Sunset on Espanola Island, one of the oldest Galapagos Islands (Photo: Kevin Loughlin)
Once the Galápagos Islands were a way station for whalers and pirates. Then this archipelago 600 miles west of the coast of Ecuador found a new identity when a young British man, Charles Darwin, arrived during the voyage of the HMS Beagle in September 1835.
Darwin spent several weeks exploring four of the main islands and his observations were pivotal to his eventual realization that organisms change with time and that they evolve. Today the Galápagos finches remain a clear and unambiguous example of the reality and ongoing nature of evolution by natural selection.
The Galápagos are ecologically unique. Formed from the plate tectonics of the Pacific Ocean floor, the archipelago has never been connected with mainland South America. Yet it has been repeatedly colonized by a remarkable assemblage of animals and plants that, once present, each followed their own evolutionary trajectories.
Visitors to the Galápagos enjoy distinctive and close-up experiences among such creatures as giant tortoises, marine and land iguanas, the world’s most northern species of penguin, the world’s only flightless cormorant, and an array of others including sea lions, flamingos, sea turtles, exotic fish, and myriads of seabirds such as boobies, storm-petrels, frigatebirds, and the remarkable swallow-tailed gull. High levels of endemism among animals and plants are seen throughout the archipelago, the most important factor in making these islands deserving of the term unique, as well as continued strong conservation efforts.
Join John Kricher, professor emeritus of biology at Wheaton College, and Kevin Loughlin, photographer and founder of Wildside Nature Tours, as they discuss the fauna and flora of the Galápagos Islands, as well as the remarkable, if not quirky, human history on the islands.
Their book, Galápagos: A Natural History (Princeton University Press), is available for purchase.
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