The Galapagos Islands are a part of Ecuador and lie 575 miles off the western coast of South America in the Pacific Ocean. The islands are best known for their study by famed naturalist Charles Darwin.
The group of 19 islands sits at the convergence of three major ocean currents and the Nazca, Cocos and Pacific tectonic plates. These act as sources of significant geological upheaval which formed the unique layout of the archipelago. The potential for geological study was the primary reason Charles Darwin, a geologist by education, sailed to the Galapagos on HMS Beagle in 1839.
The Galapagos Islands are densely populated with plant and animal life, many varieties of which are endemic to the islands. Such species include giant tortoises, daisy trees, land and marine iguanas and flightless cormorants. The Galapagos are even home to the northernmost documented species of penguins in the world. Because of the significant biodiversity and high percentage of endemic species in the Galapagos, it has been a focal point of conservation efforts.
Also present on the islands during Darwin’s expedition were a variety of finches. Darwin noted subtle differences between groups of finches on different islands that made them better suited to their unique environment. He hypothesized that such advantageous adaptations were “naturally selected” for over many generations. These observations led to the publishing and popularization of his "Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection."