What Makes the Galapagos so Unique?

We spent a month in the Galapagos, and we´re thinking of coming back for another 3 months.  The Galapagos Islands are very unique.

  • Char showing us how big and heavy tortoise shells are

    Char showing us how big and heavy tortoise shells are

    The islands have large reptiles and small mammals whereas the rest of the world has large mammals and small reptiles.  We´re told that this is because reptiles could live the 2 weeks it would take to drift on a piece of wood from South America out to the Galapagos but a mammal would die of starvation and thirst.  Without any competition the reptiles grew large.

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  • The animals and fish have no fear of humans because they are protected by park regulations and guides who are required to be with all visitors.
Char and Charles Darwin on San Cristobol

Char and Charles Darwin on San Cristobol

    • Darwin formulated origin of species here. He observed the many varieties of finches as a basis of his theory.  Such little creatures have had such a big impact in our understanding of how we evolved!
    • Interestingly, researchers named Peter and Rosemary Grant studied 4 species of Darwin finch on Daphne Major for 23 years starting in 1973. They observed the finch´s beaks change when the climate changed.  Their study proved both that evolution can happen much faster than previously thought and that it´s not too late to be a modern day Darwin.

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  • IMG_4563The Galapagos islands have many environments: ocean, lagoon, estuary, fresh water (mostly underground), lava-fields, rainy and dry.  It is one of the few places where the fresh water environment with cacti lives very near the salt water environment of the ocean.
  • The Galapagos are well known in many countries of the world and they are designated as a World heritage site.

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  • Most of the marine iguanas are black females

    Most of the marine iguanas are black – males change color in breeding season

    The Galapagos are home to a large number of species found only in the Galapagos, such as the giant tortoises and the marine iguanas.

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White sand beaches and turquoise water

White sand beaches and turquois water

  • The Galapagos are a set of tropical islands with many white sand beaches and warm turquoise water (warm half of the year).  It is much easier to get to than the other South Pacific islands such as Marquesas, Tahiti, and the Cook Islands.

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  • The Galapagos are managed very aggressively to preserve the natural environment.
Visitors are tightly controlled as they experience the Galapagos wildlife

Visitors are tightly controlled as they experience the Galapagos wildlife

o   Visitation locations are limited.  Tourists visit less than 5% of the Galapagos physical locations.  The number of cruise boats is limited and private yacht cruising is extremely limited.

o   Visitors are charged a significant fee (currently $100 per person, rumored to be changing to $250 per person).

o   Visitors can ONLY visit the visitation spots with a certified Galapagos guide.

o   The number of permanent residents is limited.  We learned that in 1998 they registered all of the people who had been in the Galapagos 20 years or more. These, and their children, are designated residents.

o   If a non-resident wants to purchase property they can partner with a resident, and the resident has a 51% share in the property, even if the resident didn´t contribute any money toward the purchase.  This keeps ownership in the control of the residents.

Puerto Ayora´s solar farm covers about 10 acres and generates 1.5 Mega Watts

Puerto Ayora´s solar farm covers about 10 acres and generates 1.5 Mega Watts

o   The Galapagos are striving to achieve energy independence.  There are current and planned wind and solar sites, and Toyota is talking with the government on Santa Cruz island to replace all 600 taxis with electric vehicles in the future.

o   Galapagos agriculture control agents check all luggage, food, and goods coming to the islands to ensure that no foreign species are coming in. Before we took off, our luggage went through a special screening for fruits and vegetables.  During the flight, all of the overhead compartments were opened and sprayed with insecticide.

  • The Galapagos Islands have money to manage their environment. We were told that institutions here such as the Charles Darwin Research Center are looking for the best and the brightest academics from around the world to help them understand how to manage their treasure.  All of the money from all of those fees is available to pay salaries.  Both the Darwin Foundation and the University of Northern Carolina Chapel Hill´s campus on San Cristobal manage these studies.
  • The climate in the Galapagos is affected by three ocean currents: the cold nutrient rich, Humbolt current from the South, the warm Panama Current from the North East, and the sub oceanic Cromwell Current from the West.  The differences between these currents, and the nutrients they carry to the islands, are one reason for the variety and numbers of life forms found on these islands.

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Racing bike with no lock parked on the sidewalk in the evening

Racing bike with no lock parked on the sidewalk in the evening

  • There is almost no crime in the Galapagos.  Frequently we see bicycles sitting unlocked on the street, and motor scooters parked with the keys in the ignition.
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