San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands
The Enchanted Isles
The Galapagos Archipelago is a group of volcanic islands 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. The Galapagos Islands were formed as a result of the Pacific plate moving over a volcanic hotspot. Each eruption created a buildup of lava and ash that formed islands when they broke the surface. The oldest islands are around 5 million years old and the youngest islands are still being formed.
The Galapagos Islands are located at the point of contact of three currents: the cold water Humboldt Current which flows north from Antarctica, the warm water Panama Current, which flows south, and the eastern flowing Cromwell undercurrent. These currents regulate the climate on the islands. Galapagos has two main seasons, the rainy season and garua. During the rainy season it is hot and sunny during the day with heavy rainfall in the afternoon. The rainy season lasts from January until June. Between July and November the season is called Garua. Garua is Spanish for mist, and is a fitting name for the dense mists that collect over the archipelago. The garua results when warm air masses move over the cool Humboldt Current, causing moisture to condense out of the atmosphere. During El Niño years, the garua is replaced by heavy rainfall. Even during the warmth of day, the mist persists at high elevations, although lower elevations may be dry.
The Galapagos Islands and Marine Reserve contain a unique combination of land and oceanic ecosystems, with many distinct habitats and communities to be found in each. The Galapagos are situated at the point where major ocean currents meet, and the islands straddle the junctions between several shifting tectonic plates. These circumstances combine to make an area that truly is like no other place on earth.
Galapagos is one of the best-conserved tropical oceanic archipelagos in the world. Species that have adapted successfully to a barren and inhospitable landscape often occupy a unique niche in that ecosystem, and have little competition for food, water and space. The introduction of a new species into such simple ecosystems can have rapid and far-reaching effects.
The Galapagos Islands are situated on the equator and about 1000 km off the Pacific coast of Ecuador. Galapagos is comprised of 14 major islands, more than 120 smaller islets and rocks, and the surrounding ocean. The total land mass is almost 8,000 sq. km and the Galapagos Marine Reserve surrounding the archipelago is 138,000 sq. km. The present islands are all younger than 4 million years and were formed separately from other land masses as a result of volcanic eruptions.
Humans both residents and tourists have become part of the Galapagos ecosystem, as have many species of plant and animal that have been introduced by humans to the islands. One of the challenges Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) faces, as do all those involved in protecting and conserving Galapagos, is how best to integrate the needs of the human population whilst limiting our impact on this unique part of the world. Environmental, economic and social sustainability cannot be separated.
In 1959, the Ecuadorian government set aside 1,714,000 acres (693,700 ha), 90% of the Galapagos Islands as a National Park. All the lands not already included in the settlement areas were designated and incorporated into the park. In 1967 a park service was set up in the islands and 5 years later the first park superintendent arrived.
Galapagos Travel Log
Day 1 -
We had a late evening introductory welcome meeting led by our Fundación Jatun Sacha travel guides, Christopher James and Carina Holguín, before bed at the Hotel Alston in Quito. The travel group consists of: me, twelve high school students, age 15-17 and their two teacher chaperones from a pre-collegiate private high school in Norfolk, Virginia.
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