Certain locations are of special interest to naturalists and botanists and the Galapagos Islands have provided a significant contribution to our understanding of the natural world. There are thirteen major volcanic islands and six smaller islands with the addition of various islets and rocks. The most recent volcanic eruption occurred in 2005. The islands are a National Park and a World Heritage Site.
The islands have a number of species that are unique to that area and conservation is very important here. Species includes the Galapagos Land Iguana and Marine Iguana, sea cucumber and varieties of hawk, sea lions, penguins and turtles. The introduction of various plants and animals has upset the natural balance of life. Some of these were brought by visiting pirates and some by colonists. Dogs, cats and pigs are the most harmful to the Galapagos Islands flora and fauna.
Part of the surrounding ocean is a marine reserve and suffers from illegal fishing. Sea cucumber is harvested and sharks are hunted for their fins. The rise in tourism and the growth of the resident human population is another source of concern for conservationists.
The islands have served different purposes over the ears. Pirates used them to hide their contraband, particularly English pirates who were smuggling Spanish treasure. The Galapagos Islands were first visited by South Americans and the Spanish, appearing on maps from around 1570. There was an American naval base on the island called Baltra during World War II. A penal colony operated on Isabela Island from 1946 to 1959.
The islands are best known for the part they played in the work of naturalist, Charles Darwin. He visited there in 1835 as a passenger on board the survey ship, HMS Beagle. The animals, birds and plant life that he observed on the trip formed the basis of his research and what would become the Origin of Species. This was his theory of evolution and natural selection that stunned the scientific community. The Galapagos Islands, abundant with unique life, was the perfect environment for Darwin to study. One of the islands is named after him and conservation work began there in 1964 with the opening of the Charles Darwin Research Station.
These islands are a priceless treasure house for scientists to study and for nature lovers to enjoy. A balance must be struck however, between giving access to the public and preserving the delicate, ecological status of the area. Darwin made the islands famous and we have the responsibility of stewardship.
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