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Galapagos Islands


The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed around the equator in the Pacific Ocean, west of continental Ecuador. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site: wildlife is its most notable feature.

The Galapagos islands and its surrounding waters are part of a province, a national park, and a biological marine reserve. The principal language on the islands is Spanish. The islands have a population of around 23,000.

The islands are geologically young and famed for their vast number of endemic species, which were studied by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle. His observations and collections contributed to the inception of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.

The first crude navigation chart of the islands was done by the buccaneer Ambrose Cowley in 1684. He named the individual islands after some of his fellow pirates or after the English noblemen who helped the privateer's cause. More recently, the Ecuadorian government gave most of the islands Spanish names. While the Spanish names are official, many users (especially ecological researchers) continue to use the older English names, particularly as those were the names used when Charles Darwin visited.

Physical geography

The islands are located in the eastern Pacific Ocean, 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 and to the south is Easter Island and San Felix Island at .

The islands are found at the coordinates 140'N136'S, 8916'9201'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. Espanola the southernmost island and Darwin the northernmost island are spread out over a distance of 220 km (137 mi). The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) considers them wholly within the South Pacific Ocean, however. The Galapagos Archipelago consists of of land spread over of ocean. The largest of the islands, Isabela, measures 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 15 main islands, 3 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 million and 10 million years ago. The youngest islands, Isabela and Fernandina, are still being formed, with the most recent volcanic eruption in April 2009 where lava from the volcanic island Fernandina started flowing both towards the island's shoreline and into the center caldera.

Main islands

The 15 main islands (with a land area larger than 1 km2) of the archipelago (with their English names) shown alphabetically:

Baltra (South Seymour) Island: Also known as South Seymour, Baltra is a small flat island located near the center of the Galapagos. It was created by Geological uplift. The island is very arid and vegetation consists of salt bushes, prickly pear cacti and palo santo trees.

Until 1986, Baltra Airport was the only airport serving the Galapagos. Now there are two airports which receive flights from the continent, the other located on San Cristobal 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.

Bartolome (Bartholomew) Island: Bartolome Island is a volcanic islet just off the east coast of Santiago Island in the Galapagos Islands Group. It is one of the "younger" islands in the Galapagos archipelago. This island, and Sulivan Bay on Santiago island, are named after naturalist and life-long friend of Charles Darwin, Sir Bartholomew James Sulivan, who was a Lieutenant aboard HMS Beagle.

Darwin (Culpepper) Island: This island is named after Charles Darwin. It has an area of 1.1 square kilometers (0.4 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 168 meters . Here fur seals, frigates, Marine iguanas, Swallow-tailed Gulls, sea lions, whales, marine turtles, Red-footed and Nazca boobies can be seen.

Espanola (Hood) Island: Its name was given in honor of Spain. It also is known as Hood after Viscount Samuel Hood. It has an area of 60 square kilometers (23 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 206 meters .

Espanola 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 Espanola adapted to the island's environment and natural resources. Marine iguanas on Espanola 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.

Espanola 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, Espanola Lava Lizards, Hood Mockingbirds, Swallow-tailed Gulls, Blue-footed Booby,Red-Footed Booby and Nazca Boobies, Galapagos Hawks, a selection of Finch, and the Waved Albatross.

Fernandina (Narborough) Island: The name was given in honor of King Ferdinand II of Aragon, who sponsored the voyage of Columbus. Fernandina has an area of 642 square kilometers (248 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 1,494 meters . This is the youngest and westernmost island. In May 13, 2005, a new very eruptive process began on this island when an ash and water vapor cloud rose to a height of and lava flows descended the slopes of the volcano on the way to the sea. Punta Espinosa is a narrow stretch of land where hundreds of Marine Iguanas gather largely on black lava rocks. The famous Flightless Cormorant inhabits this island and also Galapagos Penguins, Pelicans and Sea Lions are abundant. Different types of lava flows can be compared and the Mangrove Forests can be observed.

Floreana (Charles or Santa Maria) Island: It was named after Juan Jose Flores, the first president of Ecuador, during whose administration the government of Ecuador took possession of the archipelago. It is also called Santa Maria after one of the caravels of Columbus. It has an area of 173 square kilometers (67 sq mi) and a maximum elevation of 640 meters . It is one of the islands with the most interesting human history and one of the earliest to be inhabited. Flamingos and green sea turtles nest (December to May) on this island. The "patapegada" or Galapagos Petrel is found here, a sea bird which spends most of its life away from land. At Post Office Bay, since the 18th century whalers kept a wooden barrel that served as post office so that mail could be picked up and delivered to their destination mainly Europe and the United States by ships on their way home. At the Devil's Crown, an underwater volcanic cone, coral formations are found.

Genovesa (Tower) Island: The name is derived from Genoa, Italy where it is said Columbus was born. It has an area of 14 square kilometers (5.4 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 76 meters . This island is formed by the remaining edge of a large crater that is submerged. Its nickname of the bird island is clearly justified. At Darwin Bay, frigatebirds andswallow-tailed gulls, the only nocturnal species of gull in the world, can be seen. Red-footed boobies, noddy terns, lava gulls, tropic birds, doves, storm petrels and Darwin finches are also in sight. Prince Philip's Steps is a bird-watching plateau with Nazca and red-footed boobies. There is a large Palo Santo forest.

Isabela (Albemarle) Island (Ecuador): This island was named in honor of Queen Isabela. With an area of 4,640 square kilometers , it is the largest island of the Galapagos. Its highest point is Wolf Volcano with an altitude of 1,707 meters . The island's seahorse shape is the product of the merging of six large volcanoes into a single landmass. On this island Galapagos Penguins, Flightless Cormorants, Marine Iguanas, pelicans and Sally Lightfoot crabs abound. At the skirts and calderas of the volcanos of Isabela, Land Iguanas and Galapagos Tortoises can be observed, as well as Darwin Finches, Galapagos Hawks, Galapagos 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.

Marchena (Bindloe) Island: Named after Fray Antonio Marchena. Has an area of 130 square kilometers (50 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 343 meters .

Galapagos hawks and sea lions inhabit this island, and it is home to the Marchena Lava Lizard, an endemic animal.

North Seymour Island: Its name was given after an English nobleman called Lord Hugh Seymour. It has an area of 1.9 square kilometers (0.7 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 28 meters . This island is home to a large population of blue-footed boobies and swallow-tailed gulls. It hosts one of the largest populations of frigate birds. It was formed from geological uplift.

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 danceshowing 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.

Pinzon (Duncan) Island: Named after the Pinzon brothers, captains of the Pinta and Nina caravels. Has an area of 18 square kilometers (7 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 458 meters .

Pinta (Abingdon) Island: Named after the Pinta caravel. It has an area of and a maximum altitude of . Sea lions, Galapagos hawks, giant tortoises, marine iguanas, and dolphins can be seen here. Pinta Island was home to the last remaining Pinta Tortoise, called Lonesome George. He does not live on Pinta Island any longer but at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island where scientists are attempting to breed him.

Rabida (Jervis) Island: It bears the name of the convent of Rabida where Columbus left his son during his voyage to the Americas. Has an area of 4.9 square kilometers (1.9 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 367 meters . The high amount of iron contained in the lava at Rabida gives it a distinctive red color. White-Cheeked Pintail Ducks live in a salt-water lagoon close to the beach, where brown pelicans and boobies have built their nests. Up until recently, flamingos were also found in the salt-water lagoon, but they have since moved on to other islands, likely due to a lack of food on Rabida. Nine species of Finches have been reported in this island.

San Cristobal (Chatham) Island: It bears the name of the Patron Saint of seafarers, "St. Christopher". Its English name was given after William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham. It has an area of 558 square kilometers (215 sq mi) and its highest point rises to 730 meters . This is the first island in the Galapagos Archipelago that Charles Darwin visited during his voyage on the Beagle. This islands hosts frigate birds, sea lions, giant tortoises, blue and red footed boobies, tropicbirds, marine iguanas, dolphins, swallow-tailed gulls. Its vegetation includes Calandrinia galapagos, Lecocarpus darwinii, and trees such as Lignum vitae.The largest fresh water lake in the archipelago, Laguna El Junco, is located in the highlands of San Cristobal. The capital of the province of Galapagos, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, lies at the southern tip of the island.

Santa Cruz (Indefatigable) Island (Galapagos): Given the name of the Holy Cross in Spanish, its English name derives from the British vessel HMS Indefatigable. It has an area of 986 square kilometers (381 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 864 meters . Santa Cruz is the island that hosts the largest human population in the archipelago at the town of Puerto Ayora. The Charles Darwin Research Station and the headquarters of the Galapagos National Park Service are located here. The GNPS and CDRS operate a tortoise breeding center here, where young tortoises are hatched, reared, and prepared to be reintroduced to their natural habitat. The Highlands of Santa Cruz offer an exuberant vegetation and are famous for the lava tunnels. Large tortoise populations are found here. Black Turtle Cove is a site surrounded by mangrove which sea turtles, rays and small sharks sometimes use as a mating area. Cerro Dragon, known for its flamingo lagoon, is also located here, and along the trail one may see land iguanas foraging.

Santa Fe (Barrington) Island: Named after a city in Spain, has an area of 24 square kilometers (9 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 259 meters . Santa Fe hosts a forest of Opuntia cactus, which are the largest of the archipelago, and Palo Santo. Weathered cliffs provide a haven for swallow-tailed gulls, red-billed tropic birds, shear-waters petrels. Santa Fe species of land iguanas are often seen, as well as lava lizards.

Santiago Island (Galapagos): Its name is equivalent to Saint James in English; it is also known as San Salvador, after the first island discovered by Columbus in the Caribbean Sea. This island has an area of 585 square kilometers (226 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 907 meters . Marine iguanas, sea lions, fur seals, land and sea turtles, flamingos, dolphins and sharks are found here. Pigs and goats, which were introduced by humans to the islands and have caused great harm to the endemic species, have been eradicated . Darwin Finches and Galapagos Hawks are usually seen as well as a colony of Fur Seals. At Sullivan Bay a recent pahoehoe lava flow can be observed.

Wolf (Wenman) Island: This island was named after the German geologist Theodor Wolf. It has an area of 1.3 square kilometers (0.5 sq mi)and a maximum altitude of 253 meters . Here fur seals, frigatebirds, masked and red-footed boobies, Marine Iguanas, sharks, whales, dolphins and swallow-tailed gulls can be seen. The most famous resident is the vampire finch, which feeds partly on blood pecked from other birds and is only found on this island.

Minor islands

Daphne Major: 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.

South Plaza Island (Plaza Sur): It is named in honor of a former president of Ecuador, General Leonidas Plaza. It has an area of 0.13 square kilometers (0.05 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 23 meters . The flora of South Plaza includes Opuntia cactua and Sesuvium plants, which forms a reddish carpet on top of the lava formations. Iguanas (land and marine and some hybrids of both species) are abundant and there are a large number of birds that can be observed from the cliffs at the southern part of the island, including tropic birds and swallow-tailed gulls.

Nameless Island: The small islet is used mostly for scuba diving.

Weather

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 Nino 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 (72 F), 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 (77 F), 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:

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 , while on Baltra Island the precipitation during the same month was only . 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 , but during March 1970 it was only .

History

European discovery of the Galapagos Islands occurred when Spanish Fray Tomas de Berlanga, the fourth Bishop of Panama, sailed to Peru to settle a dispute between Francisco Pizarro and his lieutenants. De Berlanga's vessel drifted off course when the winds diminished, and his party reached the islands on March 10, 1535. According to a 1952 study by Thor Heyerdahl and Arne Skjolsvold, remains of potshards and other artifacts from several sites on the islands suggest visitation by South American peoples prior to the arrival of the Spanish.

The islands first appeared on maps in about 1570 in those drawn by Abraham Ortelius and Mercator. The islands were called "Insulae de los Galopegos" (Islands of the Tortoises).

The first English captain to visit the Galapagos 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 Fernandez Islands inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe, visited the Galapagos in 1708 after he was picked up from Juan Fernandez by the privateer Woodes Rogers. Rogers was refitting his ships in the islands after sacking Guayaquil.

The first scientific mission to the Galapagos 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 Galapagos 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 Galapagos 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 Galapagos 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 Galapagos, General Jose 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 Galapagos 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 Chatham, Charles, Albemarle and James 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 Englishman Nicolas Lawson, acting Governor of Galapagos for the Republic of the Equator, met them on Charles Island and as they walked to the prison colony 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.

Jose Valdizan and Manuel Julian 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 Valdizan by some of his workers, Cobos brought from the continent a group of more than a hundred workers to San Cristobal 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 Galapagos 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. Baltra was also 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 one crosses the island.

In 1946 a penal colony was established in Isabela Island, but it was suspended in 1959.

The Galapagos became a national park in 1959 and tourism started in the 1960s.

Politics

The islands are administered by a provincial government. It was made a province by presidential decree by President Guillermo Rodriguez Lara on February 18, 1973. The province is divided into cantons, each covering certain islands. The capital is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.

Demographics

The Galapagos Islands is one of the few places in the world without an indigenous population. The largest ethnic group is composed of Ecuadorian Mestizos, the mixed descendants of Spanish colonists and indigenous Native Americans, who arrived mainly in the last century from the continental part of Ecuador.

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.

Conservation

Though the first protective legislation for the Galapagos 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 Galapagos. 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. CDFs 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 methodologies developed by CDF.

In 1986 the surrounding 70,000 square kilometers 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:

Galapagos land iguanas, Conolophus spp.

Marine Iguana, Amblyrhynchus cristatus, the only iguana feeding in the sea

Galapagos tortoise (Galapagos Giant tortoise), Geochelone elephantopus, known as Galapago in Spanish, it gave the name to the islands

Galapagos Green Turtle, Chelonia mydas agassisi, a subspecies of the Green Turtle.

Sea cucumbers, the cause of environmental battles with fishermen over quotas of this expensive Asian delicacy.

Flightless Cormorant, Phalacrocorax harrisi

Great Frigatebird and Magnificent Frigatebird

Blue-footed Booby, Sula nebouxii, popular among visitors for their large blue feet which they show off in courtship

Galapagos Penguin, Spheniscus mendiculus, the only living tropical penguin

Waved Albatross, Phoebastria irrorata, the only living tropical albatross

Galapagos Hawk, Buteo galapagoensis, the islands' main scavenger and "environmental police"

4 endemic species of Galapagos mockingbirds, the first species Darwin noticed to vary from island to island

13 endemic species of tanagers, popularly called Darwin's finches. Among them is the Sharp-beaked Ground-finch Geospiza difficilis septentrionalis which is sometimes called the "Vampire Finch" for its blood-sucking habits, and the tool-using Woodpecker Finch, Camarhynchus pallidus

Galapagos Sea Lions, Zalophus californianus, closely related to the California Sea Lion, but smaller

Environmental threats

Introduced plants and animals, such as feral goats, cats, and cattle, brought accidentally or willingly to the islands by humans, represent the main threat to Galapagos. Quick to reproduce, these alien species decimate the habitats of native species. The native animals, lacking natural predators on the islands, are defenseless to introduced species and fall prey.

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 , 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 Galapagos 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 Jose 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 Galapagos 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 Galapagos tortoises when they leave the nest, so that in Pinzon 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 Galapagos 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.

In 2007, UNESCO put the Galapagos Islands on their World Heritage in Danger List.

On January 28, 2008, Galapagos National Park official Victor Carrion announced that 53 sea lions were killed at Pinta, Galapagos Islands nature reserve with their heads caved in. In 2001 poachers killed 35 male sea lions.

The Galapagos Islands were short-listed as a candidate to be one of the New7Wonders of Nature by the New Seven Wonders of the World Foundation. As of February 2009 the archipelago was ranking first in Group B, the category for islands.

In fiction

In the movie [[Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World]] (2003), one of the main locations is the Galapagos Islands, where naturalist Stephen Maturin discovers new animal species.

Kurt Vonnegut's Galapagos is an exploration of evolution and the absurdity of the human species, set in Guayaquil and the islands.

Herman Melville's The Encantadas, or Enchanted Isles is a collection of ten short stories based on his own experiences on the South Seas. Melville knew the Islands firsthand, though he also relied on the stories of other sailors who had visited the Galapagos, as well as authorities such as David Porter's Journal of a Cruise Made to the Pacific Ocean (1822).

In the Doctor Who audio drama Bloodtide, the The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and Evelyn Smythe (Maggie Stables), visit the Galapagos Islands, and meet Charles Darwin.

See also

Galapagos hotspot

Galapagos Province

Albatross Foundation USA

Galapagos National Park

Madagascar

Sea Shepherd

Further reading

Black, Juan (1973). Galapagos, Archipielago del Ecuador. . Comprehensive monograph by a former officer of Galapagos National Park, financed by the World Wildlife Fund and the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands

Heyerdahl, Thor; & Skjolsvold, Arne (1956). Archaeological Evidence of Pre-Spanish Visits to the Galapagos Islands, Memoirs 12, Society for American Archaeology.

Muller, Bodo; & Stolt, Matthias (2003). Galapagos Die verwunschenen Inseln. (BLV). ISBN 3861089092.

Quammen, David (1996). The Song of the Dodo. Touchstone, New York.

Romero, Simon . "To Protect Galapagos, Ecuador Limits a Two-Legged Species". The New York Times.

External links

Galapagos Islands xeric scrub (World Wildlife Fund)

Info, Pictures, videos Galapagos2000

Galapagos geology the page also includes much general information on the Galapagos Islands

Early settlement on the Galapagos Islands interview with Johanna Angermeyer

INEC map of the cantons

Parishes within the cantons

Galapagos Geology and Information

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Galapagos Islands


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