Known for its unique ecosystems and being Darwin’s inspiration for the the theory of evolution, the Galapagos islands lay 850 miles off of mainland Ecuador. The history of the islands over just the past millennia is fascinating as the islands change hands between countries, explorers, and governors. But first a small introduction.
The islands that you will hear of in the other posts are San Cristobal in the east, Santa Cruz in the middle, and Isabela in the west. So here I will offer a brief overview of each.
One of the oldest in the arpeggio, the island gets its name from the patron saint of seafarers, St. Christopher. With about 6000 residents, most of the populace sits on the bay where the docks are and tourist activity is strong. There are several small beaches and snorkeling areas. There is also an informative museum detailing the history of the island up to the present, both the good and the bad.
The entire island is a National Park. Here, the Charles Darwin Research Station has a breeding program for endangered giant tortoises. With a population of 12,000, this makes Santa Cruz the largest urban center, though it is only the second largest island in size. Main attractions include the Charles Darwin Research Station, the sandy beaches, scenic bays, and lava tunnels.
Also, just north on a separate island is the airport, remnants of a WWII airstrip once called the Seymore Island Airfield. The airport was turned over to Ecuador after two years and in 2012 was the world’s first green airport. Self-sustained using solar power and windmills, the airport is made out of recycled material as well.
The largest and one of the newest of the islands, Isabela is also the smallest in population with only 1,700 residents. The island has five volcanoes, all of which are considered active. However, due to the nature of the formations, the island volcanoes never erupt violently. Each year fissures release gasses and buildup so that when there is an eruption, it is considerably calmer than the vast explosions so heard of with other places. There has not been a need to evacuate due to any of the recent eruptions.
It’s impossible to talk about the Galapagos without talking of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. There are several ways in which animals would have arrived on the island. While there are many species of reptiles and birds, rats and bats are the only land mammals and there are no amphibians on any of the islands.
Carried only by water or wind currents, arriving species would have had to have been hearty enough to endure the lack of food or fresh water. Hence the numerous iguanas and tortoises which could have survived the harsh conditions.
Each of the islands that we visited has its own distinct feel as well as its unique species of animals. The history of the Galapagos has ranged from penal colony, a sight of ecological study, the ravaging of the giant tortoise and other resources, farmland, ecological preserves, and tourism. But considering this is an island that constantly undergoes change, it makes sense that the history evolves as well.