Galapagos Islands, climate change, El Niño, La Niña, effects, flora, fauna, snorkeling

What does El Niño 2015-2016 mean for the Galapagos Islands?

What can you expect during your visit to the Galapagos Islands during the latest El Niño? Read on to find out.

El Niño is once again visiting the Galapagos Islands, and as is the case every 15 years or so, its presence is very much felt. With the increased rains, the landscape is lusher and greener, providing benefits for some of the islands natives – and disaster for others.

El Niño – the common name for the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a weather phenomenon that affects the Pacific Ocean every three to seven years. Water temperatures rise along the Pacific coast of South America and winds blow from Asia to America (instead of from America to Asia). This causes heavy rains along the South American coast and Galapagos, and drought in Asia. Approximately every 15 years, El Niño is particularly severe, as in 1982-1983 and 1997-1998.

By August 2015, this El Niño event already was as strong as the one in 1997-1998. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting it will begin to weaken in approximately May-July 2016.

In the Galapagos Islands, an El Niño event causes heavy rains. Terrestrial animals – like giant tortoises and land iguanas – flourish in this weather. Unfortunately, invasive species like fire ants also benefit from an El Niño, by being able to extend their range. This spells disaster for lizards and birds, who will find their hatchlings and nests attacked by swarms of ants.

On the other hand, because the ocean currents into the archipelago are warmer, food is scarce for marine iguanas, Galapagos penguins and other sea animals. During the severe 1997-1998 El Niño event, penguin, marine iguana and sea lion populations were hard-hit, with a 45 to 90 percent mortality rate. Scientists hope the effects of this El Niño will not be so severe.

What can you expect during your visit to the Galapagos Islands during this visit of El Niño? There will be short tropical storms and perhaps localized flooding. Bring a rain jacket and bug spray. Land animals – iguanas, giant tortoises and birds like Darwin finches and hawks – will be plentiful. Because of the warmer, clearer waters, snorkeling will be excellent. Keep a proper distance (the Galapagos National Park recommends at least 2 meters / 6.5 feet) distance from the animals that will be stressed by the weather phenomenon: marine iguanas, sea lions, flightless cormorants and Galapagos penguins.

Have you travelled to the Galapagos islands during a previous El Niño? Share your experience with fellow nature lovers in the below.


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Photo credit: NOAA

Charles Darwin Galapagos

Solving Darwin’s Evolutionary Puzzle

On the occasion of Darwin’s birthday we examine his contribution to the Galapagos islands and the impact of the islands on his Theory of Evolution.

Charles Darwin is the most famous person in Galapagos history. The international scientific research station is named for him, as is Puerto Ayora’s main avenue (both on Santa Cruz Island). Wherever you look while visiting the isles, Darwin’s face appears on shop signs, t-shirts, coffee mugs and menus.

Darwin visited the Galapagos for five weeks in 1835. This short stay is credited with sparking his Theory of Evolution, published in On the Origin of Species. This was no Ah-ha! experience, however. Darwin’s development of this theory was more like a jigsaw puzzle.

Charles Robert Darwin (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and ministry at Cambridge University. His studies suffered because of his true passion, natural history. During this time he was introduced to the blasphemous evolutionary ideas of French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and of his own grandfather, Erasmus Darwin.

One of Darwin’s tutors, John Stevens Henslow, recommended him to be geologist for the Beagle’s new expedition. Upon reaching Brazil, Darwin also became the ship’s natural historian. While the Beagle surveyed the Atlantic coast of Patagonia, Darwin took excursions into the interior of the continent. He encountered many things that piqued his curiosity: dinosaur bones, giant oyster fossils, and evidence of ancient sea beds high in the Andes.

Upon arriving in the Galapagos, more pieces of the puzzle presented themselves. He landed on Chatham (San Cristobal), Charles (Floreana), Albemarle (Isabela) and James (Santiago) islands. Darwin began noticing that mockingbirds differed from island to island. He also made note of a comment by English Vice-Governor, Nicholas Lawson, who was also in the Galapagos: giant tortoise shells differed enough that he could “on seeing a tortoise, pronounce with certainty from which island it has been brought.”

After returning to England, Darwin reviewed the specimens collected during the Beagle’s five-year expedition. Classification of the Galapagos Mockingbirds revealed more pieces to the evolutionary puzzle – and it was these birds (not the Darwin’s finches) that helped to make the picture clearer in Darwin’s mind. It was then that he also realized he should have paid closer attention to what Vice-Governor Lawson had stated about species differing from island to island. As Darwin later wrote, “It never occurred to me, that the productions of islands only a few miles apart, and placed under the same physical conditions, would be dissimilar.”

It would be several more decades of research before Darwin published his findings in On the Origin of Species (1859) and faced the backlash of the Anglican Church, which controlled the field of science and promoted Creationism.

How do you think we should celebrate Darwin’s contribution to Galapagos on his birthday? Leave your comment below.


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