The insuperable creative force in the bowels of the Earth made the first islands that emerged from the sea more than five million years ago. Since then, the process of information of Galapagos has not ceased.

When the Galapagos were first spotted by humans in 1535, its animals had already spent thousands of years adapting and readapting to their island home.

Located 500 miles off the western coast of South America, the unique conditions of the isolated islands created a variety of species unlike any others across the globe, differing slightly even from island to island. Giant tortoises, for example, grew so large there because their smaller ancestors that first swam over from the mainland no longer had predators to hide from, scientists think.

Darwin observed the giant tortoises (and, unfortunately, ate many of them), iguanas and sea lions on the Galapagos, but it was the enormous variety of birds on the islands that especially captured his attention. Eighty-five percent of Galapagos birds can't be found anywhere else, including the famous finches. Thirteen species of finch are endemic to the Galapagos Islands, similar in look except for the distinct shapes and sizes of their beaks. The different beaks allow them to take advantage of the unique food sources of their particular island. Some eat like woodpeckers, others use sticks to dig insects out of holes, and still others are nourished by ticks and mites plucked from the backs of tortoises.

Over five weeks in 1835, Darwin made careful observations of the peculiar birds on each island, but did not have his great eureka! moment about evolution while on the Galapagos, contrary to popular belief. It was only in 1839, after comparing his notes with fellow scientists, that Darwin's observations jelled into a theory with a name - natural selection. Each living thing that Darwin cataloged had adapted to its specific environment over many generations because its ancestor possessed characteristics favorable to its survival and the survival of its offspring, he supposed.

The idea that animals develop gradually from simpler to more complex organisms was not a new one - naturalists had proposed that theory in the late 18th century - but it was the ""how"" of this transformation that eluded scientists. Natural selection, as displayed in real time in the Galapagos Islands connected the dots. With the groundwork essentially laid, Darwin went about collecting evidence to support the then heretical notion that his observations in the Galapagos could be applied to all animals, including humans. It took 20 more years before he felt comfortable enough to publish his work in ""The Origin of Species.""

How were the islands formed?

Beneath Galapagos is a hot, that is, source of molten rock or magma, which rises from the depths, pierces the crust like bellows, and erupts in a torrent of lava. The hot spot remains immobile, while the Nazca Plate, on which Galapagos sits, moves 3 centimeters per year towards the continent. This process, over millions of years, has created a cluster of volcanic islands.

This explains the fact that the islands of Espanola and San Cristobal, in the eastern part of the archipelago, are older (about 3,000,000 years) than Isabela and Fernandina in the west (about 700,000 years).

Imagine! These islands will be one and a half meters closer to the continent within 50 years.

Fire in the depths

The interior of the planet is boiling and reaches 3000 degrees Celsius. This heat feeds a powerful force, capable of moving the crust of the Earth.

The first written account about Galapagos

Exalted Imperial Catholic Majesty:

It seemed to me correct to inform your majesty of the progress of my trip since I left Panama […] The ship made very good time with winds for seven days, and the pilot stayed near land and we were becalmed for six days; the currents were son strong and engulfed us in such a manner that Wednesday, the 10th of March, we saw an island; and since the ship had only enough water for two days, it was agreed to lower a boat and go ashore for water

and grass for the horses, once ashore, nothing more was found but sea lions and turtles and tortoises so large that each could carry a man on top of itself, and many iguanas that are like serpents. […] On a second island, there were the same conditions as on the first: many sea lions, turtles, iguanas, tortoises, many birds like those from Spain, but so silly that they did not’t know how to flee and many were caught by hand […]

Fray Thomas

Once the Galapagos were discovered, the Spanish crown wished to have the Archipelago explored. Various expeditions allowed the elaboration of the first navigation charts and maps which bear the original names of the islands in Spanish.

Description of a fleet of whalers in Galapagos, 1849 HERMAN MELVILLE (author of Moby Dick)

The richness of the seas surrounding Galapagos attracts the whales of the southern Pacific during their reproductive season. This fact, together with the advantages altered by the islands for repair and provisioning of their ships, drew attention of the whaling industry. The first whaling ship to enter the pacific, the Emilia, returned to London in 1790 with 140 tons of whale oil and 888 fur seal pelts. This news attracted other British whalers and, a few years later, the North Americans.

Beginning of exploitation

… We stood away to the Westward, to try if we could find those islands which the Spaniards call Galapagos or Enchanted Islands […]Here being great plenty of Provision, as Fish, Sea and Land Tortoises, some of which weighed at least 200 Pound weight, which are excellent good, sweet Water, Wood, etc. […]

WILLIAM AMBROSE COWLEY, English chronicler and buccaneer, 1684

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Archipelago was a refuge for buccaneers and in the 19th century for whalers. The pirates, after attacking Spanish galleons, sailed to their favorite hiding place: Galapagos. Later, the whalers, attracted by the marine resources of the Archipelago, made this their hunting grounds and the islands their safe port.

With these voyages began the exploitation of giant tortoises, whales, and fur seals. In addition, non-native animals were introduced into the island environment.

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