The Galápagos are a stretch of 13 major islands as well as a hundred-plus rocks and pinnacles, formerly known as „Las Encantadas“, the enchanted ones, which form the Galápagos archipelago. It is a province of Ecuador situated on the Equator about 1.000 km offshore.
With a treasure trove of endemic species (i.e. species restricted to the group of islands), the Galápagos Islands are renowned for natural wonders and unique wildlife. Charles Darwin came to visit the islands in the year 1835 and his studies of the plants and animals there played a pivotal role in the development of his theory of natural selection. A variety of plants and animals could survive there thanks to the isolated situation.
The size of the archipelago is about 8.000 km² and its capital is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. The biggest islands are Isla Isabella, Isla Santa Cruz, Isla Santiago, Isla Fernandina, Isla San Cristobal and Isla Floreana. Only five of the islands are inhabited, the total number of inhabitants is about 25.000. Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz is the biggest town, where you can find the Charles Darwin Research Center. About 220.000 tourists visit the islands every year.
There are only a few options for tourists to stay on the islands. Most visitors book tours with cruise ships which enable them to land on the islands and walk along marked trails always accompanied by an authorized naturalist guide. When visiting the Galápagos, a National Park and World Heritage Site, all visitors are expected to act responsibly and to treat the environment with respect. They have to follow strict rules, such as keeping a minimum distance from the animals, never touching or feeding them, not taking anything away as souvenir and the leave-no-trace principle.
Tourists are highly rewarded for observing these rules. They are able to explore a unique flora and fauna you cannot find in any other place in the world: marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, nazca boobies, giant tortoises, Galápagos finches, hawks and sea-lions and many more. And they can also experience big differences in the geology of the individual islands they visit.
However, as isolated as they may seem, the islands are not immune to the impacts of modern life. Our warming planet threatens the Galápagos species. For example, the algae the marine iguanas eat, die in warm water, and corals are bleaching as a reaction to excessively warm water and are likely to die soon. “The famous ecosystem of the Galápagos”, scientists say, “is now a fabulous laboratory for studying species responses to climate change”.
The life cycle is dramatically driven by climate events known as “El Niño” and “La Niña” with changes in temperature, rainfall and ocean currents. Species have always been able to adapt to their surroundings, but now, insults to the plants and animals of the Galápagos may be coming too fast and from too many angles to give them a chance to adapt.
Foto: © Maridav – 221647366 – fotolia.com