Galapagos Fun Facts—Part 2: Conservation, Geography, Wildlife & More
In our last article in a series of Galapagos Islands fun facts, we learned about “enchanted” islands born of fire, as well as who discovered them and other interesting facts about the national park and island geography. To keep it going, here are some more interesting facts worth learning as you plan your trip to the Galapagos Islands (if you’re lucky!):
1. Conservation: We discussed the fact that Galapagos Archipelago, which consists of 13 major islands, 6 minor islands, and over 100 islets belonging to Ecuador, became a national park in 1959 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. What you may not know is that in 1986, the surrounding ocean was declared a biological marine reserve and in 1990 the area became a whale sanctuary.The Galapagos Islands National Park comprises approximately 97 percent of the land, whereas humans inhabit only 3 percent of the total landmass.
2. Population: Of the mostly Ecuadorian people living on the islands, Santa Cruz Island has the largest population with approximately 24,000 people, and is the main jumping off point for many of the tours, as well as where most visitors not taking multi-night cruises stay. San Cristobal Island, with 10,000 people, is the political capital of the archipelago.
3. Water: Water is very scarce in this relatively harsh, dry climate. San Christobal is the only island with an adequate supply of fresh water. In fact, the lower islands receive only 20 to 30 inches of precipitation on average each year!
4. Giant Galapagos Tortoise: Speaking of water, the most famous endemic (located nowhere else in the world) creatures in the Galapagos Islands are the tortoises that the islands were named after. Because the giant Galapagos Tortoise can survive for months without water or food, they were kept on board ships as a means of providing of fresh meat and fat dating back to early whaling and pirate days. Entire species and sub-species (On different islands the tortoises have slightly differing physical features) became extinct or on the verge of extinction before modern conservation efforts went into effect.The most famous of these giant Galapagos Tortoises was Lonesome George, who was the only surviving giant Pinta Island tortoise left on Earth when discovered in 1971 by wardens from Galapagos National Park who were hunting nonnative goats on Pinta Island. In fact, the last reported sighting of giant tortoises on Pinta Island had been back in 1906. Known as the rarest creature on Earth for the next four decades, he served as an ambassador for the Galapagos Islands and a symbol for conservation there and globally. Lonesome George died on the 24th June 2012 at the age of 100. You can read more about Lonesome George and his influence on the world here.
5. Endemic Wildllife: In addition to the Giant Galapagos Tortoise, there are myriad unique and endemic species living underwater, on land and in the air in the Galapagos islands, some of which include: three species of “boobies”, the blue-footed booby, red-footed booby and masked booby; the Galapagos land iguana and its counterpart the marine iguana, which is the world’s only iguana that swims and feeds in the sea; the Galapagos Penguin, Galapagos sea lions, Galapagos hawk, great Frigatebird, the giant waved Albatross (the world’s largest seabird), sea cucumbers, the Galapagos Green Sea Turtle (the only species of turtle that nests in the Galapagos Islands), flightless cormorant, Galapagos finches including Darwin’s finch, and dozens of species of fish.
6. Darwin and the Galapagos: As a result of experiencing all of this amazingly diverse wildlife across the islands, Charles Darwin, who famously visited the Galapagos for 5 weeks in 1835 on the ship HMS Beagle, developed the most important biological theory of life on Earth to this day. During his observations and collections he noted that mockingbirds, Darwin finches and tortoises differed over the various islands. Over time, these facts based on observation and study over many years, eventually contributed to the development of his theory of evolution by natural selection, as presented in his book later in life, on ‘The Origin of Species’.When you visit the Galapagos, know that this is nothing like other tropical islands. So don’t expect palm trees, white-sand beaches, and margaritas here. Do expect jutting cliffs, volcanic moonscapes, emerald coves, and desert islands. Expect giant tortoises, swimming iguanas, friendly sea lions, and a rainbow of tropical fish. Expect a truly unique experience, and the ultimate opportunity to having fun learning about a fascinating place with the entire family!
You can visit the enchanted isles yourself by joining a journey of a lifetime with Natural Habitat Adventures on their Classic Galapagos tour. For the more active, be sure to check out their Galapagos hiking and sea kayaking adventure.