Galapagos Islands

Insight, Curiosity, and Imagination
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The morning I arrived, a briny wind blew in from across the sparkling blue-green ocean. The half dozen volcanic cones on nearby islands were reminders that the Galapagos are one of the most active volcanic areas on earth. In fact, one of those volcanoes cleared its throat as recently as October 1998, breathing ash and steam into the sky.

The gray lava slopes bearing only wisps of dry vegetation have a certain raw beauty, but the Galapagos will never be mistaken for a Caribbean playground.

To make a visit to the Galapagos a world-class experience, bring a few things with you.

Bring keen insight—to see more than is visible to the eye.

Bring curiosity—so you can return home with more than stories of fearless, funny-looking birds like the blue-footed booby.

Bring imagination to help understand, as Charles Darwin did, the constant, complex process of change that we call evolution.

A Work in Progress
It's important to realize that the 13 major and 6 minor islands, plus a scattering of raw lava rocks, are merely what is visible at this moment in time. Older islands have eroded away, long since vanished beneath the waves.

Their successors are even now growing upward from the ocean floor. The small stature of those "rocks" is an illusion. The rock that barely breaks the surface, and appears no larger than a city block, may have its roots 10,000 feet below and spread six miles across at its base.

It is tempting to think of the Galapagos as being static, but virtually everything we see there is very much a work in progress. That, of course, includes animals and vegetation. Charles Darwin was astonished by the large number of unique species he saw—different from their counterparts on the mainland; even different from island to island.

Years later, his extensive notes enabled him to understand the meaning of what he had seen. Darwin did not originate the concept of evolution. What he did, after observing the results of continuous change in the Galapagos, was to assemble the tiny clues that cracked the evolutionary code.

His contribution was to show that natural selection, or "survival of the fittest," is the mechanism by which evolution works.

In a nutshell, flora and fauna, which, by chance, inherit genes, enabling them to better endure the harsh environment tend to survive and pass those self-serving genes to the next generation. Eventually, a new species emerges. Darwin saw what had never been seen before.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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