The Galápagos Islands (official name: Archipiélago de Colón; other Spanish
names: Islas de Colón or Islas Galápagos) are an archipelago of volcanic
islands distributed around the equator in the Pacific Ocean, 972 km west of
continental Ecuador. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site: wildlife is its
most notable feature.
The Galápagos islands and its surrounding waters are part of a province, a
national park, and a biological marine reserve. The principal language on
the islands is Spanish. The islands have a population of around 40,000,
which is a 40-fold expansion in 50 years.
The islands are geologically young and famed for their vast number of
endemic species, which were studied by Charles Darwin during the voyage of
the Beagle. His observations and collections contributed to the inception of
Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.
The first crude navigation chart of the islands was done by the buccaneer
Ambrose Cowley in 1684. He named the individual islands after some of his
fellow pirates or after the English noblemen who helped the privateer's
cause. More recently, the Ecuadorian government gave most of the islands
Spanish names. While the Spanish names are official, many users (especially
ecological researchers) continue to use the older English names,
particularly as those were the names used when Charles Darwin visited.
The islands are located in the eastern Pacific Ocean, 973 km (604 miles) off
the west coast of South America. The closest land mass is the mainland of
Ecuador to the east (the country to which they belong), to the North is
Cocos Island 720 km (447 miles) and to the South is Easter Island and San
Felix Island at 3200 km (1,990 miles).
The islands are found at the coordinates 1°40'N-1°36'S, 89°16'-92°01'W.
Straddling the equator, islands in the chain are located in both the
northern and southern hemisphere with Volcan Wolf and Volcano Ecuador on
Isla Isabela being directly on the equator line. Española the southernmost
island and Darwin the northernmost island are spread out over a distance of
220 km (137 miles). The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO)
considers them wholly within the South Pacific Ocean, however. The Galápagos
Archipelago consists of 7,880 square km (3,042 sq. miles) of land spread
over 45,000 square km (28,000 miles) of ocean. The largest of the islands,
Isabela, measures 4,640 square km and making up half of the total land area
of the Galápagos. Volcán Wolf on Isabela is the highest point with an
elevation of 1,707 m (5,600 ft.) above sea level.
The group consists of 15 main islands, 3 smaller islands, and 107 rocks and
islets. The islands are located at the Galapagos Triple Junction. It is also
atop the Galapagos hotspot, a place where the Earth's crust is being melted
from below by a mantle plume, creating volcanoes. The oldest island is
thought to have formed between 5 and 10 million years ago. The youngest
islands, Isabela and Fernandina, are still being formed, with the most
recent volcanic eruption in April 2009 where lava from the volcanic island
Fernandina started flowing both towards the island's shoreline and into the
The 15 main islands (with a land area larger than one km²) of the
archipelago (with their English names) shown alphabetically:
Baltra (South Seymour) Island: Also known as South Seymour, Baltra is a
small flat island located near the center of the Galápagos. It was created
by Geological uplift. The island is very arid and vegetation consists of
salt bushes, prickly pear cactus and palo santo trees.
Until 1986, Baltra Airport was the only airport serving the Galápagos. Now
there are two airports which receive flights from the continent, the other
located on San Cristóbal Island. Private planes flying to Galápagos must fly
to Baltra as it is the only airport with facilities for planes overnight.
Arriving into Baltra all visitors are immediately transported by bus to one
of two docks. The first dock is located in a small bay where the boats
cruising Galápagos await passengers. The second is a ferry dock which
connects Baltra to the island of Santa Cruz.
During the 1940s scientists decided to move 70 of Baltra's Land Iguanas to
the neighboring North Seymour Island as part of an experiment. This move had
unexpected results for during the military occupation of Baltra in World War
II, the native iguanas became extinct on the island. During the 1980s
iguanas from North Seymour were brought to the Charles Darwin Research
Station as part of a breeding and repopulation project and in the 1990s land
iguanas were reintroduced to Baltra. As of 1997 scientists counted 97
iguanas living on Baltra; 13 of which were born on the islands.
In 2007 and 2008 the Baltra airport is being remodeled to include additional
restaurants, shops and an improved visitor area.
Bartolomé (Bartholomew) Island: Bartolomé Island is a volcanic islet just
off the east coast of Santiago Island in the Galápagos Islands Group. It is
one of the "younger" islands in the Galápagos archipelago. This island, and
Sulivan Bay on Santiago island, are named after naturalist and life-long
friend of Charles Darwin, Sir Bartholomew James Sulivan, who was a
Lieutenant aboard HMS Beagle.
Darwin (Culpepper) Island: This island is named after Charles Darwin. It has
an area of 1.1 square kilometres (0.4 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 168
metres (551 ft). Here fur seals, frigates, Marine iguanas, Swallow-tailed
Gulls, sea lions, whales, marine turtles, Red-footed and Nazca boobies can
Española (Hood) Island: Its name was given in honor of Spain. It also is
known as Hood after Viscount Samuel Hood. It has an area of 60 square
kilometres (23 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 206 metres (676 ft).
Española is the oldest island at around 3.5 million years and the
southernmost in the chain. The island's remote location has a large number
of endemic fauna. Secluded from the other islands, wildlife on Española
adapted to the island's environment and natural resources. Marine iguanas on
Española are the only ones that change color during breeding season.
The Waved Albatross is found on the island. The island's steep cliffs serve
as the perfect runways for these large birds which take off for their ocean
feeding grounds near the mainland of Ecuador and Peru.
Española has two visitor sites. Gardner Bay is a swimming and snorkeling
site as well as offering a great beach. Punta Suarez has migrant, resident,
and endemic wildlife including brightly colored Marine Iguana, Española Lava
Lizards, Hood Mockingbirds, Swallow-tailed Gulls, Blue-footed Booby,
Red-Footed Booby and Nazca Boobies, Galápagos Hawks, a selection of Finch,
and the Waved Albatross.
Fernandina (Narborough) Island: The name was given in honor of King
Ferdinand II of Aragon, who sponsored the voyage of Columbus. Fernandina has
an area of 642 square kilometres (248 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 1,494
metres (4,902 ft). This is the youngest and westernmost island. In May 13,
2005, a new very eruptive process began on this island when an ash and water
vapour cloud rose to a height of 7 kilometers (4.4 mi) and lava flows
descended the slopes of the volcano on the way to the sea. Punta Espinosa is
a narrow stretch of land where hundreds of Marine Iguanas gather largely on
black lava rocks. The famous Flightless Cormorant inhabits this island and
also Galápagos Penguins, Pelicans and Sea Lions are abundant. Different
types of lava flows can be compared and the Mangrove Forests can be observed
Floreana (Charles or Santa María) Island: It was named after Juan José
Flores, the first president of Ecuador, during whose administration the
government of Ecuador took possession of the archipelago. It is also called
Santa Maria after one of the caravels of Columbus. It has an area of 173
square kilometres (66.8 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 640 metres (2,100
ft). It is one of the islands with the most interesting human history and
one of the earliest to be inhabited. Flamingos and green sea turtles nest
(December to May) on this island. The "patapegada" or Galápagos Petrel is
found here, a sea bird which spends most of its life away from land. At Post
Office Bay, since the 18th century whalers kept a wooden barrel that served
as post office so that mail could be picked up and delivered to their
destination mainly Europe and the United States by ships on their way home.
At the "Devil's Crown", an underwater volcanic cone, coral formations are
Genovesa (Tower) Island: The name is derived from Genoa, Italy where it is
said Columbus was born. It has an area of 14 square kilometres (5.4 sq mi)
and a maximum altitude of 76 metres (249 ft). This island is formed by the
remaining edge of a large crater that is submerged. Its nickname of "the
bird island" is clearly justified. At Darwin Bay, frigatebirds and
swallow-tailed gulls, the only nocturnal species of gull in the world, can
be seen. Red-footed boobies, noddy terns, lava gulls, tropic birds, doves,
storm petrels and Darwin finches are also in sight. Prince Philip's Steps is
a bird-watching plateau with Nazca and red-footed boobies. There is a large
Palo Santo forest.
Isabela (Albemarle) Island (Ecuador): This island was named in honor of
Queen Isabela. With an area of 4,640 square kilometers (1,792 sq mi), it is
the largest island of the Galápagos. Its highest point is Wolf Volcano with
an altitude of 1,707 meters (5,600 ft). The island's seahorse shape is the
product of the merging of six large volcanoes into a single landmass. On
this island Galápagos Penguins, Flightless Cormorants, Marine Iguanas,
pelicans and Sally Lightfoot crabs abound. At the skirts and calderas of the
volcanos of Isabela, Land Iguanas and Galápagos Tortoises can be observed,
as well as Darwin Finches, Galápagos Hawks, Galápagos Doves and very
interesting lowland vegetation. The third-largest human settlement of the
archipelago, Puerto Villamil, is located at the south-eastern tip of the
Marchena (Bindloe) Island: Named after Fray Antonio Marchena. Has an area of
130 square kilometres (50 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 343 metres (1,125
ft). Galápagos hawks and sea lions inhabit this island, and it is home to
the Marchena Lava Lizard, an endemic animal.
North Seymour Island: Its name was given after an English nobleman called
Lord Hugh Seymour. It has an area of 1.9 square kilometres (0.7 sq mi) and a
maximum altitude of 28 metres (92 ft). This island is home to a large
population of blue-footed boobies and swallow-tailed gulls. It hosts one of
the largest populations of frigate birds. It was formed from geological
Just north of the Baltra Airport is the small islet of North Seymour. North
Seymour was created by seismic uplift rather than being of volcanic origin.
The island has a flat profile with cliffs only a few meters from the
shoreline, where swallowtail gulls and tropicbirds sit perched in ledges. A
tiny forest of silver-grey Palo santotrees stand just above the landing,
usually without leaves, waiting for rain to bring them into bloom. The
island is teeming with life. Visiting the island you may have to give way to
a passing sea lion or marine iguana. Flocks of pelicans and swallow tailed
gulls feed off shore and seasonally masked boobies can also be seen.
North Seymour is an extraordinary place for breeding birds and is home to
one of the largest populations of nesting blue-footed boobies and
magnificent frigate birds. Pairs of blue-footed boobies can be seen
conducting their mating ritual as they offer each other gifts, whistle and
honk, stretch their necks towards the sky, spread their wings, and
dance—showing off their bright blue feet. Magnificent frigatebirds perch in
low bushes, near the boobies, while watching over their large chicks. The
frigates are huge, dark acrobats with a 90-inch (2.3 m) wingspan. Male
frigates can puff up their scarlet throat sacks to resemble a giant red
balloon. Boobies and frigates have an interesting relationship. Boobies are
excellent hunters and fish in flocks. The frigates by comparison are pirates
they dive bomb the boobies to force them to drop their prey. Then the
acrobatic frigate swoops down and picks up the food before it hits the water
Pinzón (Duncan) Island: Named after the Pinzón brothers, captains of the
Pinta and Niña caravels. Has an area of 18 square kilometers (7 sq mi) and a
maximum altitude of 458 metres (1,503 ft).
Pinta (Abingdon) Island: Named after the Pinta caravel. It has an area of 60
km² and a maximum altitude of 777 meters. Sea lions, Galápagos hawks, giant
tortoises, marine iguanas, and dolphins can be seen here. Pinta Island was
home to the last remaining Pinta Tortoise, called Lonesome George. He does
not live on Pinta Island any longer but at the Charles Darwin Research
Station on Santa Cruz Island where scientists are attempting to breed him.
Rábida (Jervis) Island: It bears the name of the convent of Rábida where
Columbus left his son during his voyage to the Americas. Has an area of 4.9
square kilometres (1.9 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 367 metres (1,204
ft). The high amount of iron contained in the lava at Rábida gives it a
distinctive red color. White-Cheeked Pintail Ducks live in a salt-water
lagoon close to the beach, where brown pelicans and boobies have built their
nests. Up until recently, flamingos were also found in the salt-water lagoon
but they have since moved on to other islands, likely due to a lack of food
on Rábida. Nine species of Finches have been reported in this island.
San Cristóbal (Chatham) Island: It bears the name of the Patron Saint of
seafarers, "St. Christopher". Its English name was given after William Pitt,
1st Earl of Chatham. It has an area of 558 square kilometres (215 sq mi) and
its highest point rises to 730 metres (2395 ft). This is the first island in
the Galapagos Archipelago that Charles Darwin visited during his voyage on
the Beagle. This islands hosts frigate birds, sea lions, giant tortoises,
blue and red footed boobies, tropicbirds, marine iguanas, dolphins,
swallow-tailed gulls. Its vegetation includes Calandrinia galapagos,
Lecocarpus darwinii, and trees such as Lignum vitae.The largest fresh water
lake in the archipelago, Laguna El Junco, is located in the highlands of San
Cristóbal. The capital of the province of Galápagos, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno
lies at the southern tip of the island.
Santa Cruz (Indefatigable) Island (Galápagos): Given the name of the Holy
Cross in Spanish, its English name derives from the British vessel HMS
Indefatigable. It has an area of 986 square kilometres (381 sq mi) and a
maximum altitude of 864 metres (2834 ft). Santa Cruz is the island that
hosts the largest human population in the archipelago at the town of Puerto
Ayora. The Charles Darwin Research Station and the headquarters of the
Galápagos National Park Service are located here. The GNPS and CDRS operate
a tortoise breeding center here, where young tortoises are hatched, reared,
and prepared to be reintroduced to their natural habitat. The Highlands of
Santa Cruz offer an exuberant vegetation and are famous for the lava tunnels
Large tortoise populations are found here. Black Turtle Cove is a site
surrounded by mangrove which sea turtles, rays and small sharks sometimes
use as a mating area. Cerro Dragón, known for its flamingo lagoon, is also
located here, and along the trail one may see land iguanas foraging.
Santa Fe (Barrington) Island: Named after a city in Spain, has an area of 24
square kilometres (9 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 259 metres (850 ft).
Santa Fe hosts a forest of Opuntia cactus, which are the largest of the
archipelago, and Palo Santo. Weathered cliffs provide a haven for
swallow-tailed gulls, red-billed tropic birds, shear-waters petrels. Santa
Fe species of land iguanas are often seen, as well as lava lizards.
Santiago (San Salvador, James) Island (Galápagos): Its name is equivalent to
Saint James in English; it is also known as San Salvador, after the first
island discovered by Columbus in the Caribbean Sea. This island has an area
of 585 square kilometers (226 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 907 metres
(2976 ft). Marine iguanas, sea lions, fur seals, land and sea turtles,
flamingos, dolphins and sharks are found here. Pigs and goats, which were
introduced by humans to the islands and have caused great harm to the
endemic species, have been eradicated (pigs in 2002; goat eradication is
nearing finalization). Darwin Finches and Galápagos Hawks are usually seen
as well as a colony of Fur Seals. At Sullivan Bay a recent (around 100 years
ago) pahoehoe lava flow can be observed.
Wolf (Wenman) Island: This island was named after the German geologist
Theodor Wolf. It has an area of 1.3 square kilometres (0.5 sq mi)and a
maximum altitude of 253 metres (830 ft). Here fur seals, frigatebirds,
masked and red-footed boobies, Marine Iguanas, sharks, whales, dolphins and
swallow-tailed gulls can be seen. The most famous resident is the vampire
finch, which feeds partly on blood pecked from other birds and is only found
on this island.
 Minor islands
Daphne Major: A small island directly north of Santa Cruz and directly west
of Baltra, this very inaccessible island appears, though unnamed, on Ambrose
Cowley's 1684 chart. It is important as the location of multi-decade finch
population studies by Peter and Rosemary Grant.
South Plaza Island (Plaza Sur): It is named in honor of a former president
of Ecuador, General Leonidas Plaza. It has an area of 0.13 square kilometers
(0.05 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 23 metres (75 ft). The flora of South
Plaza includes Opuntia cactua and Sesuvium plants, which forms a reddish
carpet on top of the lava formations. Iguanas (land and marine and some
hybrids of both species) are abundant and there are a large number of birds
that can be observed from the cliffs at the southern part of the island,
including tropic birds and swallow-tailed gulls.
Although located on the Equator, the Humboldt Current brings cold water to
the islands, causing frequent drizzles during most of the year. The weather
is periodically influenced by the El Niño phenomenon which brings warmer
temperatures and heavy rains.
During the season known as the "Garua" (June to November) the temperature by
the sea is 22°C (71.6°F), a steady and cold wind blows from South and
Southeast, and frequent drizzles (Garuas) last most of the day, along with
dense fog which conceals the islands. During the warm season (December to
May) the average sea and air temperature rises to 25°C (77°F), there is no
wind at all, there are sporadic though strong rains and the sun shines.
Weather changes as altitude increases in the large islands. Temperature
decreases gradually with altitude, while precipitation increases due to the
condensation of moisture in clouds on the slopes. There is a large variation
in precipitation from one place to another, not only with altitude but also
depending on the location of the islands, and also with the seasons.
The precipitation also depends on the geographical location. During March
1969 the precipitation over Charles Darwin Station, on the southern coast of
Santa Cruz was 249.0 mm, while on Baltra Island the precipitation during the
same month was only 137.6 mm. This is due to the fact that Baltra is located
behind Santa Cruz with respect to the prevailing southerly winds, so most of
the moisture gets precipitated in the Santa Cruz highlands.
There are significant changes in precipitation from one year to another too.
At Charles Darwin Station the precipitation during March 1969 was 249.0 mm,
but during March 1970 it was only 1.2 mm.
European discovery of the Galápagos Islands occurred when Spanish Fray Tomás
de Berlanga, the fourth Bishop of Panama, sailed to Peru to settle a dispute
between Francisco Pizarro and his lieutenants. De Berlanga's vessel drifted
off course when the winds diminished, and his party reached the islands on
March 10, 1535. According to a 1952 study by Thor Heyerdahl and Arne
Skjølsvold, remains of potshards and other artifacts from several sites on
the islands suggest visitation by South American peoples prior to the
arrival of the Spanish.
The islands first appeared on maps in about 1570 in those drawn by Abraham
Ortelius and Mercator. The islands were called "Insulae de los Galopegos"
(Islands of the Tortoises).
The first English captain to visit the Galápagos Islands was Richard Hawkins
in 1593. Until the early 19th century, the archipelago was often used as a
hideout by mostly English pirates who pilfered Spanish galleons carrying
gold and silver from South America to Spain.
Alexander Selkirk, whose adventures in Juan Fernández Islands inspired
Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe, visited the Galápagos in 1708 after
he was picked up from Juan Fernández by the privateer Woodes Rogers. Rogers
was refitting his ships in the islands after sacking Guayaquil.
The first scientific mission to the Galápagos arrived in 1790 under the
leadership of Alessandro Malaspina, a Sicilian captain whose expedition was
sponsored by the King of Spain. However, the records of the expedition were
In 1793, James Colnett made a description of the flora and fauna of
Galápagos and suggested that the islands could be used as base for the
whalers operating in the Pacific Ocean. He also drew the first accurate
navigation charts of the islands. Whalers killed and captured thousands of
the Galápagos tortoises to extract their fat. The tortoises could also be
kept on board ship as a means of providing of fresh protein as these animals
could survive for several months on board without any food or water. The
hunting of the tortoises was responsible for greatly diminishing, and in
some cases eliminating, certain species. Along with whalers came the
fur-seal hunters who brought the population of this animal close to
Ecuador annexed the Galápagos Islands on February 12, 1832, naming it
Archipelago of Ecuador. This was a new name that added to several names that
had been, and are still, used to refer to the archipelago. The first
governor of Galápagos, General José de Villamil, brought a group of convicts
to populate the island of Floreana and in October 1832 some artisans and
The voyage of the Beagle brought the survey ship HMS Beagle under captain
Robert FitzRoy to the Galápagos on September 15, 1835 to survey approaches
to harbors. The captain and others on board including his companion the
young naturalist Charles Darwin made a scientific study of geology and
biology on Chatham, Charles, Albemarle and James islands before they left on
October 20 to continue on their round-the-world expedition. Darwin noticed
that mockingbirds differed between islands, though he thought the birds now
known as Darwin's finches were unrelated to each other and did not bother
labelling them by island. The Englishman Nicolas Lawson, acting Governor of
Galápagos for the Republic of the Equator, met them on Charles Island and as
they walked to the prison colony told him that tortoises differed from
island to island. Towards the end of the voyage Darwin speculated that the
distribution of the mockingbirds and the tortoises might "undermine the
stability of Species". When specimens of birds were analysed on his return
to England it was found that many apparently different kinds of birds were
species of finches which were also unique to islands. These facts were
crucial in Darwin's development of his theory of natural selection
explaining evolution, which was presented in The Origin of Species.
José Valdizán and Manuel Julián Cobos tried a new colonization, beginning
the exploitation of a type of lichen found in the islands (Roccella
portentosa) used as a coloring agent. After the assassination of Valdizán by
some of his workers, Cobos brought from the continent a group of more than a
hundred workers to San Cristóbal island and tried his luck at planting sugar
cane. He ruled in his plantation with an iron hand which lead to his
assassination in 1904. Since 1897 Antonio Gil began another plantation in
Over the course of a whole year, from September 1904, an expedition of the
Academy of Sciences of California, led by Rollo Beck, stayed in the
Galápagos collecting scientific material on geology, entomology, ornithology
botany, zoology and herpetology. Another expedition from that Academy was
done in 1932 (Templeton Crocker Expedition) to collect insects, fish, shells
fossils, birds and plants.
During World War II Ecuador authorized the United States to establish a
naval base in Baltra island and radar stations in other strategic locations.
Baltra was also established as a US Air Force Base at this time. Crews
stationed at Baltra patrolled the Pacific for enemy submarines as well as
providing protection for the Panama Canal. After the war the facilities were
given to the government of Ecuador. Today the island continues as an
official Ecuadorian military base. The foundations and other remains of the
US base can still be seen as one crosses the island. In 1946 a penal colony
was established in Isabela Island, but it was suspended in 1959. The
Galápagos became a national park in 1959 and tourism started in the 1960s.
The islands are administered by a provincial government. It was made a
province by presidential decree by President Guillermo Rodríguez Lara on
February 18, 1973. The province is divided into cantons, each covering
certain islands. The capital is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.
It is one of the few places in the world without an indigenous population.
The largest ethnic group is composed of Ecuadorian Mestizos, the mixed
descendants of Spanish colonists and indigenous Native Americans, who
arrived mainly in the last century from the continental part of Ecuador.
In 1959, approximately 1,000 to 2,000 people called the islands their home.
In 1972 a census was done in the archipelago and a population of 3,488 was
recorded. By the 1980s, this number had risen to more than 15,000 people,
and 2006 estimates place the population around 40,000 people.
Five of the islands are inhabited: Baltra, Floreana, Isabela, San Cristobal
and Santa Cruz.
The Galápagos land iguanas are among the signature animals of the Galápagos
Though the first protective legislation for the Galápagos was enacted in
1934 and supplemented in 1936, it was not until the late 1950s that positive
action was taken to control what was happening to the native flora and fauna
In 1955, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature organized a
fact-finding mission to the Galápagos. Two years later, in 1957, UNESCO in
cooperation with the government of Ecuador sent another expedition to study
the conservation situation and choose a site for a research station.
In 1959, the centenary year of Charles Darwin's publication of The Origin of
Species, the Ecuadorian government declared 97.5% of the archipelago's land
area a national park, excepting areas already colonised. The Charles Darwin
Foundation (CDF) was founded the same year. The core responsibility of CDF,
an international non-governmental organization constituted in Belgium, is to
conduct research and provide the research findings to the Government of
Ecuador for effective management of Galápagos. CDF´s research efforts work
began with the establishment of the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa
Cruz Island in 1964. During the early years conservation programs, such as
eradication of introduced species and protection of native species, were
carried out by research station personnel. Now much of that work is
accomplished by the Galapagos National Park Service using the research
findings and methodologies developed by CDF.
In 1986 the surrounding 70,000 square kilometres (43,496 sq mi.) of ocean
was declared a marine reserve, second only in size to Australia's Great
Barrier Reef. In 1990 the archipelago became a whale sanctuary. In 1978
UNESCO recognised the islands as a World Heritage Site, and in 1985 a
Biosphere Reserve. This was later extended in December 2001 to include the
Noteworthy species include:
* Galápagos land iguanas, Conolophus spp.
* Marine Iguana, Amblyrhynchus cristatus, the only iguana feeding in the
* Galápagos tortoise (Galápagos Giant tortoise), Geochelone elephantopus
known as Galápago in Spanish, it gave the name to the islands
* Galápagos Green Turtle, Chelonia mydas agassisi, a subspecies of the
* Sea cucumbers, the cause of environmental battles with fishermen over
quotas of this expensive Asian delicacy.
* Flightless Cormorant, Phalacrocorax harrisi
* Great Frigatebird and Magnificent Frigatebird
* Blue-footed Booby, Sula nebouxii, popular among visitors for their
large blue feet which they show off in courtship
* Galápagos Penguin, Spheniscus mendiculus, the only living tropical
* Waved Albatross, Phoebastria irrorata, the only living tropical
* Galápagos Hawk, Buteo galapagoensis, the islands' main scavenger and
* 4 endemic species of Galápagos mockingbirds, the first species Darwin
noticed to vary from island to island
* 13 endemic species of tanagers, popularly called Darwin's finches.
Among them is the Sharp-beaked Ground-finch Geospiza difficilis
septentrionalis which is sometimes called the "Vampire Finch" for its
blood-sucking habits, and the tool-using Woodpecker Finch, Camarhynchus
* Galápagos Sea Lions, Zalophus californianus, closely related to the
California Sea Lion, but smaller
Introduced plants and animals, such as feral goats, cats, and cattle,
brought accidentally or willingly to the islands by humans, represent the
main threat to Galápagos. Quick to reproduce, these alien species decimate
the habitats of native species. The native animals, lacking natural
predators on the islands, are defenseless to introduced species and fall
Some of the most harmful introduced plants are the Guayaba or Guava Psidium
guajava, avocado Persea americana, cascarilla Cinchona pubescens, balsa
Ochroma pyramidale, blackberry Rubus glaucus, various citrus (orange,
grapefruit, lemon), floripondio Datura arborea, higuerilla Ricinus communis
and the elephant grass Pennisetum purpureum. These plants have invaded large
areas and eliminated endemic species in the humid zones of San Cristobal,
Floreana, Isabela and Santa Cruz. Also, these harmful plants are just a few
of introduced species on the Galápagos Islands. There are over 700
introduced plant species today. There are only 500 native and endemic
species. This difference is creating a major problem for the islands and the
natural species that inhabit them.
Many species were introduced to the Galápagos by pirates. Thor Heyerdahl
quotes documents that mention that the Viceroy of Peru, knowing that British
pirates ate the goats that they themselves had released in the islands,
ordered dogs to be freed there to eliminate the goats. Also, when
colonization of Floreana by José de Villamil failed, he ordered that the
goats, donkeys, cows, and other animals from the farms in Floreana be
transferred to other islands for the purpose of later colonization.
Non-native goats, pigs, dogs, rats, cats, mice, sheep, horses, donkeys, cows
poultry, ants, cockroaches, and some parasites inhabit the islands today.
Dogs and cats attack the tame birds and destroy nests of birds, land
tortoises, and marine turtles. They sometimes kill small Galápagos tortoises
and iguanas. Pigs are even more harmful, covering larger areas and
destroying the nests of tortoises, turtles and iguanas as well as eating the
animals' native food. Pigs also knock down vegetation in their search for
roots and insects. This problem abounds in Cerro Azul volcano and Isabela,
and in Santiago pigs may be the cause of the disappearance of the land
iguanas that were so abundant when Darwin visited. The black rat Rattus
rattus attacks small Galápagos tortoises when they leave the nest, so that
in Pinzón they stopped the reproduction for a period of more than 50 years;
only adults were found on that island. Also, where the black rat is found,
the endemic rat has disappeared. Cows and donkeys eat all the available
vegetation and compete with native species for the scarce water. In 1959,
fishermen introduced one male and two female goats to Pinta island; by 1973
the National Park service estimated the population of goats to be over 30
000 individuals. Goats were also introduced to Marchena in 1967 and to
Rabida in 1971. However a recent goat eradication program has cleared most
of the goat population from Isabela.
The fast growing poultry industry on the inhabited islands has been cause
for concern from local conservationists, who fear that domestic birds could
introduce disease into the endemic and wild bird populations.
The Galápagos marine sanctuary is under threat from a host of illegal
fishing activities, in addition to other problems of development. The most
pressing threat to the Marine Reserve comes from local, mainland and foreign
fishing targeting marine life illegally within the Reserve, such as sharks
(hammerheads and other species) for their fins, and the harvest of sea
cucumbers out of season. Development threatens both land and sea species.
The growth of both the tourism industry and local populations fuelled by
high birth rates and illegal immigration threaten the wildlife of the
Archipelago. The recent grounding of the oil tanker Jessica and the
subsequent oil spill brought this threat to world attention.
Currently, the rapidly growing problems, including tourism and a human
population explosion, are further destroying habitats.
In 2007, UNESCO put the Galápagos Islands on their World Heritage in Danger
On January 28, 2008, Galapagos National Park official Victor Carrion
announced that 53 sea lions (13 pups, 25 youngsters, 9 males and 6 females)
were killed at Pinta, Galapagos Islands nature reserve with their heads
caved in. In 2001 poachers killed 35 male sea lions.
The Galápagos Islands were short-listed as a candidate to be one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature by the New Seven Wonders of the World Foundation. As of February 2009 the archipelago was ranking first in Group B, the category for islands.