The Galapagos Islands

Posted: December 2nd, 2013





The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Island is an archipelago that is located in the Pacific Ocean near the equator and which is part of the Republic Of Ecuador. The official name for the Galapagos is the Archipiélago de Colon, and the islands are volcanic in nature (Banting, 11). The islands are considered a province of Ecuador and where the main language spoken on the islands being Spanish.

The island has 13 main islands that at first were named by a pirate Ambrose Cowley after other pirates he knew. The scientist Charles Darwin changed the names of the islands to English upon his visit in 1835. The English names gained favor over the pirate’s way of naming and the islands retain their English names today. There are also three minor islands comprising the Galapagos as well as about 107 islets. The climate of the islands is mostly cool and wet, and the island frequently experiences rains and drizzles due to the Humboldt Current (Banting, 23).

The Galapagos Islands were discovered in the year 1535 by Fray Thomas de Berlanga accidentally when he sailed off course off the coast of Peru. At this time, he did not refer to the island by name, and it was not until the year 1570 when Abraham Ortelius and Gerardus Mercator named it Insulae de los Galopegus that roughly translates to ‘island of the tortoises’. This name was in reference to the enormous tortoises that had been spotted on the island. In the 16th century, due to its location between warring factions of the English pirates and Spanish ones, the island was used by the English pirates as a command post (Kras, 20).

By the year 1793, there emerged the first maps charting the island drawn up by Seaman James Colnet who also set up an unofficial post office in the islands given the growing number of whale hunters that were in the area. Here, seamen could drop and pick up mail whenever they were on particularly long voyages. This, however, came at a price; seamen herded the giant tortoises onto their ships for sustenance as these animals could reportedly go for months without needing food or water thus were a significant source of food. It is estimated that about 200,000 tortoises were lost in this way with some species of tortoise becoming extinct altogether.

The first person to inhabit the island was an Irish sailor named Patrick Watkins who was marooned in the island of Floreana (Banting, 56). He survived by cultivating crops, hunting and trading with sailors who came to visit the island. By this time, the island was still being used as a post office and he stayed on the island for a total of eight years before returning to his home on a boat he stole, and at this point, the island remained without human settlement until the year 1830. In 1869, a Manuel Cobos set up a colony on the island for farming sugarcane for commercial use, but his reign was so tyrannical it led to his murder much later.

In 1813, a visiting captain David Porter made a recording in his log of the eruption of the Floreana, a volcano in one of the smaller islands found on the south east (Kras, 33). This is said to be the only known recorded eruption of the island. Captain porter also noted the differences in the designs of the tortoise shells with respect to which island they came from. On one occasion, he accidentally released a herd of goats into the island, which subsequently led to other pirates deliberately releasing goats in the island as a source of food for visiting pirates. The problem with this was that the goats reproduced so quickly that they were soon competing for food with the tortoises leaving the slower animals in danger of extinction from starvation.

Other plants and animals species that were introduced to the island have had a catastrophic effect on the flora and fauna of the Galapagos. As stated, the introduction of goats caused competition for resources, but this also holds true for the introduction of wild pigs. These animals destroy tortoise nests and uproot necessary plants while they forage for food. Further, the introduction of the black rat is almost resulting in the extinction of other rodents while the introduction of plants such as avocadoes seems to be overpowering local plant species. Lastly, with the human immigrants also came pets such as cats and dogs whose hunting activities threaten to wipe out local animals. Most animals on the island prior to this had no natural enemies thus were easy pickings for pets (Kras, 72).

In the beginning up until the year 1832, the island was claimed by Spain but since Spain did not enforce the rights to its claim, it was then claimed by Ecuador and renamed as Archipelago del Ecuador.

The island got mainstream recognition after it was visited by Charles Darwin in 1835 on his voyage intended for scientific discovery, the results from which he inferred the evolution of the species and came up with the theory of natural selection. From here, the tourism industry of the island slowly started to take shape with even the then US president Franklin Roosevelt visiting the island in 1938. Immigration also began to take shape at this time with immigrants from Europe slowly making their way to the island for the purposes of settling there.

About 97 percent of the total land mass of the island is a national park with the remaining land mass being the inhabited part of the island. The Galapagos was established as a park in 1959, and here tourism activities began in the year 1960. With this, numerous restrictions were placed on the islands inhabitants on how they could interact with the island. Despite this, numerous poor to do families immigrated to the islands to fish and farm the island. In addition, there was an influx of European settlers with a longing to settle there for the simple life the island offered. During the period of the Second World War, the US began to express interest in buying the island from the Ecuadorian government who were strapped for resources. In the end,  the government permitted the US to build a base on the Galapagos as it was strategic to the defense of the Panama Canal and even went so far as to build an airbase on the island of Isabela although these were later abandoned and can still be seen to date (Banting, 93).

The islands that make up a province are governed by a provincial government. The inhabited area of the islands consists of three main territories, which are Isabela with four principle islands, San Cristobal with five islands and Santa Cruz with nine main islands. The capital of the islands is known as Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, named after the first president of Ecuador to visit the islands during his reign in office.

The Galapagos Island does not have an original population, but it is fully occupied by immigrants to the island with a growing population of about 25,000 inhabitants. Tourism is the main economic attraction to the island with the island receiving about 145,000 tourists per year. The increase in tourism in the country has spurred economic growth that has led to more and more people immigrating illegally to the island. If this is not checked, it will cause an imbalance in the island, which will surely affect the overall wellbeing of the island.

There are a myriad of environmental issues that affect the Galapagos, the first of which is the heavy rains that the islands experiences or ‘El Niño’. These rains are so heavy and destructive that they necessitate fish, the main source of food for fur seals that are found only in the Galapagos, to migrate into calmer waters, which could threaten their survival. The islands have also been hit hard by human impact with activities such as fishing being overdone, which has resulted in the extinction of some fish species. Overfishing has become a monumental problem that is usually carried out against some species of shark and sea cucumbers. This commodity is mostly hailed in the Asian markets. Human presence on the island is notably straining the resources of the island to breaking points, and although tourism is booming, it will soon not be enough to sustain the population of the island (Kras, 84).

Due to the problems facing the island due to human settlement, conservation efforts are underway to protect the indigenous plants and animals on the Galapagos. In addition to the uninhabited areas being designated as a national park and being accorded protection deserving of this, the waters around the islands have also been designated as marine reserves thus strict rules must be adhered to by anyone making use of these territories. Further, the most damage has been caused by plants and animal species introduced into the area and projects are underway to eradicate the ones causing the most harm (Banting, 100).

One of the more detrimental environmental threats to the area is the accumulation of waste materials and especially around the coastline. The waste naturally affects the wildlife via pollution but also affects the eco-system of the islands. Neglecting to clean the coast, and allowing the accumulation of this waste matter is severely detrimental to the marine wildlife. The waste usually comes from tourists who dump non-biodegradable materials such as plastics into the ocean, and the current then pools this trash together creating a cesspool that then ensnares marine animals before killing them.

The conservation efforts that are being carried out are slowly but surely bearing fruit. Wild goats have almost entirely been eradicated from all the islands, dogs have been entirely removed from the island of Isabela, and attempts made to increase numbers of the famed elephantine tortoise have been instrumental in causing a rise in the numbers of animals. These projects are achieving slow progress mostly because there is a severe lack of funding. Conservation efforts are funded entirely by donations from well-wishers so naturally there is a low limit to what can be achieved.


Works Cited

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Banting, Erinn. Galapagos Islands. New York, NY: Weigl Publishers, 2007. Print.

Kras, Sara L. The Galapagos Islands. New York: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark, 2009. Print.

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