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