- Galápagos Islands
/geuh lah"peuh gohs'/; Sp. /gah lah"pah gaws'/an archipelago on the equator in the Pacific, ab. 600 mi. (965 km) W of and belonging to Ecuador: many unique species of animal life. 4058; 3029 sq. mi. (7845 sq. km). Also called Colón Archipelago. Spanish, Archipiélago de Colón.
* * *Spanish Archipiélago de ColónIsland group, eastern Pacific Ocean.A province (pop., 2001: 18,640) of Ecuador, the Galápagos are a group of 19 islands lying on the Equator 600 mi (1,000 km) west of the mainland. Their total land area of 3,093 sq mi (8,010 sq km) is scattered over 23,000 sq mi (59,500 sq km) of ocean. Visited by the Spanish in 1535, they were unclaimed when Ecuador took official possession of them in 1832. They became internationally famous after being visited in 1835 by British naturalist Charles Darwin; their unusual fauna, including the giant tortoise (Spanish galápago), contributed to his ideas on natural selection. Ecuador made the Galápagos a wildlife sanctuary in 1935 and a national park in 1968; in 1978 they were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
* * *▪ islands, EcuadorSpanish Islas Galápagos , officially Archipiélago de Colón (“Columbus Archipelago”)island group of the eastern Pacific Ocean, administratively a province of Ecuador. The Galapagos consist of 13 major islands (ranging in area from 5.4 to 1,771 square miles [14 to 4,588 square km]), 6 smaller islands, and scores of islets and rocks lying athwart the Equator 600 miles (1,000 km) west of the mainland of Ecuador. Their total land area of 3,093 square miles (8,010 square km) is scattered over 23,000 square miles (59,500 square km) of ocean. The government of Ecuador designated part of the Galapagos a wildlife sanctuary in 1935, and in 1959 the sanctuary became the Galapagos National Park. In 1978 UNESCO added the islands to its World Heritage List (World Heritage site), and in 1986 the Galapagos Marine Resources Reserve was created to protect the surrounding waters. The Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz (Indefatigable) Island (Santa Cruz Island) promotes scientific studies and protects the indigenous vegetation and animal life of the Galapagos.The Galapagos Islands are formed of lava piles and dotted with shield volcanoes, many of which are periodically active. The striking ruggedness of the arid landscape is accentuated by high volcanic mountains, craters, and cliffs. The largest of the islands, Isabela (Albemarle) (Isabela Island), is approximately 82 miles (132 km) long and constitutes more than half of the total land area of the archipelago; it contains Mount Azul, at 5,541 feet (1,689 metres) the highest point of the Galapagos Islands. The second largest island is Santa Cruz.The Galapagos Islands were discovered in 1535 by the bishop of Panama, Tomás de Berlanga, whose ship had drifted off course while en route to Peru. He named them Las Encantadas (“The Enchanted”), and in his writings he marveled at the thousands of large galápagos (tortoises) found there. Numerous Spanish voyagers stopped at the islands from the 16th century, and the Galapagos also came to be used by pirates and by whale and seal hunters. The area had been unclaimed for almost 300 years before colonization began on what is now Santa María Island in 1832, when Ecuador took official possession of the archipelago. The islands became internationally famous as a result of their being visited in 1835 by the English naturalist Charles Darwin (Darwin, Charles); their unusual fauna contributed to the groundbreaking theories on natural selection presented in his Origin of Species (1859).The climate of the Galapagos Islands is characterized by low rainfall, low humidity, and relatively low air and water temperatures. The islands have thousands of plant and animal species, of which the vast majority are endemic. The archipelago's arid lowlands are covered by an open cactus forest. A transition zone at higher elevations is covered with a forest in which pisonia (a four o'clock (four-o'clock) plant) and guava trees dominate, and the moist forest region above the transition zone is dominated by a Scalesia forest with dense underbrush. The treeless upland zone is covered with ferns and grasses.The archipelago is renowned for its unusual animal life. Its giant tortoises (tortoise) are thought to have some of the longest life spans (up to 150 years) of any creature on Earth. The close affinities of Galapagos animals to the fauna of South and Central America indicate that most of the islands' species originated there. Because of subsequent evolutionary adaptations, an amazing range of subspecies are found on the islands today. Galapagos finches (Galapagos finch), for example, have developed a multitude of adaptive types from one common ancestral type; their subspecies now differ mainly in beak shape and size. The swimming marine iguanas (iguana), which feed on seaweed and in some places cover the coastal rocks by the hundreds, are unique and endemic. Another species of interest is the flightless cormorant. In addition, penguins and fur seals live on the islands side by side with tropical animals. A geologic study published in 1992 suggested that underwater seamounts near the Galapagos had formed islands between 5,000,000 and 9,000,000 years ago; this helped explain the great amount of endemic speciation, which many biologists believe could not have occurred in a lesser amount of time. The existing Galapagos Islands were formed between 700,000 and 5,000,000 years ago, making them geologically young.The islands' human inhabitants, mostly Ecuadorans, live in settlements on San Cristóbal (San Cristóbal Island), Santa María, Isabela, and Santa Cruz islands; Baltra (Baltra Island) has an Ecuadoran military base. Some of the islands are virtually untouched by humans, but many have been altered by the introduction of nonnative plants, the growth of the local human population, and tourist traffic. Tourism, fishing, and agriculture are the main economic activities. Pop. (2001) 18,640.Additional ReadingR. Perry (ed.), Galápagos (1984); and Michael H. Jackson, Galapagos, a Natural History, rev. and expanded ed. (1993), discuss the flora and fauna of the islands. Further well-illustrated sources on the fauna include David W. Steadman and Steven Zousmer, Galápagos: Discovery on Darwin's Islands (1988); and Isabel Castro and Antonia Phillips, A Guide to the Birds of the Galápagos Islands (1996). Recent evolutionary research is presented in B. Rosemary Grant and Peter R. Grant, Evolutionary Dynamics of a Natural Population: The Large Cactus Finch of the Galapagos (1989), the results of an 11-year project; and Jonathan Weiner, The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time (1994), on the findings of the many research projects the Grants have conducted in the Galapagos. Marine life is covered by Peter W. Glynn, Gerard M. Wellington, and John W. Wells, Corals and Coral Reefs of the Galápagos Islands (1983); Matthew J. James (ed.), Galápagos Marine Invertebrates: Taxonomy, Biogeography, and Evolution in Darwin's Islands (1991); Paul Humann, Reef Fish Identification: Galápagos, ed. by Ned DeLoach (1993); and Jack Stein Grove and Robert J. Lavenberg, The Fishes of the Galápagos Islands (1997). Guidebooks include Barry Boyce, A Traveler's Guide to the Galapagos Islands, 2nd ed. (1994); and Alan Murphy, Ecuador & Galápagos Handbook (1997).
* * *