Galapagos Islands, bibliography, books, what to read, guides, natural history, conservation

Twelve Titles on Galapagos – Natural History

You’re dreaming of going to the Galapagos Islands. Many books can help you prepare for your explorations of these enchanting isles. Read them in the comfort of your home or toss a few into your suitcase.

A cornucopia of books about the Galapagos Islands’ natural history has been published over the years. Here we include nature guides, in addition to Galapagos expedition travelogues and works talking about the environmental issues the islands face.

Check at your local bookshop or on-line for these and other works. Or borrow them from your public library. (If it doesn’t have the works you wish to peruse, you can request them through interlibrary loan for a small fee.)


Galapagos Nature Guides

Many general guides on the Galapagos Islands’ unique environment are in print. Some give an overview of the archipelago’s environment, whereas others will aid you in identifying the wildlife and plants you will encounter.


Galapagos: A Natural History Guide

by Michael Jackson

The classic general guide about the islands, covering their geology, climate, fauna, flora and conservation.


Wildlife of the Galapagos

by Julian Fitter, Daniel Fitter and David Hosking.

This is another excellent general guide. It is illustrated with 400 color photographs and includes visitor site maps.


Reef Fish Identification: Galápagos

by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach.

The best guide for identifying the denizens of the undersea world you explore while snorkeling. Extensively illustrated with color photos.


Galapagos Islands Birds Field Guide

by Rainforest Publications and Robert Dean

This compact fold-out guide covers 123 species of birds with beautiful illustrations. It is laminated (to keep it waterproof in ocean spray!) and is available in English, Spanish, French and German.


Flowering Plants of the Galápagos

by Conley McMullen and Ghillean Prance

The Galapagos Islands isn’t just about animals, though – it also has many unique plants. One of the best guides for identifying the flora is this color-illustrated work, covering over 400 species. It also includes a checklist for each visitor site.


Galapagos Expedition Travelogues

Centuries of pirate, whaling and scientific expedition travelogues brought the Galapagos Islands into sitting rooms around the globe. The 19th and 20th century naturalists, though, make for especially interesting and pleasant reading.


Beagle Diary

by Charles Darwin

Although there are many editions of Darwin’s Beagle Diary have been published, the best is that produced by his grandson, R. D. Keynes, which is transcribed directly from Darwin’s notebooks, without edits and with many explanatory footnotes.


Galapagos: Worlds End

by William Beebe

The 1923 New York Zoological Society expedition produced one the most influential books about the Galapagos. This work enticed Friedrich Ritter, the Wittmer family, the Conways and scores of others to settle on Floreana and other Galapagos islands.


Galapagos Environmental Issues

Efforts to preserve the Galapagos Islands’ unequaled natural beauty took off in the mid-20th century. With the establishment of the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Galapagos National Park Service, conservation efforts have been more determined. Still the islands face many challenges.


Galápagos: The Noah’s Ark of the Pacific

by Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt

This scientist chronicles his work in calling upon UNESCO and IUCN to recognize the urgent need to preserve the Galapagos Islands, the environmental state of the islands in the late 1950s, and the establishment of a Galapagos scientific research station.


Galápagos at the Crossroads: Pirates, Biologists, Tourists, and Creationists Battle for Darwin’s Cradle of Evolution

by Carol Ann Bassett

Bassett discusses the threats to the Galapagos Islands over the centuries, and the scientists and conservationists striving to save the archipelago’s environment.


Galápagos: Preserving Darwin’s Legacy

by Tui De Roy, Tui

Thirty top Galápagos researchers discuss their work, and the challenges and successes of conservation in the Galapagos Islands.


Galapagos Photography

These photographic essays will inspire you to witness the islands’ tremendous natural beauty in person. They also make for beautiful coffee table books or gifts.


Galapagos: Islands Born of Fire

by Tui De Roy

By the renowned nature photographer who lived in the Galapagos Islands for many years.


Galápagos, Both Sides of the Coin

by Pete Oxford and Graham Watkins

Another fantastic photographic journey to the Galapagos Islands. It also discusses the impact of humans on the islands throughout the centuries and issues of conservation.


Check out the other parts of Galapagos Travel Planner’s exclusive “Twelve Titles on Galapagos” series: Human History, For Children, and Videos. Did we include your favorite book? Share it in the comments below.

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Photo credit: Arnie Papp

William Beebe

Beebe’s Inspirational Galapagos Expeditions

Of all the 20th century scientific expeditions to the Galapagos Islands, those of William Beebe were the most inspirational to the general public, especially with the publication of his book Galapagos: World’s End.

William Beebe, the father of ecology

William Beebe (1877-1962), a pioneering ecologist from the U.S., was a multi-faceted naturalist: he was an ornithologist, entomologist and marine biologist. His captivating books about his explorations caught the world’s imagination.

In 1899, Beebe stopped his studies at Columbia University (New York) to begin working for the newly founded New York Zoological Park (now the Wildlife Conservation Society). For this organization, he led expeditions to Nova Scotia, Virginia, Florida, Mexico, Trinidad, Venezuela, British Guiana, Brazil, Haiti, Bermuda – and of course, the Galapagos Islands. He was a member of the American Ornithologists’ Union, American Association for the Advancement of Science and New York Academy of Sciences, and received honorary doctorates from Tufts and Colgate Universities.

From the publication of his first books, which included The Bird, Its Form and Function (1906) and A Monograph of the Pheasants (1918-1922, based on his 1909 round-the-world expedition to study and collect pheasants), Beebe was esteemed for his observations on evolution, and sexual dimorphism and selection. He was also one of the first writers to stress conservation, thus winning the admiration of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt who authored the introductions to Beebe’s Tropical Wild Life (1917) and Jungle Peace (1918).

His 1915 expedition to Brazil marked a shift in his studies, from focusing on birds to examining tropical ecosystems. In 1916, he began establishing research stations which allowed in-depth study of tropical environments. The first two were in British Guiana, but subsequently shuttered due to deforestation. In 1949, he founded the Simla Research Station in Trinidad, which continues to operate as part of the Asa Wright Nature Centre.

Beebe was one of the first to extensively use a diving helmet for underwater observation. But to better observe marine life in their native environment, in the 1930s, he and Otis Barton pioneered the use of the bathysphere – the precursor of the submersibles like the bathyscaphe and DSV Alvin – in deep sea exploration. These dives, which were done near Bermuda, reached depths of 923 meters (3,028 feet).

Beebe’s First Galapagos Expedition: To world’s end

William Beebe set off on his first Galapagos expedition in 1923 aboard the steam yacht Noma. His crew included not only specialist scientists, a historian and artists, but also males and females – an unusual concept for the time. Beebe’s mission was to collect more data to support Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.

During this 20-day trip, Beebe documented how the Galapagos Islands’ unique wildlife evolved in the absence of predators. On Tower Island (Genovesa), he discovered a previously unknown bay which he named Darwin Bay. He also captured a number of specimens for the New York Zoological Society.

The lavishly illustrated book about this expedition, Galápagos: World’s End (1924), was an instant world-wide bestseller. It painted a paradise far removed from a world facing the Great Depression and looming war, inspiring people like Friedrich Ritter and Dora Strauch to colonize Floreana Island.

Beebe’s Return to the Galapagos Islands

Beebe’s second expedition to Galapagos was aboard the scientific research vessel Arcturus in 1925. This exploration resulted in the capture of over 130 species of fish, many previously unknown. During this quest, Beebe extensively used the diving helmet to study undersea life.

Beebe noted the marine life of the warm Panama and cold Peruvian (Humboldt) currents,  which were unusually marked due to an El Niño event that was then affecting South America’s climate. He was the first scientist to document this phenomenon.

He also recorded a volcanic eruption on Isabela Island (and attempted to climb to the crater), and its effect on fauna and flora. Beebe’s book The Arcturus Adventure (1926), which was another bestseller, recounted this expedition.


During your Galapagos vacation, you will be inspired by these islands on land and underwater, just as William Beebe was. Be sure your itinerary includes Floreana Island and the fabulous snorkeling at Genovesa (Tower Island).


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Post Office Bay -- whalers

Whaling Times in the Galapagos Islands – Part 3

In Part 1, we learned about whaling in the Galapagos Islands and some of the captains’ exploits. In Part 2, we saw the historical, literary and environmental influences of Galapagos whalers. Today, we shall follow in the footsteps of Galapagos whalers.

During your cruise through the Galapagos Islands, you can visit some of the places where whalers hunted the celebrated cetaceans. Some may be visited on day cruises or land-based tours. Others are only accessible on multi-day cruises.

Post Office Bay, Floreana Island

This is the most famous site in the Galapagos Islands associated with whalers. Its establishment is credited to Captain Colnett as a means for mariners to send letters back home. The correspondence would be picked up by homeward-bound ships. Captain Porter used the information in these letters to track British whaling ships’ movements. This site may be visited only on a multi-day cruise.

Asilo de la Paz, Floreana

Floreana’s caves, called the Pirates’ Caves or Asilo de la Paz, were used by pirates and whalers alike as it is near a fresh-water spring. It may be visited on multi-day or day cruises, as well as land-based tours.

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal Island

This, the capital of Ecuador’s Galapagos Province, was one of the first permanent colonies founded in the islands. Unfortunately, no buildings remain from the early years of the colony. Some visitors to the Galapagos Islands will fly into this city. It may also by visited on a multi-day or land-based tour.

Llerena Breeding Center, Santa Cruz Island

Located in Puerto Ayora, this giant tortoise breeding center is home to a new program of the Galapagos National Park and Charles Darwin Research Station. The Pinta-Floreana hybrid tortoises from Isabela Island, a unforeseeable consequence of the whaler’s activities, are here now as part of a project to recuperate these two extinct species.

Buccaneer’s Cove, Santiago

Another place used by both whalers and pirates was Buccaneer’s Cove. This important stop for seafarers was near sources of salt, fresh water, giant tortoises and wood. This site may be visited only on a multi-day cruise.

James Bay, Santiago

This is the scene of Porter’s unintended crime of accidentally letting loose goats on this island. Their population would reach more than 100,000 by the late 20th century. James Bay may be visited on a multi-day cruise. This is one of the best snorkeling sites in the central archipelago.

Bolívar Channel

This narrow body of water between Isabela and Fernandina islands is where Morrell saw Fernandina’s eruptions. (However, with motorized crafts that cruise the Galapagos these days, you need not fear being becalmed like Morrell was!) The Bolívar Channel is also one of the best places to site whales. It can be traversed only on a multi-day cruise.

Tagus Cove, Isabela

This natural bay on the west coast of Isabela Island faces Bolívar Channel. It provided shelter to sailing ships. Today, you can see the carved graffiti left behind by whalers and pirates. Tagus Cove is one of the Galapagos Islands’ best snorkeling spots. It may be visited only on multi-day cruises.


Whale and fur seal populations have rebounded in the Galapagos Islands. Check out our calendar series, What Happens in the Galapagos Islands, to plan your visit to see these beautiful creatures.


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Photo credit: NAParish