Galapagos – General information
From Guayaquil, after a one-and-a-half hour flight, they suddenly emerge from the deep blue ocean:
The enchanted islands, the enchanted islands, the enchanting islands. Tropical dream world, paradise on earth, Noah’s Ark in the Pacific, God’s workshop, paradigm of evolution or Fantastic Laboratory of Nature, are the many other intoxicating nicknames for the exotic Galápagos archipelago, that for the entire Ecuadorian tourism industry worldwide to the magic formula constantly increasing visitor numbers became.
location and size
Almost 1,000 kilometers west of the Ecuadorian mainland, or 1,200 km southwest of Panamá and Costa Rica, are the 70 islands, islets, and out of the water protruding volcanic rocks of the Galápagos Archipelago. Isabela, with 4,588 square kilometers by far the largest island among them, occupies more than half of the total area.
It is followed by Santa Cruz (986 sq km), Fernandina (642 sq km), Santiago (585 sq km), San Cristóbal (558 sq km), Floreana (173 sq km) and Marchena (115 sq km). The total surface of the archipelago is just over 8,000 square kilometers. Rábida, Seymour, Wolf, Bartolomé, Tortuga and Darwin are among the smallest islands with an area of 1 to 5 sq. Km.
Pulled on an axis from west to east, the island empire stretches over 320 km. The equator line runs exactly through the volcanic crater Wolf in the northern part of Isabela Island. At 1,707 meters above sea level this is also the highest point in Galápagos.
The genesis of the archipelago
Like many other volcanic island chains in the Pacific, the Galápagos Islands are of oceanic descent. Oceanic in this case means the opposite of continental, d. H. The islands have had no connection to the mainland in the course of their history or have emerged from it by drifting away. Irrespective of the geological events on the South American continent, they have been lifted from the depths of the sea to the surface of the water, or were created by a hot magma discharge from the Earth’s interior. Similar to the Hawaiian Islands, the Galápagos Islands are still very young, and still “growing”!
The geological structure of the earth is comparable to a peach. The hard inner earth core is surrounded by a soft pulp (magma). This viscous mantle is held together by a thin outer shell, the crust of the earth. This outer crust of the earth is divided into twelve large plates that constantly rub against each other, like a moving spherical mosaic, collide, unfold and dive together as they swim around on the viscous mantle.
The continuous movements of these clashing plates eventually lead to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Cause of these tectonic plate movements are certain currents and countercurrents within the mantle, which grind the earth’s crust in one place, and reshape to compensate in another place.
The Galápagos Islands are located on the northern edge of the so-called Nazca Plate. This plate slowly moves toward the east towards the South American plate – at an annual rhythm of about nine centimeters. On the other hand, the South American plate, on which the continent of the same name is located, moves westward, at a speed of about five centimeters per year. These two plates collide west of the South American Pacific coast in a kind of slow-motion collision. Along this zone, where the lighter Nazca plate plunges beneath the heavier South American plate, not only has a deep sea trench formed, but also the immense Andean chain has been folded out by continuing to push up the continental plate.
A little further north of Galápagos is also the Cocos plate, which finally dips under the Caribbean plate. The islands are thus exactly in the border area of these three plates. The gradual drift of the Nazca plate – and thus of the Galápagos archipelago – explains the foldings of the sea and continental soils, but not yet the volcanic activity of the islands.
Among the Galápagos Islands is a spot that geologists call a hot spot. A hot spot is a zone of hot ascending magma in the lower mantle area, which eventually pierces through the hard crust of the earth like a fire-breathing fountain. This Hot Spot has formed at this point a submarine platform like a heat bubble, from which rise the isolated Galápagos Volcanoes. They are nothing more than the valves of this underground hot spot. Where one of these volcanic cones protrudes from the ocean, a new island is created. In the case of Isabela Island, these were once five separate volcanoes that have melted into a large landmass due to sustained eruptions and lava outflows.
However, since this hotspot always remains in the same place, while the Nazca plate at the same time drifts to the continent, the Galápagos Islands are to be classified from east to west age. The oldest islands are therefore the most easterly Española and San Cristóbal (over 3 million years), while the youngest are also the most volcanically active: Fernandina and Isabela (about 700,000 years).
The current archipelago thus rises from the water in two different forms. The round volcanic cones are the result of this fixed hot spot, while the flattened block hills are the result of the Nazca plate movement, which has unfolded the seabed partly over the water surface. Some of the islands have been shaped in this context by a combination of these two powerful forces of genesis.
Recent geological findings have proved that there must have been a kind of “proto-Galápagos” further east of the islands (more than nine million years ago). These forerunners of today’s islands are meanwhile long erosioniert again and disappeared in the sea. They were much closer to the continent than today’s islands and can thus provide completely new information about the theory of evolution.
In the end, wildlife did not have to travel that far to reach the archipelago. At least not as originally suspected. This proto-archipelago was just 300 – 400 kilometers west of the continent. This also explains why there are Galápagos animals and plants that must have passed through an age due to their endemic stage of development that far exceeds the age of today’s islands.
Galapagos – Climate
The interaction of different Pacific Ocean currents with the winds, the Galapagos Islands have no typical equatorial climate, but rather have a unique microclimate. The ocean currents are the key to this phenomenon, which basically creates two seasons – a cool and a warm one.
From January to May / June, mild summer northeast passes are dominated by tropical-summer air temperatures. By the north equatorial Panamástrom, which is also known as El Niño at unusual strength, warm planktonarmes sea water is supplied (24-27 degrees). The warm air over the ocean is warmed up and condensed. During these months, heavy rain showers can also occur in the coastal area of the islands, while many marine animals and seabirds have to worry about their food due to the absence of the cold nutrient-rich Humboldt Current from the south.
Nevertheless, the archipelago has the most sunny days during this humid season. The otherwise dry vegetation thrives magnificently and takes on color. Even the dusty desert island of Baltra is covered by a green carpet. In addition, many animals start reproducing during this more touristy season.
From June to December / January, in the so-called garúa months, cool air and water temperatures prevail. With the Humboldt Current from Antarctic climes, subtropical weather fronts reach Galápagos from the south. A sea of dense clouds covers the higher elevations of the islands, caused by the interaction of cold water (17-20 degrees) and warm air. Strong trade winds from the southeast are driving this effect even further.
It comes to fog and permanent drizzle (garúa). In addition, the cold equatorial Cromwell current, which strikes the Galápagos plateau from several hundreds of meters to the west (Fernandina, Isabela, Floreana), plays an important role in the nutrient supply of the dolphins, whales and penguins.
The plankton-rich lake is very rough, especially in the months of August to October, and the marine fauna increases at this time of year increasingly. The coastal vegetation, on the other hand, is drying up, even the Palo Santo forests are losing their leaves completely. Dust and stones are often the first impression of island visitors. This is sometimes the most exciting season for scuba divers. Landgoers are advised to pack a warm jacket or a light sweater.
Galapagos – Fauna
There is hardly a place on earth where animals are easier to observe in the wild than in the Galápagos Islands.
Despite the centuries of butchery by pirates, buccaneers, whalers, fur seal hunters, settlers and US Navy, the animals show no fear of the ever-arriving tourist army. At some visitor sites, camera-armed groups are even marching through dozens of their territories every day, stumbling past their niches and breeding grounds, and unsettling their newborns. The adult animals remain undaunted and can be photographed steadfast from close up. Man is simply accepted as an insignificant part of their natural environment. Some animals, especially sea lion cubs and Darwin finches, even show blatant curiosity. Others, such as B. the boobies, snap at too intrusive Zunahekommen with the beak.
This unanimous endorsement of human beings by animals is first and foremost due to the professional nature guides who have been following the strict guidelines of the National Park Administration for decades. As one of the most urgent tasks of the Guids proves that the tourists only walk on the prescribed paths, so as not to step on the animals or their nesting sites off the roads. Visitors who can not resist the temptation to leave the marked path will be immediately reprimanded. Apart from that, anyway, sooner or later, the coveted motif is sitting right on the edge of the road in front of the lens anyway. Also, in case of unreasonable backward movement for better reception, care should be taken to breed many birds and iguanas in the middle of the tourist paths. To avoid destroying these breeding sites, careful avoidance is the top priority. Never climb directly over a nest!
There are also egotistical sea lion bulls who stubbornly occupy the pier, or want to claim the beautiful beach for themselves and their numerous playmates. Again, any kind of confrontation should be avoided. For animals the national park regulations do not apply, even if these are intended only for them last but not least.
The best time to observe the wildlife is in the early morning and late afternoon. Around noon, marine iguanas often dive for ocean ground for food, as do sea lions and sea turtles. Even the many seabirds often have better things to do in the midday heat than posing for the cameras of ecstatic tourists.
On virtually every Galápagos island, visitors can see sea lions, marine iguanas, cliff crabs, lava lizards and Darwin’s finches. On most islands one encounters, however, blue-footed boobies, tropic birds, pelicans, fork-tailed gulls, mockingbirds and Galápagos buzzards. On many islands, there are masked boobies, banded and magnificent frigatebirds, noddy terns and lava gulls. On a few islands there are giant tortoises, fur seals, land iguanas, flightless cormorants, flamingos, penguins and red-footed boobies. And only on Española, the slow-moving albatross can be observed at close range during brooding.
There are very few mammal species in Galápagos. More precisely, only four! The Galápagos rice rat, which can be found on Santa Fé and Fernandina in two subspecies, and the Galápagos bat, which occasionally fluttering in the harbor towns around the street lamps at the Malecón, play a completely insignificant role for visitors.
This blatant lack of mammals simply depends on the fact that there never was a land bridge between the islands and the mainland. Otherwise the animal world would have to be composed quite differently today. At least some of the large land mammals of the Ecuadorian mainland would be expected in a prehistoric connection to the continent.
The most common mammals on virtually all coasts of the Galápagos Islands are the sea lions. Newcomers will be able to confirm this at first glance – even with their eyes closed! The throaty Örk sounds of the ubiquitous swimming stars sometimes haunt island visitors and boaters even to sleep. The dinghies and jetties in the harbor basins of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristóbal) and Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz) are often claimed by the sea lions as a bedstead. Fishermen do not like this at all, since the playful and inquisitive animals shamelessly leave behind their stinking legacies in the boats. If you walk to the wharf in the harbor town of Puerto Villamil in the evening, keep in mind that the electricity is turned off at about 10 pm and the light is switched off. If you accidentally stumble upon a bull lying there in the dark, you may not only be deeply shocked by his vociferous curses. The sharp bite of an angry sea lion bull can cause nasty flesh wounds!
On the island of Plaza, the Galápagos sea lions – very close relatives of the California sea lions, by the way – have polished the stones on the banks and cliffs because of their numerous colonies. Sea lions are polygamous. A single cop can have up to 25-headed harem under its wings. After a gestation period of nine months, each of its females usually gives birth to a baby weighing about 5 kilos at the end of the year. And in another point, the sea lion is not too different from the average Latin American: during the rutting season bloody turf wars are nothing out of the ordinary among jealous bulls!
On Plaza and Rábida there are also small colonies of only old and bachelors. These bulls went out empty handed in the annual female distribution and have become true Eigenbrödlern developed. You should not get too close to them. They are considered extremely aggressive and do not understand any intrusive photo-fun at all.
Sea lions are excellent swimmers and even more elegant divers. You can swim for miles to the sea and reach diving depths of 250 meters. The most imposing of the cops are simply scary when they stand up loudly on their front fins and blurt out. At the latest then it means throw away the camera and make a fly.
The Galápagos fur seal distinguishes itself from the sea lion by its denser fur, the smaller rather plump head, the flattened nose, the larger pinnae, and the lost melancholy gaze. On land you will find the fur seals that are otherwise native to Antarctic climes only in shady niches and small caves, where they can protect themselves from the equatorial sun. The Galápagos Islands owe their presence to the cold Humboldt Current.
In contrast to sea lions, fur seals never seek out the sandy beaches. Their exact population size in Galápagos is not exactly recorded, but it is estimated at several thousand. At least they are much less common than the ubiquitous sea lions.
A total of six reptile species can be found in Galápagos. These include giant elephant turtles, monstrous land iguanas, sea-eating marine iguanas, lava lizards, geckos and a few completely harmless snakes.
The giant tortoises, weighing up to 300 kilos, can only be found on the Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean, except on the enchanted islands. In the Galápagos archipelago 11 of the original 14 subspecies are left.
Where the tragicomic lonely George, once resettled from his home island Pinta to Charles Darwin – Station on Santa Cruz, is the last representative of a race condemned to extinction. Three other subspecies are already extinct, others are bred today on the famous “turtle station”.
Giant tortoises vary from island to island due to their size and the shape of the tank. The slightly smaller Saddleback turtles, with their longer noses and legs, have adapted in the course of evolution to the shallow dry regions. Even if this turtle type prefers to eat fallen cactus pads, it can also reach the leaves of widely branched bushes. The larger turtle-type with the high dome armor, however, prefers the highland regions of the islands, where grasses and fallen fruits are the main food.
Only five different races can be found in the huge volcanic cones of Isabela Island. Their respective action radius is limited to the crater and its edges. This indicates u. It may even indicate that the five Isabela volcanoes were once isolated islands. The evolution of turtles i
Giant tortoises reach sexual maturity after about 25 years. They continue to grow between January and June during the rainy season. In the second half of the year the females go to the dry zones to hatch their eggs. It usually takes a lot of hours until they have dug a deep enough hole with their hind legs.
In this hard work they urinate continuously to give the earth more suppleness. Between 2 and 20 eggs the size of a tennis ball are placed in the brooder. After the hole has been filled up again, the female retreats into the mountains. After another 4 – 8 months, the boys break out of their eggshell. The temperature of the subterranean hatchery ultimately determines the sex of the new hatchlings, with cooler temperatures usually causing males. Their only natural enemy is the Galápagos buzzard. Once they survive the first difficult years, they can reach a proud age of almost 200 years.
Land iguanas live in the dry areas of the islands of Plaza Sur, Santa Cruz, Isabela and Fernandina. A second endemic species is found only on Santa Fe. You can see the iguanas dozing in the sun in the morning while they visit shady places under stones or tree cacti in the midday heat. In order to be able to store their body heat at night, they sleep in self-buried caves. Their diet consists of shrubs, fruits and fallen cactus pads, whose spines they usually scratch out with their claws. On the other hand, quite audacious specimens can sometimes be observed as they bite in the middle of the spines!
Unlike their distant green relatives on the Ecuadorian mainland, Galápagos land iguanas are stubbornly intent on their territory. The yellow-colored males can react extremely aggressively to same-sex intruders. Such turf wars are threatened by heavy nods, and sometimes end with fearsome tail and biting fights.
The brown-brown females lay similar to the turtles 2 to 25 eggs in specially dug holes. 3 – 4 months later, the only centimeter-sized boys hatch from the egg. If they survive the first few years – buzzards and owls are their only deadly enemies – they can live to be over 60 years old.
When Charles Darwin landed on Santiago in 1835, he found “no place where we could set up our tent!”. Today, land iguanas on Santiago are completely extinct. Rats and pigs, as well as feral dogs and cats, ate their eggs and bit the boys. Goats destroyed their vegetable food sources.
Algae-eating marine iguanas inhabit almost all coasts of the Galápagos archipelago. They are the only reptiles in the world that have successfully adapted to marine life. With the soft meandering movement of her muscular cock, she can swim for miles and do deep dives. A four times slower heart rate in the water allows them to spend over an hour under the sea surface. Although tiny webbeds have developed between the powerful toes during evolution, the feet are not used in diving but merely put on the body. With the small teeth of the blunt snout they graze the short algae growth on the underwater rocks.
As real land animals the marine iguanas have no difficulties with the salinity of the sea water. A gland helps them eliminate the excess salt. The secretion is expelled through the nostrils like a fine drizzle. In older animals, this has already produced proper salt crusts on the antediluvian skullcap. To counteract the heat loss that occurs after a long dive, the cold-blooded people like to lazily lie around on the warm lava stones in the afternoon, stretching their heads toward the equatorial sun by the hundreds.
Lava lizards populate the dry areas of almost all Galápagos islands. Visitors encounter them everywhere at every turn. Only one species is common on several islands, while six other endemic species only roam on specific islands. Incidentally, lava lizards with a bright red belly pattern are females.
There are also five endemic gecko species in Galápagos with their typical suckers on the tiny claws, as well as three species and several subspecies of dromicus snakes, which, however, are more afraid of humans than elephants in front of mice. They are all slim and gray-brown, can be over a meter long, and feed primarily on lava lizards and large grasshoppers. You get to see the pretty animals but unfortunately quite rare.
The Galápagos Islands are a paradise for birds. The seabirds take a very special position. They are undoubtedly the big main attraction among the feathered inhabitants. Their total population is estimated at over one million. There are a total of 19 different species of seabirds, five of which are endemic. Likewise, the archipelago of over 40 land u. Wader species populated, of which 23 are endemic.
The absolute star among the seabirds is the albatross. With a wing span of up to 2.40m, he is not only the largest bird in Galapagos, but also the largest in the tropical waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean. The only place in the world where it can be observed breeding is the island Española in the extreme southeast of the archipelago. Over 12,000 pairs can be found here at Punta Suárez and Punta Cevallos, as well as on the south side of the flat island ridge between April and June. Each pair of albatrosses produces a large egg, which is usually inexplicably rolled back and forth by parents like a billiard ball.
Albatross are like huge transport planes. You need a long landing strip and you have to spin several laps before setting up. The flat Española island comes as convenient for their cumbersome landing maneuvers. Even when flying up, they have their own difficulties. For the start, they usually only have to waddle on foot to the edge of the cliffs in order to throw themselves from head to head in the supporting updrafts.
If you want to observe the unique Cormorant, which is endemic to Galápagos, up close, you have to go to the rugged, secluded lava coasts of the western Isabela or Fernandina Islets. There live the native diver-birds with the powerful flippers mostly in very small colonies. At least a few hundred should be.
Violent volcanic eruptions, protein-rich food in abundance, and the absence of any natural enemies have made this large bird in the course of evolution the desire to fly. His truncated wings have completely lost their function. They look like retracted paddles.
The endemic Galápagos penguin is considered by its peers as the second smallest of the southern hemisphere. Some of the colonies living on Isabela and Fernandina are even in the northern hemisphere.
Scattered small groups of graved waterfowl can also be seen in Sullivan Bay near Bartolomé. The Humboldt Current from Antarctic climes enables this tropical penguin type to lead an undisturbed existence far away from its traditional cold water zone. He is the only Nordic penguin. His closest relative is the Humboldt penguin, who lives on the coasts of Peru and Chile.
The gawky landgoers can reach underwater speeds of up to 50 kilometers per hour. When raising their young boys, they rather give the impression on the rocky banks that they are missing their floating ice floe.
The beautiful Red-billed Tropicbird is relatively easy to spot on its long, fine feather tail during the flight. He hunts far out in the open sea, dipping from a great height deep beneath the surface of the water like an arrow. Loose breeding colonies of these birds can be found throughout the year on most islands. Only on Plaza Sur does the breeding season only last from August to February.
The “star” among Galápagos waders is the pastel pink flamingo. He is by far the shyest bird in the archipelago and lives secluded in the saltwater lagoons of Isabela, Floreana, Santiago, Santa Cruz and other islands. Since he often flies from lagoon to lagoon in search of protein-rich shrimp, he is therefore not always found on all lakes of flamingo. The more than a thousand, distributed on small colonies Galápagos flamingos, originally come from the West Indies.
No other species on the Galápagos Islands has contributed so much to the understanding of evolutionary theory as the Darwin Finches. The 13 endemic Finkenarten – with another species on the 425 nautical miles northeast of Galapagos located coconut island, there are even 14 – see each other in color and physical similar. But they differ very clearly by their beak shape. This is optimally adapted to the respective food sources. The beak serves the small birds as a useful tool. Thus, the small and large ground finches with their crushing nutcracker bills harvest medium-soft to hard seeds. The Big Tree Finch or Parrotbill Darwinfink, on the other hand, has a strong, sharp beak, which he uses like a metal cutter. He can thus capture even large insects under tree bark. Instead, the woodcutter’s finch picks the insects off the leaves like tweezers, while the cactus finch uses its long, powerful beak like wire-cutters.
The Darwin Finches all descend from an original species that once reached the archipelago from the mainland. This Galápagos primal finch inhabited an unrivaled free habitat. As a result, he was initially spread unhindered on all islands. With the ever-growing population of finches, the competition for daily bread began. In order to eliminate the pressure of the like competition, the finches began their specialization in food procurement.
Marine animals are sometimes the most spectacular, what you can admire during a visit to Galápagos. Due to the interplay of different ocean currents, the archipelago has to wait with an unbelievable variety of submarine life, that sometimes pronounced tropical as well as typically Antarctic species can unite on a single territory. Of the more than 300 species of fish alone 50 are endemic!
Every snorkeler and diver can not resist the hackles when he encounters a group of whitetip sharks for the first time in his life at the Devil’s Crown, at Bartolomé, in the bay of Santa Fe, or even near Puerto Ayora. The film-mature, but completely harmless little bites belong with their barbels to the family of nurse sharks. Hammerheads are equally common, of which sometimes 20 or 30 pieces can appear unexpectedly. In the northern waters of the archipelago (Isla Wolf) even schools of up to 500 specimens are not a rare sight.
All these sharks are harmless to humans. As they find enough food in the archipelago, they are not interested in divers or dinghies. So you can get pretty close to them. The infamous tiger sharks, which can spread fear and terror on other tropical shores of the oceans, are almost never seen in the Galápagos waters. They like to frolic far out in the open sea.
The majestically gliding, futuristic-looking rays are the crowning glory of any dive for many underwater athletes. There are Manta-, Eagle-, Kuhnasen- u. Stingrays. The former can reach a span of up to five meters. The latter likes to frolic in shallow beach waters and have caused many a bad injury by careless daring under barefooted visitors.
Sea turtles can be found in many places and in many bays. The Caleta Tortuga Negra is considered to be ideal to observe the animals during the day from the dinghy. During the mating season between December and April, they come to the sandy beaches after dark, to lay their eggs in a self-made Kuhle in the flat dunes. This exhausting process often takes half the night. Following this, the animals immediately seek out the vastness of the sea and forget their offspring forever and ever. The sanding marks of the up to 300-pound tank animals are usually seen in the sand for weeks after oviposition. However, since the beaches are closed to visitors after 6 pm, everyone is at least deprived of this spectacle.
After the young turtles have broken out of the half-buried eggshell, they try to reach the cooling water as quickly as possible. Only a very small percentage of the dabblies rushed into the surf have a chance to survive only the first minutes of existence at this gauntlet run. The greedy seabirds are already lurking in the air over the defenseless prey, and later in the water the gluttonous sharks look forward to a varied snack.
Visitors will not notice the merciless survival lottery. The members of Charles Darwin Station are trying their best to keep tourists’ sea turtle beaches free and to collect the fleeing cubs. In the breeding station, they have the very best chance of survival. When they grow up, they are left to the elements.
The red cliff crabs are striking when they hit the black basaltic lava coasts. They usually live in large loose associations in the tidal zones of almost all islands. In order not to fall prey to the egrets in earliest youth, they are initially dyed monotonously black.
Immigrant and imported animals
The endemic animals living in Galápagos have come to the shores of the archipelago on their own for the last three million years. They came flying from the mainland and swam, or were carried over by winds and water currents. So z. For example, the iguanas, who were likely to cling to overturned drifted coconut palms and other driftwoods during the involuntary passage after being surprised by a storm surge or torrential rains in search of fruit. In the same way, smaller birds probably set sail for the islands, while the sea lions might have been forced to break all long-distance records during a persevering chase of a school of fish. A particularly strong Humboldt current could have played a decisive role here. But the vast distance meant death for most of the transocean species. The few stranded the exhausting Odysee left the prevailing environmental conditions on the fire-breathing volcanic islands also hardly a chance of survival.
The settlement of the archipelago, however, took its God-given course. Gradually a natural balance developed among the exiles, eventually leading to the formation of harmonious destiny communities. For enemies or competitive behavior knew these emigrated animals as good as not.
With the landing of the first seafarers about 400 years ago, this newly created “Noah’s Ark balance” began to falter. Mice and rats were the first to leave the moldy cargo holds of the anchored sailing ships. They were followed by imported pets such as cows, horses, donkeys, goats, pigs, dogs and cats, which were left behind after many a failed attempt at colonization or fled into the hinterland. Due to the relatively rapid spread of the aliens, the domestic animals and plants did not have time to create an effective defense system against the unexpected enemies and competitors.
The newly formed populations strong foreign communities have meanwhile invaded large parts of the island kingdom. There are more than enough examples of their devastating effects on the fragile natural structure:
In Santiago piggybacking pigs dig up the freshly laid eggs of sea turtles.
On Isabela, marauding goat hens eat the entire vegetation bare and thus also the food plants that are vital for tortoises. This has meanwhile also led to the extinction of endemic flora and rapidly advancing soil erosion. The devastating number of wild Isabela goats is estimated at over 100,000 today!
In addition, the ancestral waterholes of primeval giant tortoises are sometimes occupied by scattered donkey groups.
On every inhabited island, cows and horses trample the rare ferns and bushes, drive out the local wildlife, and, like in the highlands of Santa Cruz, leave a ruined pampa ground behind.
Also on Santa Cruz was the end of the 70-ziger years the only existing Landleguan colony attacked by a pack of stray dogs. During the massacre, about 500 shredded Iguanas fell by the wayside.
In the dry zones, cats not only eat the small birds and reptile eggs, but also keep the imported rats under control – their direct competitors in egg theft! As the youngest unwanted visitor, the most aggressive, “killing” Norwegian rat spread on two of the islands!
Accidentally as well as deliberately introduced animals are probably the biggest environmental problem for the islands today. Only two of the fourteen main islands are still free of strangers. It seems that Galápagos must live with the many aliens in the future. No one has ready any ready-made solutions. Organized hunt safaris to eradicate Isabela goats were always thought of first. However, these hunting teams, made up of frustrated big game hunters and trigger-happy tourists, would make little sense. The climbing goats hardly gave the Weidmännern a chance in the tough prickly thicket above the rugged lava floor. Trapped traps and poisoned waterholes would only harm endemic wildlife. The laying of miles of fences would be too unaesthetic, too expensive, and also completely ineffective for the little aliens.
Nevertheless, the Charles Darwin Station considers the elimination of Isabela goats possible. This is also supported by their track record of the last few years. On six smaller islands, the eradication of the vegetation destroyers has succeeded.
Even the difficult rat plague became master on some islands. An annual performed on Floreana cat u. Rat extermination in the area of the wave runner breeding grounds shows today first pleasing results. However, the Isabela problem alone requires at least $ 5 million. No cardboard handle if you have to donate! The assignments so far are no longer sufficient. The National Park Administration, and the tireless scientists of the Charles Darwin Station, are faced with very different challenges today than they were just a few years ago.
Galapagos – Flora
In contrast to the Ecuadorian mainland, the Galápagos plant world proves to be stepmotherly and brittle. Some of the otherwise enchanting islands are reminiscent of a Moroccan thorn bush desert during the cool dry season from June to December. Tropical paradise far from it.
There are therefore not too many plants that could catch the eye of an island cruise. Almost half of them are endemic, d. H. they point to an isolated and completely independent development. In total there are over 700 native plant species and subspecies. Compared to about 20,000 mainland species of Ecuador, this is extremely sparse.
With increasing settlement came from the mainland also many non-native plants on the Ark Noah Islands: crops, fruit trees, ornamental u. Medicinal plants, as well as trees for quick timber extraction. Unintentionally other plants were introduced. Seeds and germs, most of which were accidentally hidden in the luggage, have contributed to the present appearance of over 500 different foreign plants. This circumstance has a very lasting effect on the ancestral endemic plant u. Wildlife, and even represents a serious threat to the specific ecological balance on some of the islands. The native plants are the most aggressive “aliens” is no match. They pull in the daily fight for sunlight, water and nutrients, often the shorter one.
Chinatown trees introduced decades ago to Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal are now replacing the endemic Miconia vegetation at altitudes over 500m. Guava trees spread more rapidly to whole forests on four of the uninhabited islands. The monogamous, endangered birds use the same nesting cavity for a lifetime. If this is buried for some reason, they dig a new room in the same place. If they can no longer locate their ancestral breeding ground, they become homeless and go in. Once on Floreana, the Lantana seeds were again spread by Darwinfinken and imported rats on the island.
The flora of Galápagos is divided into five to seven different, primarily dependent on the altitude vegetation zones: The saltwater-resistant plants in the direct coastal area (up to 20 vertical meters), which only in the rainy season green bush landscape of the dry zone (up to 100m) , the partially misty-wet transitional zone (150-300m), the year-round green and rainy Scalesia rainforest zone (250-600m), the Miconia scrub zone on Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal (up to over 700m), and the windy pampas grassland in the highest island locations. However, most Galápagos visitors have little opportunity to explore the mountainous areas in the interior of the islands. In organized boat tours, the moorings are mainly limited to visitor locations in the coastal vegetation zones.
Among the most striking exponents of flora spread on Galápagos visitors often first of all the green mangrove forests in shallow coastal areas. All of the four species of these dense respiratory u. Stilt roots line Santa Cruz, Isabela, Fernadina, San Cristóbal and many other islands of the archipelago, mostly tidal shores. These include the black mangrove with its yellow-brown asymmetric fruits, the reddish branches and fleshy leaves of the red mangrove, the white mangrove spotted on the underside of the leaves, and the small-leaved button mangrove.
Other typical plants of the nearby coastal region are the saline bush with its long drooping leaves and the yellow-green flowers, the dense low mats of the solstice, the slender thorny branches of the small fenugreek with its club-shaped leaves, as well as the flat-topped beach winds and beach grass.
Particularly impressive are the wonderful red discoloring coral bushes on the stony Plaza island. This plant forms almost Nordic-looking carpet mats, which can have very different colors depending on the season.
In the low-water and humus-poor coastal areas of the islands there is a whole range of plants that have been able to successfully resist the annual dry spells in the course of evolution.
Thanks to widely branched surface roots, these plants can absorb a lot of water in the rainy season and store it in the trunk and branches for the dry months from June to the end of December. During this brittle time, the shallow root system loses its meaning.
The mighty Opuntia tree cacti have grown into a kind of symbol of Galápagos. They have adapted to the given environmental conditions in a unique way. There are six endemic species of these up to 9m high fig or Opuntia cacti. The cactus pads are like twisted parabolic antennas facing the sun’s rays. Their pointed shadowless spines protect the meat from predatory ovipositive predators. The brown, bark-covered tree bark not only lowers the climbing iguanas, but also minimizes unnecessary evaporating body water through winds and strong equatorial UV radiation. An essential component of photosynthesis for cacti!
The rarer, up to 6m high columnar or candelabra cactus, however, consist only of an endemic, but now evolutionarily split species. They are particularly easy to discover during a walk in the lagoon area around Puerto Villamil on Isabela.
Only the erotic mood of nature can be understood as the lava cactus thriving on bare lava plaques. He usually occurs in erecting groups, and is z. B. in the moon-like volcanic landscape of Bartolomé to marvel.
However, the most common representative of the dry zone is the Palo Santo tree or Holy Stock, which often forms whole forests in the nearby coastal areas, and whose aromatic resin smells very strongly of incense. With its smooth glossy bark Palo Santo is the white rubber or Balsambäumen assign. While he does not wear a single leaf in the driest months, he wraps himself in a light green robe during the rainy season.
Other typical, partly endemic plant species in the nearby coastal area, the small Muyuyo tree with its yellow flowers, the poisonous Manzanillo tree, the staining Chalá bush, the parasitic Galápagos silk, the unruly Burzeldorn, the gnarled, dry fate tree, the white-headed parrot leaf, the flowering lantana, the spiny parkinson’s on Baltra Island, the spiny Algarrobo acacia trees at Tagus Cove on Isabela, Peruvian logos on the Suárez headland on Española, gray-bearded coldenia and bonsai tree sunflowers on Bartolomé, as well as an almost leafless impenetrable thorny scrub called Scutia pauciflora Rhamnaceae.
The seductively spreading Galápagos passion flower, an originally introduced, strongly hairy climbing plant with edible fruits, is in contrast to the endemic Galápagos tomato as a pest, as it blocks the sunlight from the native wild plants.
In humid altitudes of 150 to 300m, in addition to coral trees, beard pigtails and liverworts, parasitic epiphytes are striking, especially on trees. In this transition zone, precipitation increases in contrast to dry coastal areas. As a result, of course, the plant world is also changing noticeably. However, this so-called transition zone is hardly distinguishable to the layman from the higher located “Scalesia zone”.
In hilly and rainy locations of over 200 to 600 meters of altitude prevail clouded, surrounded by bromeliads and ferns Scalesia forests. In Galápagos there are a total of 15 endemic tree and bush species of these daisy family. Some of them – albeit very short – are also found in the coastal region.
Since the high-altitude Scalesien zone has the most fertile soils of the archipelago, unfortunately, it has also been extensively used for agriculture. This is particularly evident on San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz, where large parts of this forest area have already disappeared. This also increasingly affects other residents of the national park. During the dry season, the food-seeking giant tortoises emigrate into the evergreen jungle area, which is unmistakable due to the constant twittering of birds.
Only in these higher elevations of Galápagos has developed a tropical plant world resembling the mainland. Thus, the little red flycatcher living there, also known under the enchanting name Rubintyrann, hardly differs from its fluttering mainland relatives.
On the southern slopes of the islands, both the transition zones and the Scalesia zones are much lower due to the prevailing winds and cloud formation than at the rain shadow sides of the northern slopes. The drive from the airport over the rippled ridges to Puerto Ayora, across the Santa Cruz island, gives the visitor a glimpse of these little-visited vegetation zones of the archipelago.
Above the forest region begins at altitudes of over 500 meters, the Pampa-like mountain region. Meter-high Miconia bushes, scattered tree ferns, as well as area-wide marsh and. Elephant grasses, characterize this rainy green zone mainly on San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz. On Isabela, the tough thicket even reaches the crater edges of the up to 1,700m high volcanic giants.
Curiously, the tropical-subtropical mountainous country has more endemic plant u. Show animal species, as the coastal dry and u. Splash zone together. The habitat of two very rare bird species, the Galápagos dwarf bark and the buntgeschnätener snake, is z. B. limited only to this pampas zone.
Galapagos – History
The first visitors to the Galápagos Islands were probably the seagoing cultures of the Manteños or Huancavilcas, which came over large balsaflops from the Ecuadorian mainland. Ceramic fragments found on the island of Santiago, Bahía Ballena on Santa Cruz, and on the black beach of Floreana can testify to this. Whether the former coastal inhabitants once again found their way back from the oceanic islands remains to be doubted. With the prevailing flow conditions, this venture was virtually impossible.
Around 1485, the Inca Tupac Yupangui is said to have already visited two of the islands, Nina Chumbi and Hahua Chumbi. According to Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, the horse’s hide returned 100 years later to Cuzco was actually a sea lion’s skin.
Also on a bronze crescent-shaped Manteño pedestal to the tenth Inca emperor allegedly encountered there. But both the mysterious coat and the chief chair might as well come from a stretch of coast on the continent.
A wind breeze drove the first European, Fray Tomás de Berlanga, in 1535 with the strong Humboldt countercurrent to the shores of the archipelago. The then Archbishop of Panamá, who (as well as most of the animals and plants in front of him) was unintentionally stranded on the islands, declared the stony isles “full of sea lions and turtles” to be “completely uninhabitable”. After giving up the desperate search for drinking water, he just reached the Peruvian coast again. The discovery of the bishop allowed the archipelago to be registered on a world map for the first time in 1574, under the name “Tortoise Islands” or Archipelago de los Galopegoes.
The Spaniard Diego de Rivadeneira gave them the enchanting name Islas Encantadas in 1546. The deserter of Pizarro’s army fled with twelve men and a stolen ship from Peru to the north, and was driven off as well as Berlanga to the islands. Due to the high error rate of the navigational instruments used at that time, the remote, often cloud-shrouded “phantom islands” were in the call to hex themselves from the surface every now and then or make them invisible. Rivadeneira found on one of the islands not only fresh water, but mentioned in his report for the first time the “Galápagos Hawk”.
Since the end of the 16th century, English, French, and other languages have been used. Dutch pirates and buccaneers, among them the legendary Francis Drake, Captain Morgan and William Dampier, the islands as a treasure hiding place and base for raids on Spanish sailors, who transported the last Inca gold of the colonies to Europe. Even for many a bloodthirsty raid on the port city of Guayaquil, the islands had to serve as a starting point. The volcanic caves on Santiago and Floreana served the pirates as an ideal hideaway. The buccaneer William Ambrose Cowley named the islands in 1684 after British kings, counts and admirals, and made a first detailed map of the archipelago. The English sailor Alexander Selkirk, picked up in 1709 by the pirate Woods Rodgers far off the Chilean coast, later provided the writer Daniel Defoe with the basis for his famous Robinson Crusoe novel. Selkirk himself commanded his own corsair ship three months after his miraculous rescue, with which he raided Guayaquil to subsequently split the rich prey on one of the Galápagos Islands.
In 1793, British captain James Colnett erected a curious wooden barrel on Floreana, serving sailors and tourists as postal deliveries to this day. With Colnett arrived at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, the first whale and sealers to the islands. In the middle of the last century, the number of vessels massacring in the Galápagos region rose to more than 2,000. The fur seal colonies have practically never recovered from slaughter. Also over 200,000 giant tortoises fell to the hunters estimated victim, 15,000 alone on Floreana. The unfortunate Panzertiere, which were simply stacked on the back below deck, survived for months without water and food, and thus provided the crew with fresh meat. Three of the unique turtle species are now extinct, others have been extremely decimated.
The first inhabitant of Galápagos was the Irishman Patrick Watkins, who in 1807 was exposed to Floreana. He was mainly concerned with the cultivation of vegetables, which he exchanged for whisky in the passing whaling ships.
Almost two years after Ecuador’s declaration of independence, the islands were taken by Coronel Ignacio Hernandez to the Ecuadorian state on February 12, 1832. The first governor of Galápagos, General José Villamil, had the utopian intention of founding Floreana a new ideal society. He gave the islands next to their existing English names officially Spanish names. His dream of faraway paradise, however, soon turned into an anarchist convict colony.
The cruel Manuel Julio Cobos moved after a first, in 1869 failed colonization attempt, 1888 the prison camp to El Progreso on San Cristóbal. A profitable sugar cane industry was built under whip lashes. Disdainful of work, he had the rats eaten alive in an iron kettle heated by the sun. After continued rape of the prisoners’ wives, he was hacked to pieces in 1904 by a machete-busting Colombian.
In the autumn of 1835, with the “HMS Beagle” subordinate to Captain Fitzroy, the most famous visitor to the enchanted islands – an English student named Charles Darwin. The aspiring naturalist and ornithologist, who had been considered unimaginative by his teachers, traveled despite his father’s strict prohibition – and that only because two other passengers had canceled at short notice. In Galápagos Darwin studied for five weeks plants and animals, which he u. a. described as cyclopean beasts. The term evolution has never been used by the deeply religious Victorian in this regard. A progressive species development based on manifold momentum was simply denied by him in the beginning.
Between 1875-78 the German geologist and naturalist Theodor Wolf twice arrived in Galápagos. He found out that the islands must be of Volcanic-Oceanic origin, and thus have no connection to the South American continent. The highest Galápagos peak, a 1,707m high volcano on Isabela, as well as a small rock island in the extreme northwest of the island kingdom, today bear his name.
On the occasion of Columbus’ 400th anniversary of his discovery of America in 1892, the archipelago was named “Archipiélago de Colón”. A year later, the honorable Guayaquileño Don Antonio Gil initiated the first reasonably successful settlement attempt on Isabela. The colony survived thanks to the sale of beef and the sulfur mines on the Sierra Negra volcano. A Norwegian group of settlers, who built a fish can factory in Floriana in 1926, resumed the project shortly thereafter. Only a rusty boiler remained as a silent witness back. Also a salt mine in the former Puerto Egas in the James Bay on Santiago had only short time existence (1924-30).
Among the other adventure travelers who helped the islands to their magical appeal, also included the American explorer William Beebe. His Galápagos visit in 1923 inspired him to the world bestseller “Galápagos – World’s End”. An enthusiastic reader of the book was the German dropout dentist and “eco-pioneer” Friedrich Ritter, who settled in 1929 with his assistant Dore Strauch on Floreana. In 1932 they were followed by the Wittmer family from Cologne, who still live on the island today. The first luxury yachts of whimsical American multimillionaires appeared on the black beach of Floreana. The young German baroness von Wagner de Bosquet also reached the exotic island with one of these first tourist ships – accompanied by her two lovers Lorenz and Philipson. Their initial plans for an extraordinary luxury hotel failed. After leaving only a hut of crooked planks and rusted iron, the blue-blooded diva declared herself Empress of Floreana.
During the Second World War, the Baltra Island was used by the US Air Force as a base to monitor the Panama Canal. During this period, the gringos not only provided for the complete extinction of the land iguanas on Baltra, but also bombarded parts of other islands, such as the rock needle on Bartolomé, for training purposes. A crusted, not booted explosive body, is now adorn the top of the fragile natural monument.
On July 4, 1959, 95% of the archipelago was declared a national park. In the same year, the prison camp opened on Isabela Island in 1944 was blown up. The remaining “wall of tears” erected by 200 prisoners from basalt chunks can still be visited. The only survivor of the former exile colony is said to be retiring somewhere in Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz).
In 1964, the Charles Darwin Station was founded, and in 1969, the ekuad headed. Tourism company Metropolitain Touring with the “Lina-A” yacht organized boat trips on Galápagos. Twenty years earlier, however, the German immigrant Fritz Angermeyer had already undertaken the first sailing trips for rich tourists with the “Nixi” yacht.
UNESCO declared the islands in 1978 as the “World Heritage of Humanity”. Today, nearly 60,000 visitors from all over the world come to the archipelago each year. More than 20,000 inhabitants now live in the towns of Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz) and the provincial capital Puerto Baquerizo Moreno (San Cristóbal).
Overpopulation and human intervention put the ecological balance to a new test. The exodus from the mainland to the islands should be set by the government in the future thick barriers.
With the freighters Piqueros and San Cristóbal, about 15 new cars arrive every month to Puerto Ayora and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. The local fishing boat fleet alone has increased ten-fold in the last five years.
The illegal capture of “potency-raising” sea cucumbers (pepinos del mar), whose meat is sold as a delicacy to Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, could have the most serious impact on the unique underwater world in the future. The “garbage” destroying sea cucumbers eat algae and dead microorganisms. From their larvae live again other organisms, from which ultimately all species feed on Galápagos – and with Galápagos stands and falls eventually the entire Ecuadorian tourism. It is to be hoped that this destructive activity will be stopped in the future.