RICH MARINE ECOSYSTEM
Considered among the most pristine and well-preserved UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Galapagos Islands is an archipelago located in the Pacific Ocean, nearly 1,000 km off mainland Ecuador. Spread over 75,000 sq.km., it comprises over a hundred islands, including more than a dozen that are large and a few that are inhabited. As much as 97 % of the total area of the archipelago has been declared a National Park (human occupation in the region occurs in the rest of the 3 %). The areas surrounding the region have been declared a marine reserve, making it one of the largest marine reserves and one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world. The region nurtures hundreds of plant species, a dozen native land mammal species, over 35 reptile species and more than 2,900 marine species.
WHY IS IT UNIQUE?
The archipelago is located at a place where three Pacific currents converge. Add to this seismic activities and its remote location, and we get peculiar wildlife such as marine iguanas, giant tortoises and flightless cormorants in the region. These islands and their unusual inhabitants gained international attention due a startling scientific revelation in the 19th Century. It all began with the journey of a ship named H.M.S. Beagle from England carrying captain Robert Fitzroy and an inquisitive naturalist named Charles Darwin. In 1835, when the Beagle reached Galapagos Islands, the young Darwin visited many of its islands during the five-week stop and collected specimens from various islands. After the voyage, he was stunned to discover differences in same species found across different islands – such as tortoises, mocking birds and finches. Almost 25 years later, this would lead to his impactful theory of evolution by natural selection (that Nature selects organisms that have features favourable for their survival), as explained in his 1859 book “On the Origin of Species”. The theory is considered a landmark in the process of evolution.
Ducks, teals, pintails, shovelers, junglefowl, grebes, flamingoes, penguins, albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters, tropicbirds, frigatebirds, boobies, cormorants, pelicans, herons, egrets, ospreys, crakes, hawks, gallinules, coots, stilts, oystercatchers, plovers, godwits, sandpipers, phalaropes, skuas, jaegers, gulls, terns, pigeons, doves, cuckoos, owls, swifts, kingfishers, flycatchers, swallows, martins, mocking birds, warblers and finches are among the several species of birds found in Galapagos Islands, including many that are endemic to the place.
The mammals that can be seen in the region include several species of whales, including killer whales, sperm whales, blue whales and humpback whales, common dolphins, sea lions, seals, rodents and bats. The reptiles include tortoises, sea turtles, marine iguanas, land iguanas, geckos, lava lizards and sea snakes.
DID YOU KNOW?
A group of nearly 15 species of birds, Darwin’s finches are known for their diversity in the form and function of their beaks. These birds were crucial evidence in Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.
Among Galapagos’ giant tortoises was Lonesome George from Pinta Island. Discovered in 1971, the tortoise was taken to a tortoise centre in one of the neighbouring islands, Santa Cruz. Considered to be aged over 100 and the last in the species, George passed away in 2012 without a partner.
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