The Galápagos Islands are an archipelago within the Pacific Ocean, all thirteen (main islands) of which are deemed volcanic. This is perhaps not surprising due to their distribution around the tectonic plates below, and their proximity to the equator.
While it is believed that South American tribes first discovered the Galápagos Islands, their discovery wasn’t documented until 1535 when Bishop De Berlanga’s ship sailed off course (destined for Peru) and landed accidentally there. Several expeditions were made to the Galápagos Islands hence, but it wasn’t until the 1830s that the island became inhabited by man.
The Galápagos Islands gained their name from one of the species that lived on it; the Galápagos turtle that had already been named by Spanish explorers because of its strange shell shape. Many explorers after this time studied the animals that lived there, primarily because the species’ differed greatly from those found inland and on other continents. Charles Darwin visited the islands in 1835, where he studied the animals further and found that the species even different between the islands that make up this archipelago. His studies prompted the creation of his survival of the fittest theory and thus the backbone to The Origin of Species, published in 1859.
Scientists and geologists are still unsure of how exactly the Galápagos Islands were formed and when, although they do know that the proximity to the equator means that there is increased volcanic activity. Couple this with their specific location above active tectonic plates, it’s almost guaranteed that they were formed from volcanoes, and remain to be volcanic themselves.
The formation of each of the Galápagos Islands is only an estimation and due to studies on tectonic plate activity, scientists now know that the Islands cannot be older than 5 million years. The island also change formation all the time, with the latest specific change occurring in 1954 when the seabed was uplifted by 15 feet and a significant amount of magma was released through a fissure (hydrothermal vent), where it then cooled on the surface of the ocean.. Volcanoes on the islands themselves are also often erupting, with the latest in 1998.
Why it Was Chosen: 150 words on why CEDAM International (American diver’s association) chose it for one of the seven wonders
Even in 1835 when Charles Darwin explored the islands, significant damage to the wildlife there had occurred because inhabitants had brought other species to the island which were then killing off the existing ones. Tortoises were also taken by explorers to provide sustenance on their ships and many species were made extinct this way.
CEDAM International; the American Diving Association chose the Galápagos Islands to be one of their seven wonders of the underwater world because their aim for this project was to protect underwater structures that needed preserving. The Galápagos Islands may not be entirely underwater, but they were formed there and much of the volcanic activity that continues to form them occurs there. The prestige that Darwin also brought to the Islands is also brought to the Islands and the fact that they inspired him to write The Origin of Species also gives us more reason to want to protect this area of the world.
How Can they Be Seen?
Much of the recreation on the Galápagos Islands revolves around the exquisite wildlife that is found there, so if you’re a nature lover then it’s perfect. Be warned though, the islands are located on the equator, so when it’s hot, it’s hot!
The Galápagos Islands are home to the world’s only penguins that live on or around the equator and with certain tour operators you can swim alongside them. You may also visit the famous Galápagos turtles and tortoises that gave this archipelago its name, and also scuba dive with whales and dolphins around the islands.
If you plan to fly directly to the island then you will need to fly first to Quito airport and then make stops in Guayaquil and finally in Baltra. If you fly to Equador, however, then there are several cruise liners that offer very scenic and enjoyable boat tours to and around the islands. Once you arrive at the Galápagos Islands themselves, you’ll need to travel around them by boat, but there is a lot of choice here; from slow cruise boats to fast speedboats and luxury yachts. Unfortunately, tourists cannot visit all thirteen of the main Galápagos Islands as some of them are protected (they are a UNESCO World Heritage site after all!).