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Galápagos Islands




Location: 925 km (500 mi) West of mainland Ecuador  Map




Description of Galápagos Islands

Galápagos Islands is cluster of islands situated 925 km (500 mi) West of mainland Ecuador. Galápagos Islands became World famous after Charles Darwin visited this group of islands during his voyage on the ship Beagle. Here he noticed different species that seemed do adopt differently to the diet of the particular islands they happened to inhabit. It was these discoveries that pushed famous scientist to develop his ideas of Evolution and later write "The Origin of Species". Due to its historic importance as well as unique endemic biodiversity Galapagos Islands were designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site.





The islands formed 5 million years ago as a result of tectonic activity on the seabed. This island is very young. Current volcanic activity is still expanding the archipelago. The archipelago is one of the most active volcanic groups in the world. Many of the islands are only the tips of some volcanoes and show an advanced state of erosion. Islands like Baltra and North Seymour emerged from the ocean due to great tectonic activity.

A study conducted in 1952 by historians Thor Heyerdahl and Arne Skjolsvold revealed that ceramics were found from some (possibly Inca) villages before the arrival of the Spaniards. However, no graves, vessels and any old construction have been found that reveal settlements before colonization.

The Galapagos Islands were discovered by chance on March 10, 1535, when the ship of the bishop of Panama Fray Tomás de Berlanga deviated from his destination to Peru, where he would fulfill an order of the Spanish king Carlos V to arbitrate in a dispute between Francisco Pizarro and his subordinates after the conquest of the Inca empire.

The first maps to include the islands were made by cartographers Abraham Ortelius and Mercator around 1570. The islands were described as "Insulae de los Galopegos" (Turtle Islands).

The Galapagos were used by English pirates as a hiding place in their pillage trips to the Spanish galleons that carried gold and silver from America to Spain. The first registered pirate who visited the islands was the Englishman Richard Hawkins, in 1593. Since then and until 1816 many pirates arrived in the archipelago.

Recently discovered the islands were uninhabited and the ships that passed by their location coincided when the archipelago was covered by fog. Various events led them to be known as the Enchanted Islands and even some Spanish navigators claimed that they did not exist and were only mirages.

The first scientific mission that visited the Galapagos Islands was the Malaspina expedition, a Spanish expedition led by Alejandro Malaspina that arrived in 1790. However, the expedition's records were never published.

In the 17th century, the area began to be populated when the navigator James Colnett described the place as islands rich in flora and fauna. This attracted the first settlers, mostly English, with an interest in whales, sperm whales, sea lions and mainly in the Galapagos. The discovery of sperm whale fat also attracted many whalers which led to the creation of an improvised post office, where ships left and collected letters. Colnett also drew the first navigation charts of the Galapagos.

In October 1831 José de Villamil sent an exploratory commission to the Galapagos archipelago in order to find out about the existence of orchilla, a plant used to dye the tissues and that was exported to Mexico. On November 14, the "Colonizing Society of the Galapagos Archipelago" was established and denounced as vacant land to Charles Island, later called Floreana.

On January 20, 1832, an expedition to the Galapagos commanded by Colonel Ignacio Hernández and Ecuador annexed them on February 12, 183211 under the government of General Juan José Flores, 11 baptizing them as the archipelago of Columbus.

Charles Darwin Research
On board the Beagle ship the British expedition under the command of Captain Robert FitzRoy arrived in Galapagos on September 15, 1835 to carry out survey and mapping work, within a list of isolated places in Europe, such as Valparaíso (Chile), Callao, Galapagos Islands, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Cape Good Hope. The ship returned to Falmouth on October 2, 1836. The captain and others on board, including the young naturalist Charles Darwin, conducted a scientific study of geology and biology on four of the islands, before continuing their expedition around the world. The ship toured the archipelago for five weeks, but Darwin was grounded for only two weeks. He investigated the animals and plants of the region. The studies of this trip allowed Darwin to formulate the theory of the origin of the species.


World Heritage
Unesco declared the Galapagos Islands a Natural Patrimony of Humanity in 1979 and, six years later as a Biosphere Reserve (1985). In 2007, Unesco declared the Galapagos Islands as a World Heritage Site at environmental risk and was included in the List of World Heritage in danger until 2010.