Up until 2008, our adventures were retained only as memories and on Kodachromes. While our memories may have faded (just a bit), the Kodachromes haven’t – and we have a lot of them. So we’re digitizing a select few to bring some of our past adventures into the 21st Century. This is one of those.
As an undergraduate biology major, I had developed a deep-seated desire to visit the islands that kick-started Darwin on his path (along with Wallace) to scientific immortality. By December 1985, I had accumulated enough vacation days, along with a foreign travel clearance from my then employer, to finally make the pilgrimage. After flying to Quito, I joined a group of nine fellow tourists as we made our way to Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz (1). We spent three days there, visiting the tortoises at the Darwin Research Station, hiking to a stunningly white and broad beach, and seeing rays swarm in a lagoon. Then we boarded a motor sailing boat – the Yacht Encantada – to visit Isla Floreana (2), Isla Española (3), Isla Santa Fé (4), Isla Genovesa (5), Isla Santiago (6), and Isla Bartolomé (7). The routine was for the boat to sail or motor between islands overnight so we could spend the whole next day exploring an island.
On our way back to Isla Santa Cruz for our flights home, we stopped briefly at Daphne Major (8), where B. Rosemary Grant and Peter Grant, a wife-and-husband team of scientists from Princeton University, had been conducting field work on Darwin’s finches since 1973. The remote location of this tiny island enabled them (and other researchers) to study the evolution of biodiversity due to natural selection under pristine conditions.
A visit to the Galápagos is not about people or architecture or art or culinary delights or any other human concerns – it’s about the plants and animals, many of which are unique to this place. You can’t touch or bother or harass either the plants or the animals. But they are so calm in the presence of humans that you can get a very, very close look at them. Traveling with such a small group also meant that we could spread out and not confront any animal with a wall of agitating humanity. So, between the pilgrimage to Darwin, the tortoises, and all the other plants and animals we got to appreciate close-up, this trip was a resounding success.
Isla Santa Cruz
Isla Santa Fé
Sadly, the group of bird species collectively known as Darwin’s finches face possible extinction due to an invasive avian parasite fly (Philornis downsi) native to mainland Ecuador and Brazil. The fly was unwittingly introduced in the 1960s and has now spread to the majority of the islands. During its life cycle, the parasite kills by sucking the blood out of its host populations – here the Darwin’s finches and other bird species. Efforts are underway to find ways to kill this parasite without harming the birds or other wildlife.
I was never able to make a return visit but I like to think that the plants and animals are still there waiting to be appreciated. What has changed is the number of people trying to make a living on the islands. Thanks to increased tourism and new fisheries, the islands’ population has grown from roughly 3,000 in the 1960s to approximately 30,000 today. Not unexpectedly, this growing human population is threatening the health of the ecosystems and species on which tourism depends. Fortunately, these threats – from introduction of invasive species to rapid, largely unregulated construction in the islands’ towns – are now recognized and steps are being taken to address them. But, as in so many other places, accommodating both economics and ecology is an on-going, and ever challenging, process.HOME