Surviving Galapagos

Perhaps because of their relevance to the inception of a theory that has changed the history of mankind, the Galapagos Islands have always been on my mind. I was fortunate enough to recently visit the islands. This time around, I wasn’t a traveler documenting the work of NGOs. It was simply a matter of getting to know Galapagos.

For those geographically dislocated, the Galapagos archipelago is situated right along the Equator line – some of the main 13 islands are located on the Northern Hemisphere while others are on the Southern part – off of Ecuador’s coast. Getting there, depending from where you’re flying, requires a few connections, which are completely worth the hassle.

Galapagos is a world apart. Millions of years of isolation have turned the islands into a sanctuary for human-friendly species. Because of the lack of natural predators, sea lions, marine iguanas, penguins, sea and land turtles, finches and even sharks (many of these species exclusive to the islands) have no fear of human interaction. You can walk and swim with many of them just a few inches away.

This is not to say that humans haven’t interfered in the natural history of the islands. Since it’s discovery in the early 1500’s by Fray Tomás, the Bishop of Panama (some argue the islands had already been discovered), several fauna and flora species, which are not endemic to Galapagos, have been introduced to the islands; hence, causing a disruption of this unique ecosystem.

There are two famous cases. During the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, the Galapagos became notorious grounds for whaling. Whalers soon discovered the unique giant tortoises, which could be stocked inside the ships for months without the need of food or water to survive, and then be consumed as a means of nutrition. Since the tortoises offered no resistance, the population was quickly reduced, and some species became extinct. More recently, the last member of a surviving species, better known as Lonesome George, passed away.

Another notorious case was the man-introduced goat. First brought in the 1800’s as a means of livestock, the population multiplied, threatening the survival of native flora, and even the surviving giant tortoises. After centuries of procreation, by 1998, the population was estimated at between 75,000 and 120,000. Although they were only present in a few of the 13 islands, their survival could lead to the extinction of native species and subspecies. The solution, implemented by The Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park Service, was to kill most of the goat population.

Whether it was right or wrong to kill more than 100,000 goats to protect other creatures, while the meat was simply left to rotten, Galapagos’ species continue strong. And through the work of organizations such as The Charles Darwin Foudation, the islands offer a unique glimpse of how human, animals and nature can all coexist in perfect harmonyas you can see in these photos.

Another journey to remember.