Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands were officially discovered by Fray Tomás de Berlanga, the Bishop of Panama, in 1535, when his ship was becalmed in the Pacific.
The islands first appeared on maps in about 1570 in those drawn by Abraham Ortelius and Mercator. The islands were called "Insulae de los Galapagos" (Islands of the Tortoises).

The Archipelago of Galapagos consists of six main islands (Isabella, Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Floreana, Santiago and Fernandina), 12 smaller islands 42 islets, and countless small rock formations. The Galapagos Islands, officially known as the Archipelago of Colón, are situated in the Pacific Ocean at 972 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador. The best way to explore the unparalleled natural wonders of the Galapagos is by small yacht.

Ecuador included the Galapagos Islands on February 12, 1832, naming it Archipelago of Ecuador, name which is still used to refer to the archipelago. The islands are located in the eastern Pacific Ocean, 973 Km, and west coast of South America. It is also atop the Galapagos hotspot, a place where the Earth´s crust is being melted from below by a mantle plume, creating volcanoes.

The oldest islands were formed between 5 million and 10 million years ago. Youngest islands are still being formed, with the most recent volcanic eruption in April 2009.

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The voyage of the Beagle brought the survey ship HMS Beagle under Captain Robert Fitzroy to the Galapagos on September 15, 1835 to survey approaches to harbours.

Charles Darwin made a scientific study of geology and biology on Chatham, Charles, Albemarle and James islands before they left on October 20 to continue on their round-the-world expedition. Darwin noticed that mockingbirds differed between islands. When specimens of birds were analyzed on his return to England it was found that many apparently different kinds of birds were species of finches which were also unique to islands. These facts were crucial in Darwin's development of his theory of natural selection explaining evolution, which was presented in The Origin of Species.

The first European colonists to arrive were Norwegians who settled briefly on Floreana, before moving on to San Cristobal and Santa Cruz. A few years later, other colonists from Europe, America and Ecuador started arriving on the islands, seeking a simpler life. Descendants of the Norwegian Kastdalen family and the German Angermeyer still live on the islands.

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During World War II Ecuador authorized the United States to establish a naval base in Baltra island and radar stations in other strategic locations. Baltra was also established as a US Air Force Base. Today the island continues as an official Ecuadorian military base. The foundations and other remains of the US base can still be seen as one crosses the island.

Galapagos became a National Park in 1959 and tourism started in the 1960s, imposing several restrictions upon the human population already living on the island. However, opportunities in the tourism, fishing and farming industries attracted a mass of poor fishermen and farmers from mainland Ecuador.

Although located on the Equator, the Humboldt Current brings cold water to the islands, causing frequent drizzles during most of the year. The weather is periodically influenced by the El Niño phenomenon which brings warmer temperatures and heavy rains.

During the season known as the "Garua" (June to November) the temperature by the sea is 22 °C (72 °F), a steady and cold wind blows from South and Southeast, and frequent drizzles (Garuas) last most of the day, along with dense fog which conceals the islands. During the warm season (December to May) the average sea and air temperature rises to 25 °C (77 °F), there is no wind at all, there are sporadic though strong rains and the sun shines.

Temperature decreases gradually with altitude, while precipitation increases due to the condensation of moisture in clouds on the slopes. There is a large range in precipitation from one place to another, not only with altitude but also depending on the location of the islands, and also with the seasons.

There are significant changes in precipitation from one year to another too. At Charles Darwin Station the precipitation during March 1969 was 249.0 mm (9.80 in), but during March 1970 it was only 1.2 mm (0.05 in).

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