of the Province of Guayas in mainland Ecuador. The causes can be delivered without the use of an attorney. All of the sentences delivered by Provincial and Cantonal Judges can be appealed to the Superior Court of Justice of Guayas Province with seat in Guayaquil.
It is expressely stated that it is the duty of the Provincial authorities to protect the flora and fauna of the Province in coordination with competent organisms and authorities, both national and international.
In 1959, approximately 1,000 to 2,000 people called the islands their home. In 1972 a census was done in the archipelago and a population of 3,488 was recorded. By the 1980s, this number had risen to more than 15,000 people, and 2006 estimates place the population around 40,000 people.
Five of the islands are inhabited: Baltra, Floreana, Isabela, San Cristobal and Santa Cruz.
Though the first protective legislation for the Galápagos was enacted in 1934 and supplemented in 1936, it was not until the late 1950s that positive action was taken to control what was happening to the native flora and fauna. In 1955, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature organized a fact-finding mission to the Galápagos. Two years later, in 1957, UNESCO in cooperation with the government of Ecuador sent another expedition to study the conservation situation and choose a site for a research station.
In 1959, the centenary year of Charles Darwin's publication of The Origin of Species, the Ecuadorian government declared 97.5% of the archipelago's land area a national park, excepting areas already colonised. The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) was founded the same year. The core responsibility of CDF, an international non-governmental organization constituted in Belgium, is to conduct research and provide the research findings to the Government of Ecuador for effective management of Galapagos. CDF´s research efforts work began with the establishment of the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island in 1964. During the early years conservation programs, such as eradication of introduced species and protection of native species, were carried out by research station personnel. Now much of that work is accomplished by the Galapagos National Park Service using the research findings and methodolgies developed by CDF.
In 1986 the surrounding 70,000 square kilometres (43,496 sq mi.) of ocean was declared a marine reserve, second only in size to Australia's Great Barrier Reef. In 1990 the archipelago became a whale sanctuary. In 1978 UNESCO recognised the islands as a World Heritage Site, and in 1985 a Biosphere Reserve. This was later extended in December 2001 to include the marine reserve.
Noteworthy species include:
Some of the most harmful introduced plants are the Guayaba or Guava Psidium guajava, avocado Persea americana, cascarilla Cinchona pubescens, balsa Ochroma pyramidale, blackberry Rubus glaucus, various citrus (orange, grapefruit, lemon), floripondio Datura arborea, higuerilla Ricinus communis and the elephant grass Pennisetum purpureum. These plants have invaded large areas and eliminated endemic species in the humid zones of San Cristobal, Floreana, Isabela and Santa Cruz. Also, these harmful plants are just a few of introduced species on the Galapagos Islands. There are over 700 introduced plant species today. There are only 500 native and endemic species. This difference is creating a major problem for the islands and the natural species that inhabit them.
Many species were introduced to the Galápagos by pirates. Thor Heyerdahl quotes documents that mention that the Viceroy of Peru, knowing that British pirates ate the goats that they themselves had released in the islands, ordered dogs to be freed there to eliminate the goats. Also, when colonization of Floreana by José de Villamil failed, he ordered that the goats, donkeys, cows, and other animals from the farms in Floreana be transferred to other islands for the purpose of later colonization.
Non-native goats, pigs, dogs, rats, cats, mice, sheep, horses, donkeys, cows, poultry, ants, cockroaches, and some parasites inhabit the islands today. Dogs and cats attack the tame birds and destroy nests of birds, land tortoises, and marine turtles. They sometimes kill small Galápagos tortoises and iguanas. Pigs are even more harmful, covering larger areas and destroying the nests of tortoises, turtles and iguanas as well as eating the animals' native food. Pigs also knock down vegetation in their search for roots and insects. This problem abounds in Cerro Azul volcano and Isabela, and in Santiago pigs may be the cause of the disappearance of the land iguanas that were so abundant when Darwin visited. The black rat Rattus rattus attacks small Galápagos tortoises when they leave the nest, so that in Pinzón they stopped the reproduction for a period of more than 50 years; only adults were found on that island. Also, where the black rat is found, the endemic rat has disappeared. Cows and donkeys eat all the available vegetation and compete with native species for the scarce water. In 1959, fishermen introduced one male and two female goats to Pinta island; by 1973 the National Park service estimated the population of goats to be over 30,000 individuals. Goats were also introduced to Marchena in 1967 and to Rabida in 1971. However a recent goat eradication program has cleared most of the goat population from Isabela.
The fast growing poultry industry on the inhabited islands has been cause for concern from local conservationists, who fear that domestic birds could introduce disease into the endemic and wild bird populations.
The Galápagos marine sanctuary is under threat from a host of illegal fishing activities, in addition to other problems of development. The most pressing threat to the Marine Reserve comes from local, mainland and foreign fishing targeting marine life illegally within the Reserve, such as sharks (hammerheads and other species) for their fins, and the harvest of sea cucumbers out of season. Development threatens both land and sea species. The growth of both the tourism industry and local populations fuelled by high birth rates and illegal immigration threaten the wildlife of the Archipelago. The recent grounding of the oil tanker Jessica and the subsequent oil spill brought this threat to world attention.
Currently, the rapidly growing problems, including tourism and a human population explosion, are further destroying habitats.
On January 28, 2008, Galapagos National Park official Victor Carrion announced the killing of 53 sea lions (13 pups, 25 youngsters, 9 males and 6 females) at Pinta, Galapagos Islands nature reserve with their heads caved in. In 2001 poachers killed 35 male sea lions.