Galápagos Islands (official name: Archipiélago
de Colón; other Spanish names: Islas de Colón or
Islas Galápagos) are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed around
the equator in the Pacific Ocean, 972 km west of continental Ecuador.
is a UNESCO World Heritage
: wildlife is its most notable feature.
Galápagos islands and its surrounding waters are part of a province, a national park, and a biological marine
The principal language on the islands is
. The islands have a
population of around 40,000, which is a 40-fold expansion in 50
The islands are geologically young and famed for their vast number
of endemic species
, which were
studied by Charles Darwin
the voyage of the
. His observations and collections contributed
to the inception of
The first crude navigation chart
the islands was done by the buccaneer
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
continue to use the older English names, particularly as those were
the names used when Charles Darwin
Orthographic projection centred over
Satellite photo of the Galápagos
islands overlayed with the names of the visible main islands.
Main Street on San Cristóbal
islands are located in the eastern Pacific Ocean, 973 km (604 miles) 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 (447 miles) and to the
South is Easter
Island and San Felix Island at 3200 km (1,990
An animated tour of the
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 (137 miles).
(IHO) considers them wholly within
the South Pacific Ocean, however. The Galápagos Archipelago
consists of 7,880 square km (3,042 sq. miles) of land spread over
45,000 square km (28,000 miles) of ocean. The largest of the
islands, Isabela, measures 4,640 square km and making up half of the
total land area of the Galápagos.
Volcán Wolf on Isabela is
the highest point with an elevation of 1,707 m (5,600 ft.)
above sea level.
The group consists of 13 main islands, 5 smaller islands, and 107
rocks and islets
. The islands are located at
the Galapagos Triple
. It is also atop the Galapagos
hotspot, a place where the Earth's crust is being melted
from below by a mantle plume, creating
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 April 2009
where lava from the volcanic island Fernandina started flowing both
towards the island's shoreline and into the center
The 15 main islands (with a land area larger than one km²) of the
archipelago (with their English
names) shown alphabetically:
Baltra Island: Also known as South Seymour, Baltra is a
small flat island located near the center of the Galápagos.
It was created by Geological uplift. The island is very arid and
vegetation consists of salt bushes, prickly pear cactus and palo
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
Private planes flying to Galápagos must fly
to Baltra as it is the only airport with facilities for planes
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 Galápagos await passengers. The second is
a ferry dock which connects Baltra to the island of Santa
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
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.
Bartolomé Island: Bartolomé Island is a volcanic islet just
off the east coast of Santiago Island in the Galápagos Islands
It is one of the "younger" islands in the Galápagos
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
Darwin Island: This island is named after Charles
It has an area of 1.1 square kilometres
(0.4 sq mi
) and a maximum altitude of 168 metres
(551 ft). Here fur seals, frigates, Marine iguanas
, Swallow-tailed Gulls, sea
lions, whales, marine turtles, Red-footed and Nazca boobies can be
Española Island: Its name was given in honor of Spain.
also is known as Hood
after Viscount Samuel Hood
. 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
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
, Española Lava Lizards,
, Swallow-tailed Gulls
, Blue-footed Booby
and Nazca Boobies
, Galápagos Hawks, a selection of
Finch, and the Waved
Fernandina Island: The name was given in honor of King
Ferdinand II of Aragon, who sponsored the voyage of
Fernandina has an area of 642 square kilometres
(248 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 1,494 metres (4,902 ft).
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
vapour cloud rose to a height of 7 kilometers (4.4 mi) 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
this island and also Galápagos
and Sea Lions are
abundant. Different types of lava flows
can be compared and the Mangrove
can be observed.
Floreana Island: It was named after Juan José Flores, the first president of Ecuador, during
whose administration the government of Ecuador took possession of
It is also called Santa Maria
after one of the caravels
of Columbus. It has an area of 173 square
kilometres (66.8 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 640 metres
(2,100 ft). 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 Galápagos 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
formations are found.
Genovesa Island: The name is derived from Genoa, Italy where it is
said Columbus was born.
It has an area of 14 square kilometres (5.4 sq mi) and a maximum
altitude of 76 metres (249 ft). This island is formed by the
remaining edge of a large crater
is submerged. Its nickname of “the bird island” is clearly
justified. At Darwin Bay, frigatebirds
only nocturnal species of gull in the world, can be seen.
, noddy terns
, lava gulls, tropic birds, doves
, storm petrels
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 Island : This island was named in honor of Queen
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
, Marine Iguanas
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
Marchena Island: Named after Fray Antonio Marchena.
Has an area of 130 square kilometres (50 sq mi) and a maximum
altitude of 343 metres (1,125 ft).Galápagos hawks
and sea lions inhabit
this island, and it is home to the Marchena Lava Lizard, an endemic
Its name was given after an English nobleman
called Lord Hugh Seymour
. It has
an area of 1.9 square kilometres (0.7 sq mi) and a maximum altitude
of 28 metres (92 ft). 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
north of the Baltra
Airport is the small islet of North Seymour.
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
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
. 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.
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.
Pinzón Island: 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
Pinta Island: Named after the Pinta caravel.
has an area of 60 km² and a maximum altitude of 777 meters.
Sea lions, Galápagos hawks
giant tortoises, marine iguanas, and dolphins can be seen here.
Pinta Island was home to the last remaining Pinta Tortoise, called
. He does not live on
Pinta Island any longer but at the Charles Darwin Research
on Santa Cruz Island where scientists are attempting to
Rábida Island: It bears the name of the convent of
Rábida where Columbus left his son during his voyage to the
Has an area of 4.9 square kilometres (1.9 sq mi)
and a maximum altitude of 367 metres (1,204 ft). The high
amount of iron contained in the lava at Rábida 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 Rábida. Nine
species of Finches have been reported in this island.
San Cristóbal Island: It bears the name of the Patron Saint of
seafarers, "St. Christopher".
name was given after
William Pitt, 1st Earl
. It has an area of 558 square kilometres (215 sq mi)
and its highest point rises to 730 metres (2395 ft). 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
, tropicbirds, marine iguanas
, swallow-tailed gulls
Its vegetation includes Calandrinia galapagos
, and trees such as Lignum
.The largest fresh water lake
archipelago, Laguna El Junco, is located in the highland
of San Cristóbal. The capital of the
province of Galápagos, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, lies at the southern tip of the
Island : 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 kilometres (381 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of
864 metres (2834 ft). Santa Cruz is the island that hosts the
largest human population in the archipelago at the town of Puerto Ayora.
The Charles Darwin Research
and the headquarters of the Galápagos 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 Dragón, known for its
flamingo lagoon, is also located here, and along the trail one may
see land iguanas foraging.
Santa Fe Island: Named after a city in Spain, has an area
of 24 square kilometres (9 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 259
metres (850 ft).
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
Island : 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 metres (2976 ft). Marine iguanas, sea lions, fur seals,
land and sea turtles, flamingos
and sharks are found here. Pigs
, which were introduced by humans to the islands
and have caused great harm to the endemic species, have been
eradicated (pigs in 2002; goat eradication is nearing
finalization). Darwin Finches
Galápagos Hawks are usually seen as well as a colony of Fur Seals.
At Sullivan Bay a recent (around 100 years ago) pahoehoe lava flow
can be observed.
Wolf Island: This island was named after the German
geologist Theodor Wolf.
an area of 1.3 square kilometres (0.5 sq mi)and a maximum altitude
of 253 metres (830 ft). Here fur
and red-footed boobies
, Marine Iguanas
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.
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
It is named in honor of a former president of
Ecuador, General Leonidas Plaza
has an area of 0.13 square kilometers (0.05 sq mi) and a maximum
altitude of 23 metres (75 ft). 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
Nameless Island: The small islet is used mostly for
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 (71.6°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
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
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
discovery of the Galápagos Islands occurred when Spanish Fray Tomás de Berlanga, the
fourth Bishop of Panama, sailed to
Peru to settle a dispute between Francisco Pizarro and his
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 Skjølsvold, 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
. The islands were called "Insulae
de los Galopegos" (Islands of the Tortoises).
The first English captain to visit the Galápagos Islands was
, in 1593. Until the
early 19th century
, the archipelago was
often used as a hideout by mostly English pirates who pilfered
carrying gold and silver
from South America to Spain.
Alexander Selkirk, whose adventures in
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
, a Sicilian captain whose expedition was sponsored by
the King of Spain. However, the records of the expedition were
In 1793, James Colnett
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
Ecuador annexed the
Galápagos Islands on February 12, 1832, naming it Archipelago of Ecuador.
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
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 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
were unrelated to each other and did not bother
labelling them by island. The Englishman Nicolas Lawson, acting
Governor of Galápagos for the Republic of the Equator, met them on
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
was presented in The Origin of
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
. Another expedition from that
Academy was done in 1932 (Templeton Crocker Expedition) to collect
During World War II
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 at this time. 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 Galápagos became a
national park in 1959 and tourism started in the 1960s.
Flag of the Galápagos Province.
The islands are administered by a provincial governement. It was
made a province
by presidential decree by
President Guillermo Rodríguez
on February 18, 1973. The province is divided into
, each covering certain
islands. The capital is Puerto
It 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.
the islands are inhabited: Baltra, Floreana, Isabela, San Cristobal and Santa
Sea lions in the Galápagos are
somewhat tame, and very curious.
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
In 1959, the centenary year of Charles
's publication of The Origin of Species
Ecuadorian government declared 97.5% of the archipelago's land area
a national park
, excepting areas
already colonised. The Charles
(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 Galápagos. CDF´s research efforts work
began with the establishment of the Charles Darwin Research
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
National Park Service using the research findings and
methodologies 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
This was later extended in December 2001 to
include the marine reserve.
Noteworthy species include:
- Galápagos land
- Marine Iguana, Amblyrhynchus
cristatus, the only iguana feeding in the sea
- Galápagos tortoise
(Galápagos Giant tortoise), Geochelone
elephantopus, known as Galápago in Spanish, it gave the name to the
- Galápagos Green
Turtle, Chelonia mydas agassisi, a subspecies of the
- Sea cucumber, the cause of
environmental battles with fishermen over quota of this expensive Asian delicacy.
- Flightless Cormorant,
- Great Frigatebird and Magnificent Frigatebird
- Blue-footed Booby, Sula
nebouxii, popular among visitors for their large blue feet
which they show off in courtship
- Galápagos Penguin,
Spheniscus mendiculus, the only living tropical penguin
- Waved Albatross, Phoebastria
irrorata, the only living tropical albatross
- Galápagos Hawk, Buteo
galapagoensis, the islands' main scavenger and "environmental police"
- 4 endemic species of Galápagos 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
- Galápagos Sea Lions,
Zalophus californianus, closely related to the California
Sea Lion, but smaller
, such as feral goats, cats, and cattle,
brought accidentally or willingly to the islands by humans,
represent the main threat to Galápagos. 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
floripondio Datura arborea
higuerilla Ricinus communis
the elephant grass Pennisetum
. 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 Galápagos 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
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
The tanker Jessica
the Galapagos, January 2001.
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
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.
UNESCO put the
Galápagos Islands on their World Heritage in
January 28, 2008, Galapagos National Park official Victor Carrion announced that 53 sea lions (13 pups, 25
youngsters, 9 males and 6 females) were killed at Pinta, Galapagos Islands nature reserve with their heads caved
In 2001 poachers
killed 35 male
The Galápagos Islands were short-listed as a candidate to be one of
the New7Wonders of Nature
the New Seven Wonders of
Foundation. As of February 2009 the archipelago was
ranking first in Group B, the category for islands.
- International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) Special
Publication 23, Limits of Oceans and Seas, 3rd edition
- Keynes, Richard ed. 2000. Charles Darwin's zoology notes
& specimen lists from H.M.S. Beagle. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. 23 – August 1836, 291–293
- BBC NEWS, Sea lions massacred in Galapagos
- New 7 Wonders of the Word: Live Ranking
- Heyerdahl, Thor & Skjolsvold,
Arne. (1956). Archaeological Evidence of Pre-Spanish Visits to
the Galápagos Islands, Memoirs 12, Society for American
- Black, Juan. (1973). Galápagos, Archipiélago del
Ecuador. (Quito, Ecuador). Comprehensive monograph by a former
officer of Galápagos National Park, financed by the World Wildlife
Fund and the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galápagos
- Quammen, David. (1996). The Song of the Dodo.
Touchstone, New York.
- Müller, Bodo; & Stolt, Matthias. (2003). Galápagos Die
verwunschenen Inseln. (BLV). ISBN 3861089092
- To Protect Galápagos, Ecuador Limits a Two-Legged Species. New
York Times, Oct 4 2009.