<  HOME >

The Galápagos Islands

mapThe Galápagos Islands are straddling the equator some 600 miles (1000km) from the South American continent. Sitting on top of a volcanic hotspot these islands developed without ever having had a connection to the continent. Only few terrestrial animals could arrive on this isolated place. They stranded by chance, clinging on drift wood of floating plants. Those that survived the long journey found a place with a harsh climate, void of fresh water and poor in food.

driftwoodExtreme specializations were a necessity for the newcomers to prevail. Exchange between the islands was limited and different forms of life could evolve from common ancestors due to genetic drift, strong selection pressures, and reproductive isolation. A famous example for this adaptive radiation is the group of 12 Darwin Finches. Rosemarie and Peter Grant at Princeton University studied their evolutionary ecology for over 30 years and published their results in numerous contributions.

Not only the establishment of stranded animals and plants was challenged by the harsh climate and lack of fresh water - it also prevented early human colonization. The first sailors called this barren land "Las Islas Encantadas" - the enchanted islands. Their aversion and the corresponding delay of colonization was a blessing for wildlife and plants and prevented the huge loss of biodiversity that struck most other archipelagos after the arrival of man. volcano landscape on IsabelaUsually island environments are suffering already many centuries from introduced species and novel predators, such as cats, dogs pigs, goats, rats, birds, as well as many arthropods as stowaways, which came along with human colonizers. The ensuing predation and competition were responsible for major extinctions that hit most of the islands, a prime example being the Hawaii archipelago. In contrast, Galápagos was spared this fate for a long time. Therefore, the archipelago is still blessed with a wealth of  endemic lifeforms, those which exist only on the Galápagos. Therefore, the Galápagos archipelago is being called a last paradise by those who appriciate its biological treasures. land iguana

The first colonizers of the Galápagos Islands were a few scattered European settlers at the end of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. Slowly the local population increased on four of the major islands. At the same time, the international community identified areas of prime interest for conservation within the archipelago. The Charles Darwin Foundation and the National Park Service were established in 1959. During the end of the 20th century, fishing became a lucrative business for local Galapagenos, and the tourism boomed. The increasing living standard attracted more and more immigrants from the continent. Today, roughly which live on 4% of the land. The remainder area is set aside as protected National Park area. Population growth is around 3% and many tourists arriving at the Galapagos are surprised to find a town at Puerto Ayora, St. Cruz, where they did expect nothing but nature and solitude. typical landscape on Plaza SurThe growing population, overexplotation of marine resources, arbitrary and involuntary introduction of foreign plant and animals species, waste and pollution all have become issues of great concern - threats which had been unkown for so long in this remote part of the world. Recently, several conflicts between lobbyists of the fishing sector and conservationists reminded us that imminent decisions will have to be taken in order to safeguard the unique biodiversity of this place. tires

< HOME >