Wonders of the Underwater World
of the Galápagos Islands
occurred when Dominican Fray Tomás
de Berlanga, the fourth bishop
of Panama, sailed to Peru to settle
a dispute between Francisco Pizarro
and his lieutenants. De Berlanga's
vessel drifted off course when
the winds diminished, and his
party reached the islands on March
Islands (Spanish names: Islas de Colónumio
or Islas Galápagos, from galápago,
"saddle"- after the shells
of saddlebacked Galápagos tortoises)
are an archipelago made up of 13 main
volcanic islands, six smaller islands,
and 107 rocks and islets. The oldest
island is thought to have formed between
five and ten million years ago, a
result of tectonic activity. The youngest
islands, Isabela and Fernandina, are
still being formed, with the most
recent volcanic eruption in 2005.
archipelago is part of Ecuador, a
country in northwestern South America
that claimed it in 1832.
The islands are distributed
around the equator, about 600 miles
(965 km) west of Ecuador. They were
recently found to have three volcanoes
in the center island, all of them
active. The archipelago is famed for
its great number of endemic species,
especially of birds (28), reptiles
(19), and fish, and for the studies
by Charles Darwin that led to his
theory of evolution by natural selection.
The archipelago has been known by
many different names, including the
"Enchanted Islands" because
of the way in which strong, swift
currents made navigation difficult.
The first crude navigation chart of
the islands was done by the buccaneer
Ambrose Cowley in 1684, and in those
charts he named the islands after
some of his fellow pirates or after
the English noblemen who helped the
pirates' cause. The term "Galápagos"
refers to the Spanish name given to
the giant land tortoises known to
inhabit the islands.
Satellite photo of
the Galápagos islands overlaid
with the Spanish names of the visible
main islands.The main islands of the
archipelago (with their English names)
Baltra (South Seymour)
During World War II Baltra was established
as a U.S. Air Force base. Crews stationed
at Baltra patrolled the Pacific for
enemy submarines as well as providing
protection for the Panama Canal. After
the war the facilities were given
to the government of Ecuador. Today
the island continues as an official
Ecuadorian military base.
Until 1986, Baltra had
the only airport serving the Galápagos.
Now there are two airports, the other
located on San Cristobal Island; most
flights operating in and out of Galápagos
still fly into Baltra.
During the 1930s scientists
decided to move 70 of Baltra's Land
Iguanas to the neighboring island
of North Seymour as part of an experiment.
This move had unexpected results,
for during the WWII military occupation
of Baltra, the native iguanas became
extinct on the island. During the
1980s iguanas from North Seymour were
brought to the Darwin Station as part
of a breeding and repopulation project
and in the 1990s land iguanas were
reintroduced to Baltra.
Named for Lt. David Bartholomew of
the British Navy, this small island
is located just east of Santiago.
Desolate Bartolome is one of the most
visited and photographed islands in
an extinct volcano and has a variety
of variably colored volcanic formations,
including a tuff cone known as Pinnacle
Rock. This large black, partially
eroded cone was created when lava
reached the sea. Contact with seawater
resulted in a phreatic explosion.
The exploded molten fragments fused
together, forming a welded tuff.
inhabited by Galápagos Penguins,
sea lions, nesting marine turtles,
white-tipped reef sharks, and a variety
This island is named after Charles
Darwin. It has an area of 1.1 square
kilometers (0.4 mi²) and a maximum
altitude of 168 metres (551 ft). Fur
seals, frigates, marine iguanas, swallow-tailed
gulls, sea lions, whales, marine turtles,
dolphins, red-footed and Nazca boobies
can be seen.
Waved Albatross on EspañolaThis
island's name was given in honor of
Spain. It is also known as Hood after
an English nobleman. It has an area
of 60 square kilometers (23 mi²)
and a maximum altitude of 206 meters
Española is the
oldest island (at around 3.5 million
years) and the southernmost in the
chain. The island's remote location
provides for a large number of endemic
fauna. Secluded from the other islands,
wildlife on Española adapted
to the island's environment and natural
resources. Marine iguanas on Española
are the only ones that change color
during breeding season.
The Waved Albatross
is found on the island. The island's
steep cliffs serve as the perfect
runways for these large birds, which
take off for their ocean feeding grounds
near the mainland of Ecuador and Peru.
two visitor sites. Gardner Bay is
a swimming and snorkeling site as
well as offering a beach. Punta Suarez
has migrant, resident, and endemic
wildlife including brightly colored
Marine iguanas, Española Lava
Lizards, Hood Mockingbirds, Swallow-tailed
Gulls, Blue Footed Boobies and Nazca
Boobies, Galápagos Hawks, a
selection of Finch, and the Waved
The name was given in honor of King
Ferdinand of Spain, who sponsored
the voyage of Columbus. Fernandina
has an area of 642 square kilometers
(248 mi²) and a maximum altitude
of 1,494 meters (4,902 ft). This is
the youngest and westernmost island.
In May 13, 2005, a new very eruptive
process began on this island when
an ash and water vapor cloud rose
to a height of 7 kilometers (4.4 mi)
and lava flows descended the slopes
of the volcano on the way to the sea.
Punta Espinosa is a
narrow stretch of land where hundreds
of marine iguanas gather, largely
on black lava rocks. The famous Flightless
Cormorant inhabits this island and
also Galápagos Penguins, Pelicans
and sea lions are abundant. Different
types of lava flows can be compared
and the mangrove forests can be observed.
Floreana (Charles or Santa
Originally named Charles Island for
the British king Charles II, it was
changed to Floreana after Juan José
Flores, the first president of Ecuador,
during whose administration the government
of Ecuador took possession of the
archipelago. It is also called Santa
Maria after one of the caravels of
Columbus. It has an area of 173 square
kilometers (66.8 mi²) and a maximum
altitude of 640 meters (2,100 ft).
It is one of the islands
with the most interesting human history
and was one of the earliest to be
inhabited. General José Villamil
established a colony for political
prisoners here in 1832. At Post Office
Bay, since the eighteenth century
whalers kept a wooden barrel that
served as post office so that mail
could be picked up and delivered to
their destinations, mainly Europe
and the United States, by ships on
their way home.
At the “Devil's
Crown,” an underwater volcanic
cone, coral formations are found.
Pink flamingos and green sea turtles
nest (December to May) on this island.
The "patapegada" or Galápagos
petrel is found here, a sea bird that
spends most of its life away from
Genovesa Island (Tower)
Red-footed booby.The name is derived
from Genoa, Italy where it is said
Columbus was born. It has an area
of 14 square kilometers (5.4 mi²)
and a maximum altitude of 76 meters
(249 ft). This island is formed by
the remaining edge of a large crater
that is submerged. Its nickname of
“the bird island” is clearly
justified. At Darwin Bay, frigatebirds,
swallow-tailed gulls, the only nocturnal
ones of its species in the world,
can be seen. Red-footed boobies, noddy
terns, lava gulls, tropic birds, doves,
storm petrels and Darwin finches are
also in sight. Prince Philip's Steps
is a bird-watching plateau, with Nazca
and red-footed boobies. There is a
large Palo Santo forest.
This island was named in honor of
Queen Isabela. With an area of 4,640
square kilometers (1,792 mi²),
it is the largest island of the Galápagos.
Its highest point is Wolf Volcano
with an altitude of 1,707 meters (5,600
ft). The third-largest human settlement
of the archipelago, Puerto Villamil,
is located at the southeastern tip
of the island.
The island's seahorse
shape is the product of the merging
of six large volcanoes into a single
landmass. On this island Galápagos
penguins, flightless cormorants, marine
iguanas, boobies, pelicans, and Sally
Lightfoot crabs abound. At the skirts
and calderas of the volcanoes of Isabela,
land iguanas and Galápagos
tortoises can be observed, as well
as Darwin finches, Galápagos
hawks, Galápagos doves, and
very interesting lowland vegetation.
Named after Fray Antonio Marchena,
it has an area of 130 square kilometers
(50 mi²) and a maximum altitude
of 343 meters (1,125 ft). Galápagos
hawks and sea lions inhabit this island,
and it is home to the Marchena lava
lizard, an endemic species.
Its name was given after an English
nobleman called Lord Hugh Seymour.
It has an area of 1.9 square kilometers
(0.7 mi²) and a maximum altitude
of 28 meters (92 ft). This island
is home to a large population of blue-footed
boobies and swallow-tailed gulls.
It hosts one of the largest populations
of frigate birds. It was formed from
Named for one of the caravels of Christopher
Columbus, it has an area of 60 square
kilometers (23 mi²) and a maximum
altitude of 777 meters (2,549 ft).
Swallow-tailed gulls, marine iguanas,
sparrow hawks, and fur seals can be
seen. It is also home to the world's
rarest living creature, the Pinta
giant tortoise. An aged male named
Lonesome George is the only known
survivor. Since there is little hope
of finding another specimen, his species
is doomed to extinction.
Named after the Pinzón brothers,
ca)ptains of the Pinta and Niña
caravels, it has an area of 18 square
kilometers (7 mi²) and a maximum
altitude of 458 meters (1,503 ft).
Sea lions, Galápagos hawks,
giant tortoises, marine iguanas, and
dolphins can be seen here.
Brown pelican on the red sand of Rabida
IslandThis island bears the name of
the convent of Rábida, where
Columbus left his son during his voyage
to the Americas. It has also been
know as Jervis Island in honor of
the eighteenth-century British admiral
It has an area of 4.9
square kilometers (1.9 mi²) and
a maximum altitude of 367 meters (1,204
ft). The high amount of iron contained
in the lava at Rábida give
it a distinctive red color. White-Cheeked
Pintail Ducks live in a salt-water
lagoon close to the beach, where brown
pelicans and boobies have built their
nests. Until recently, flamingos were
also found in the salt-water lagoon,
but they have since moved on to other
islands, likely due to a lack of food
on Rábida. Nine species of
finches have been reported.
San Cristóbal (Chatham)
It bears the name of the patron saint
of seafarers, "St. Christopher."
Its English name was given after William
Pitt, first Earl of Chatham. It has
an area of 558 square kilometers (215
mi²) and its highest point rises
to 730 meters (2395 ft). This islands
hosts frigate birds, sea lions, giant
tortoises, blue and red footed boobies,
tropicbirds, marine iguanas, dolphins,
and swallow-tailed gulls.
Its vegetation includes
Calandrinia galapagos, Lecocarpus
darwinii, and trees such as Lignum
vitae. The largest freshwater lake
in the archipelago, Laguna El Junco,
is located in the highlands of San
Cristóbal. The capital of the
province of Galápagos, Puerto
Baquerizo Moreno, lies at the southern
tip of the island.
Santa Cruz (Indefatigable)
Given the name of the Holy Cross in
Spanish, its English name derives
from the British vessel HMS Indefatigable.
It has an area of 986 square kilometers
(381 mi²) and a maximum altitude
of 864 meters (2834 ft). Santa Cruz
is the island that hosts the largest
human population in the archipelago,
at the town of Puerto Ayora. The Charles
Darwin Research Station and the headquarters
of the Galápagos National Park
Service are located here.
The GNPS and CDRS operate
a tortoise breeding center here, where
young tortoises are hatched, reared,
and prepared to be reintroduced to
their natural habitat. The highlands
offer exuberant vegetation and are
famous for lava tunnels. Large tortoise
populations are found here. Black
Turtle Cove is a site surrounded by
mangrove which sea turtles, rays and
small sharks sometimes use as a mating
area. Cerro Dragón, known for
its flamingo lagoon, is also located
here, and along the trail one may
see land iguanas foraging.
Santa Fe (Barrington)
Named after a city in Spain, it has
an area of 24 square kilometers (9
mi²) and a maximum altitude of
259 meters (850 ft). Santa Fe hosts
a forest of Opuntia cactus, which
are the largest of the archipelago,
and Palo Santo. Weathered cliffs provide
a haven for swallow-tailed gulls,
red-billed tropic birds, and shear-waters
petrels. Santa Fe species of land
iguanas are often seen, as well as
Santiago (San Salvador, James)
Its name is equivalent to Saint James
in English; it is also known as San
Salvador, after the first island discovered
by Columbus in the Caribbean Sea.
This island has an area of 585 square
kilometers (226 mi²) and a maximum
altitude of 907 meters (2976 ft).
Marine iguanas, sea lions, fur seals,
land and sea turtles, flamingos, dolphins,
and sharks are found here.
Pigs and goats, which
were introduced by humans to the islands
and caused great harm to the endemic
species, have been eradicated (pigs
in 2002; goat eradication is nearing
finalization). Darwin Finches and
Galápagos Hawks are usually
seen, as well as a colony of Fur Seals.
At Sullivan Bay a recent (around 100
years ago) pahoehoe lava flow can
It is named in honor of a former president
of Ecuador, General Leonidas Plaza.
It has an area of 0.13 square kilometers
(0.05 mi²) and a maximum altitude
of 23 meters (75 ft). The flora of
South Plaza includes Opuntia cactus
and Sesuvium plants, which forms a
reddish carpet on top of the lava
formations. Iguanas (land and marine
and some hybrids of both species)
are abundant, and there are a large
number of birds that can be observed
from the cliffs at the southern part
of the island, including tropic birds
and swallow-tailed gulls.
This island was named after the German
geologist Theodor Wolf. It has an
area of 1.3 square kilometers (0.5
mi²)and a maximum altitude of
253 meters (830 ft). Here fur seals,
frigates, masked and red footed boobies,
marine iguanas, sharks, whales, dolphins,
and swallow-tailed gulls can be seen.
The most famous resident is the vampire
finch, which feeds on the blood of
the boobies and is only found on this
BBC footage of the Galapagos
Islands. Original music composed and
produced by Music Works.