Galápagos Islands (1978, 2001)
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||Situated in the Pacific Ocean some 1,000 km from the South American
continent, these nineteen islands and the surrounding marine reserve have been
called a unique 'living museum and showcase of evolution'. Located at the
confluence of three ocean currents, the Galapagos are a 'melting pot' of marine
species. Ongoing seismic and volcanic activity reflect the processes that formed
the islands. These processes, together with the extreme isolation of the
islands, led to the development of unusual animal life - such as the land
iguana, the giant tortoise and the many types of finch - that inspired Charles
Darwin's theory of evolution following his visit in 1835.
The islands were uninhabited at the time of their exploration by Spaniards in 1535. By the millennium the number of inhabitants is c. 15,000. During the 17th and 18th centuries they were used as a rendezvous by pirates and buccaneers. British and United States warships and whaling vessels landed frequently at the Galápagos in the 19th century. The islands were not settled until after they were annexed by Ecuador in 1832. In 1835 the British naturalist Charles Darwin, traveling aboard HMS Beagle, spent six weeks studying the animal life of the Galápagos. His observations furnished considerable data for his Origin of Species (1859). A satellite tracking station has been on the Galápagos since 1967.
The Ecuadorian government established Galápagos National Park in 1959 to protect large parts of the islands from exploitation. In 1978 the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared the islands a World Heritage Site, saying they are of such outstanding interest that they should be preserved as a heritage of all mankind. In 2000 the Ecuadorian government enacted a law that prohibits further settlement on the islands and controls tourism and fishing on them. The law also discourages the introduction of foreign plant and animal species into the Galápagos ecosystem.
The Galápagos group is noted for its animal life, which includes numerous species found only in the archipelago and different subspecies on separate islands. Unique to the archipelago are six species of giant tortoise.
|Other reptiles on the islands include two species of large lizards in the iguana family: a burrowing land lizard and an unusual marine lizard that dives into the ocean for seaweed.
The islands contain as many as 85 different species of birds, including flamingos, flightless cormorants, finches, and penguins. Sea lions are numerous, as are many different shore fish. Part of the Galápagos is a wildlife sanctuary.
The islands are volcanic in origin, with level shorelines and mountainous interiors culminating in high central craters, some of which rise more than 1,500 m (5,000 ft) above sea level. Several volcanoes are active. The islands are fringed with mangroves; farther inland, although still in coastal regions, where little rain falls, the vegetation consists chiefly of thorn trees, cactus, and mesquite. In the uplands, which are exposed to a heavy mist, the flora is more luxuriant. The climate and the temperature of the waters surrounding the islands are modified by the cold Humboldt Current from the Antarctic.
Sources and links:
Other World Heritage Sites in the Ecuador (on this site). Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, Ecuador section, for further information on the individual properties.
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Revised 03 aug 2006