A previous stop for Jesuit missionaries, privateers, and buccaneers, it is home to 25,000 people and some of the most unique wild life on earth. Today, the main area has some modern buildings, streets are clean, and most people ride bicycles. There is no begging and little theft. The home and business owners are trying to control foreign ownership. Saturday is the city market where food and handicrafts are sold. Darwin Station is run by the Galapagos Conservancy. Some volunteers do research but they are careful that local people are paid as much as possible to help the local economy.
These islands have 200,000 visitors per year in, usually, very small boats. You cannot live here unless you have a job or family on one of the islands. Fishermen, farmers, scientists, and conservationists all try to protect this land. Fishermen are only allowed lines/hooks- NO nets. Poaching is controlled by patrol boats so the largest problem has become invasive plants hitching a ride from Equador (which has endangered the cotton crop). Volcanoes were still active as recently as 2 years ago, and lava tubes/tunnels abound underneath the hard black surface.
A solar farm has been established by South Korean development in order to minimize gasoline use. The airport is eco-friendly, using solar panels and recycling. In the 1980s, garbage was taken out into the ocean but today it is dealt with better. Walks are very controlled- some places a tourist cannot go without a scientist as a guide.
Cacti grow on the lower arid zones while fungi/mushrooms are seen at 900 metres. Butterflies and grasshoppers are less in number today. In an El Nino year, many fish die so there is no food for the seals. Decades ago, there were 4000 flamingoes. Now only 1000 exist. In bird populations, including the blue footed booby, climate change is causing less food to be found which, in turn, doesn’t trigger the hormones for mating so less babies are born.
The mangrove finch, one of the 13 species Darwin found, is banded with GPS–only 60 are left. Eggs are laid at the top of the mangrove branches. Conservationists collect the eggs now at the beginning of breeding season to help the chicks live. It is a noisy place where they hand feed the babies! Mangrove finch calls are played to them daily. At 6 weeks, they are released back to the mangroves, and followed for 4 more weeks. Nearly all have survived to breed themselves in 3-4 years. The scientists are careful NOT to imprint (show babies a human or they will identify with the human as a future mate).
Tortoises follow the food (which is higher up now due to global warming) and lay their eggs in crumbly soil (harder to find higher up). There is a tortoise reserve today on private land. Tortoise eggs hatch and the babies (at age 5) are released back to the islands where they came so as not to alter the populations. Tortoises live a long life but do not reproduce until age 30-40. They will not nest successfully if the plants and soil are not right. Lonesome George, the last of his species of tortoise, died in 2012 at age 150.
Check out the internet for some beautiful pictures of these unique species. Google “Galapagos National Park”. Our instructor, Marylee Stephenson, a naturalist, has been to the Galapagos Islands 10 times. It has been wonderful listening to her share her experiences with us in class.
Sue Robinson–Sue has had an illustrious 42-year teaching career and is now embarking on a journey as a student in our Liberal Arts and Adults 55+ courses. SFU courses have led to many explorations for Robinson; “SFU just opened me back up to all sorts of things,” she says.