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Galapagos Islands FAQ's
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Where are the Galapagos Islands?
The Galapagos Islands straddle the equator in the Pacific Ocean 600 miles west of the mainland of Ecuador. The archipelago, or group of islands, sits directly under New Orleans in the GMT-6 time zone.
How were the Galapagos formed?
Volcanically. The islands are formed from a ""hotspot" or a weak area in the earth's crust that periodically breaks open, spewing lava, which in time builds up, eventually breaking the oceans surface and forming an island over time. Each of the main islands were formed by a single volcano except for Isabela. Being the biggest of all the islands it is made up of 6 separate volcanoes.
How were the Galapagos discovered?
Bishop Frey Tomás de Berlanga of Panama discovered the islands in 1535 by chance after being blown off course in route to check on the situation in Peru for the King of Spain.
Who owns the Galapagos?
Ecuador. The islands were annexed by Ecuador in 1832. Several countries have tried to lay claim to the archipelago and others have tried to buy it. The US has even tried to rent it!
When were the Galapagos first visited and colonized?
After the discorvery of the islands in 1535, the first visitors didn't start arriving until the late 1500's to the early 1600's. Pirates began using the islands as a hideout and to stock up on freshwater and food (tortoises) after pillaging the port towns of mainland South America. In the 1800's, whalers began to frequent the islands during hunting voyages and in 1832 the once no man's land was annexed into the country of Ecuador. At the time, Ecuador didn't see much potential in the harsh landscape and the islands were immediately used as a penal colony. Then, between 1925-32, a few adventurous families sought out the island of Floreana as a refuge of peace. After many failed attempts, settlements were eventually established in San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, and Isabella. From 1942-47, permission was granted for the US to use the island of Baltra as a naval base due to its close proximity to the Panama Canal, which was thought to be in imminent danger. After the US left, the abandoned airstrip became the first airport of the islands opening the way for new inhabitants and visitors. It wasn't, however, until the 1990s that the popularity of the islands began to rise and tourism started to slowly develop. The population of the islands has since doubled in size and there are now more than 28,000 inhabitants and almost 200,000 visitors each year.
How does Charles Darwin fit into all of this?
Charles Darwin, a young scientist from England, first visited the archipelago in September of 1835 aboard the H.M.S. Beagle. During this scientific expedition, he spent five weeks visiting various islands of the Galapagos observing the flora and fauna. It is thought that the inspiration and key principles for his book The Origin of Species were found on this voyage from his observations of the peculiar and fearless animals of the enchanted islands.
Why Protect Galapagos?
The Galapagos has an extremely delicate and irreplaceable ecosystem. Scientifically, this is an ongoing experiment of evolution, survival and biodiversity that offers a glimpse into a world almost untouched by humans. With over 90% of the pre-human biodiversity still intact, the importance of protecting this priceless treasure and continually working to strike a balance between human and animal remains vital.
About 80% of the land birds, 97% of the reptiles and land mammals, and more than 30% of the plants are endemic. Over 18% of the 2,900 marine species and 25% of the 306 varieties of fish are found nowhere else on earth.
What makes Galapagos so special?
The islands have some of the most unique and varied wildlife found on the planet. The convergence or meeting of three major ocean currents bringing together a mix of warm tropical waters with cold, nutrient rich upwellings that allow different species to co-inhabit the islands, living together in seemingly peaceful harmony. Nowhere else in the world can you experience snorkeling with penguins darting rapidly alongside tropically inclined spotted eagle rays or white tipped reef sharks being playfully chased by sea lions (yes, believe it!).
How old are the islands?
The Galapagos Islands are situated on the Nazca tectonic plate, moving towards the continental South America at a rate of around 7cm per year. Because of this, the ages of the islands vary from the youngest ones in the west (closest to the "Hotspot"), which are still volcanically active, to the oldest dormant volcanoes of the east. San Cristobal and Espanola Islands are considered to be the oldest islands aged at between 3-5 million years old while Fernandina Island, one of the most volcanically active places on earth, has been dated at less than 500,000 years old.
What is the difference between endemic, native and introduced animals or plants?
Because The Galapagos Islands have been formed out of the ocean and has never been connected to another landmass, every plant or animal present in the islands can be categorized as one of the three.
An endemic plant or animal is one that has arrived naturally to the islands, once here it has found the harsh conditions unsuitable to survive in its current living form. Over an incredibly long period (in some cases, millions of years) these plants or animals have had to adapt or change their behavior or form in order to guarantee their survival, becoming totally different or "endemic" to their ancestor. These are therefore found nowhere else on earth.
A native plant or animal is one which has also arrived naturally, found the conditions suitable to their survival, and therefore did not have to change or 'adapt" in any way or form. They continue to be identical physically and genetically to their ancestor.
An introduced plant or animal is one that has been bought to Galapagos, either purposely or accidentally by humans.
What are some of the endemic species?
Endemic Fauna of the islands include the Waved albatross (endemic only to Espanola Island!), Marine Iguanas, Galapagos Penguins, Galapagos Giant Tortoise, and several species of finches. In fact, anything that you see with ""Galapagos"" in front of its name will be endemic. Endemic plants include the Scalesia, Miconia plant and the Opuntia or Prickly Pear Cactus.
Who is Lonesome George?
Lonesome George was the last giant tortoise of his subspecies from the island of Pinta. He was found in 1971 and was brought to the Charles Darwin Research Center, in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island. Sadly, George passed away on the 24th of June 2012 and the efforts to help him breed with tortoises of the closest subspecies were not successful.
Do people really live in Galapagos? How many?
Yes! There are approximately 28,000 people living among the four inhabited islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabella, and Floreana.
What is the Charles Darwin Foundation?
The Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands (CDF) is an international nonprofit research organization dedicated to providing scientific research, technical assistance and information in order to ensure the success of conservation in Galapagos.
CDF carries out its activities in Galapagos under a conservation research and guidance agreement with the Ecuadorian government. The Foundation is part of a network of local and national organizations supporting Galapagos Island protection. For fifty years, CDF has worked closely with the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS), the main government authority overseeing the safeguarding of the island's natural resources, providing the results of scientific research to conserve this living laboratory.
What is the Galapagos National Park?
The Directorate of the Galapagos National Park is responsible for the conservation of the ecological integrity and biodiversity of island and marine ecosystems of the protected areas of the archipelago, as well as the rational use of goods and services they generate for the community.
How much is the entry fee?
The entry fee for tourists is $100 for non-residents over 12 and $50 for non-residents under 12. Tourists under 2 are exempt.
What does the entry fee fund?
Funds from the entry tax for tourists are used to finance the conservation of biodiversity of flora and fauna, terrestrial and marine, and benefits the local community by improving basic services, education projects, sports, health, environmental sanitation, environmental services and services directly related to tourists.