Formed by volcanic eruptions around 4 million years ago, the Galapagos is a tiny cluster of islands in the vast Pacific Ocean, about 1000 km from Ecuador. It has got to be one of the most wondrous places on the planet and is known for the relatively fast-paced and astounding evolution of both its plant and animal life. Charles Darwin, the famed naturalist travelled to these islands on “The Voyage of the Beagle” and was floored by the life that he came across on the islands. It was here that he formulated the theory of evolution by natural selection.
Many unlikely animals, plants and insects ended up on the islands carried by winds or the waves, and ocean currents for hundreds of miles. Over time they marvellously adapted and evolved to the new conditions they were thrown into. These once-foreign creatures adapted into unique forms, forming new species, and are found nowhere else. Together, all these creatures play a pivotal part in maintaining the unique ecosystem of these hills, plains, and seas, from giant whales to microscopic insects.
This isolated archipelago of islands is located directly on the Equator and has tropical climate throughout the year. It consists of 18 major islands, three small islands, large rocks and little islets. Isabela Island is the largest of the cluster. Most of these islands are extinct volcanoes, while others remain active! Over millions of years the seas and weather have eroded these islands causing a change in their shapes. The unique Tortuga Island is a perfect crescent, an awe-inspiring sight when you’re flying over it, while the Baltra Island is an arid flat land.
Imagine the beauty of this; the most widespread plants on the Galapagos are dandelions and daisies! Having made their way to these lands millions of years ago, the dandelions and daisies faced no competition as there were no other rival plants on the islands!
Carpenter bees are the representatives of the Galapagos. These bees, make their home in hollow wood, and prefer flowers that are white and yellow! This is why all the plants and trees on the islands transformed to grow flowers of these colours in order to invite the bees to pollinate them.
Galapagos in Spanish means ‘tortoise, and that’s where the islands got their name from, its spectacular giant tortoises! These gentle giants have hard “saddleback” shells and long necks that help them reach for leaves in tall vegetation. They are complete beach bums and love to bask in the sun. Giant tortoises can survive many months without food or water and live to be over 100 years of age!
The Galapagos Islands are famous for their unique species of marine iguanas. These lizards are excellent swimmers, and divers, and can stay underwater for close to an hour, feeding on seaweed. Another fascinating habit they have developed is that they sneeze out salt water through their nostrils as excess consumption of salt is dangerous for iguanas.
Flaunting an enormous wingspan of 7 to 8 feet, the waved albatross nests on Española Island and nowhere else in the world. These birds are monogamous for life and recognise their partners by performing a dance, and clicking their bright yellow beaks together.
The penguins of Galapagos arrived all the way from Antarctica through the Humboldt Current and are the only penguins that live so far up North. Much smaller in size than their cousins in Antarctica, these penguins survive the heat by swimming in the cool waters of the sea.
One of the very few mammals belonging to the Galapagos, sea lions have found a perfect life on the shores here with no immediate threat to their lives. To keep cool, they take frequent swims in the shallow beaches.
The beautiful marine life of the Galapagos is as widespread as the land, if not more. An immense number of unique creatures like vibrant coral beds, schools of stunning hammerhead sharks, manta rays, tunas, green sea turtles, and other stunning colourful fish can be found here at all times. During certain times of the year, these seas are visited by stunning whale sharks and humpback whales!
It’s amazing to think of a place that is so full of life that may still not be discovered. That perhaps, there is a chance for you to get out there someday and discover a new species yourself. Sadly, as with all beautiful places; life on Galapagos is threatened by a drastic climatic condition called El Niño. El Niño is a climate cycle which produces complex and irregular weather conditions due to changes in ocean temperature and the atmosphere which causes huge disruptions in the natural order of things.