Galapagos National Park – A Brief History

Upon arriving in the Galapagos Islands, visitors are greeted with a sign depicting a giant tortoise and a hammerhead shark. These are the official symbols of Galapagos National Park and Marine Reserve, one of the world’s most pristine nature areas.

The Galapagos archipelago’s more than 230 islands and islets are protected by the Galapagos National Park (7,970 square kilometers / 3,077 square miles) and the Galapagos Marine Reserve (covering 133,000 square kilometers / 51,352 square miles). The conservation of these areas took many years. The national park’s founding is often said to be 1959, though its roots go back several decades more. The marine reserve would be much later in coming.


The Beginnings of Galapagos Conservation

In the 1930s, the impact of humans – pirates and whalers, and later colonists – on the Galapagos archipelago’s delicate ecosystem was beginning to show. Giant tortoises had disappeared from some islands, and a rash of non-native plants were taking over the landscape.

Several institutions, including the British Museum and the California Academy of Sciences, expressed their concern about the Galapagos’ future. With the centenary of British naturalist Charles Darwin’s visit, the Ecuadorian government moved to protect the Galapagos Islands.

In 1934, Executive Decree 607 protected sensitive species, banned the hunting of giant tortoises and restricted yacht and ship traffic into the Galapagos archipelago. With Supreme Decree 31 in 1936, Ecuador declared the islands a national reserve. This was the country’s first protected nature area. The decree also established a scientific commission for the islands’ conservation.

But implementation of these protections was difficult. Resources were scarce and the Galapagos were too far away from the central government to guarantee the effective enforcement of the laws.


The Push to Save the Galapagos

With the 100-year anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s revolutionary Theory of Evolution, the international scientific community again pushed for protection of the Galapagos Islands.

In the early 1950s, prominent scientists like Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt and Robert Bowman lobbied for better protection of the Galapagos. Upon the presentation of their field studies, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, UNESCO and other international bodies recommended immediate action be taken.

In mid-1959, Ecuador made the Galapagos Islands a national park. This new law also banned the capture of iguanas, giant tortoises and other species. Port captains became the appointed authorities for implementation of the new regulations.

Also in 1959, the Charles Darwin Foundation was established and work immediately began to control and eradicate invasive species, like goats on South Plaza Island. The Charles Darwin Research Station, the center for scientific research on the islands’ species and preservation, officially opened in 1964. The station’s work also included training Ecuadorians in conservation issues.

But true protection of the Galapagos Islands was still more than a decade away.

Ecuador did not have a national park service until 1968, when it appointed its first two conservation officers. Ministerial Accord 690A of 1969 defined the boundaries of the Galapagos National Park and set aside three percent of the area for agricultural and urban use, and legally established Ecuador’s National Park Service. The first park superintendent was appointed in 1972, the same year that construction of the Galapagos National Park buildings began. By 1973, 18 park staff members were on board. The first National Park Master Plan was published in 1974.


Galapagos National Park Grows

Over the next few decades, Galapagos National Park grew in both world recognition and in size of protected area.

Galapagos National Park’s importance flourished when UNESCO declared it one of the first World Heritage Sites in 1978. This honor rests on four criteria, including the abundant variety of underwater life, and the islands’ unique flora and fauna on land. In 1984, UNESCO gave the Galapagos Islands further recognition by naming it a Biosphere Reserve.

In 2002, the 872-hectare Humedales del Sur de Isabela, which includes the Poza de los Diablos and coastal and marine wetlands near Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island, were placed on Ramsar’s list of Wetlands of International Importance.

During these years, the size of the Galapagos protected areas also grew. In 1986, the seas around the islands were declared a Marine Resource Reserve with the goal to control illegal fishing and use of marine resources. In 1998, the implementation of the Special Regime Law for the Conservation and Sustainable Development in the Province of the Galapagos led to the creation of the Galapagos Marine Reserve. This is one of the world’s largest marine reserves.

The Ecuadorian government took further measures to protect the Galapagos Islands by declaring a 38,000-square kilometer (15,000-square mile) marine sanctuary around Darwin and Wolf Islands. Studies by the Galapagos National Park and international partners show that this is an important resting and birthing ground for a variety of shark species.


Challenges Galapagos National Park Faces

In 2007, UNESCO placed the Galapagos Islands on the list of endangered world heritage sites, citing threats of invasive species, uncontrolled tourism and over-fishing. Because of the Ecuador government’s measures to address these problems, the Galapagos were removed from the endangered list in 2010.

One problem that has haunted the Galapagos since humans first began going to them is the introduction of invasive species like black rats and blackberry bushes. These pose a grave threat to the islands’ endemic plants and wildlife, and have caused the extinction of several species. In 1998, Galapagos National Park instituted inspections of all luggage and other items traveling to the Galapagos from the mainland and between the islands. This measure is to prevent the introduction and spread of foreign species.

Another long-standing threat Galapagos National Park faces is illegal fishing. The area to be patrolled is immense, yet resources are scarce. Ships are periodically encountered with holds full of sharks, sea cucumbers or other protected species. In mid-2017, a flotilla of Chinese fishing boats was caught with 6,600 sharks from Galapagos waters.


Galapagos National Park, in partnership with national and international organizations and universities, continues its important work of studying and preserving the islands’ environment. Since the national park’s foundation, it has spearheaded the recovery of land iguana and giant tortoise populations. A new project focuses on bringing the Floreana tortoise back from extinction, which will be a new addition to island visitors’ wildlife checklists.


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Twelve Titles on Galapagos – For Children

You and your family are dreaming of going to the Galapagos Islands. How can you prepare your young ones for their explorations of these enchanting isles?

A surprising number of children’s books about the Galapagos have been published. Share these works aloud with your kids at bedtime or on a rainy afternoon. Some have activities you can enjoy with your children. We have chosen books for a range of ages, from kindergarten to pre-teen.

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


The Adventures of Piratess Tilly

by Elizabeth Lorayne

Piratess Tilly heads to the Galapagos with her koala and a menagerie of animals to explore the islands’ flora and fauna. There they encounter pirates kidnapping giant tortoises. How will Tilly and her friends save those mellow reptiles? This book, written in haiku, won the Moonbeam Spirit Award Winner for Exploration, for children’s books. For ages 4-8.


Darwin and Evolution for Kids

by Kristan Lawson

This book includes 21 activities, like a botanical treasure hunt and how to keep a naturalist journal, that you can do with your child to learn more about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. For ages 10-14.


Galapagos Bedtime Stories

by Paula Tagle Saad

Through tales of the islands’ unique fauna, Galapagos naturalist guide Paula Tagle Saad recounts how these animals’ lives are. You’ll meet many of the isles’ natives, like a waved albatross that’s afraid of heights, and find out why flightless cormorants can no longer fly. For ages 4-8.


A Galapagos Day

by Sarah Martin

Learn about a day in the life of a new-born sea lion pup. For ages 5-9.


Galapagos Islands Coloring Book

by Jan Sovak

Your child will spend hours on a rainy (or snowy) day learning about the Galapagos while coloring these drawings of the islands’ animals. It contains much information about the wildlife. This would also be a good book to take along on your Galapagos cruise. For any age (even grown-ups!)


“Galapagos” Means “Tortoise”

by Ruth Heller

With poetry and pictures, your young one will learn about giant tortoises – and blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, sea lions and eight other Galapagos creatures. For ages 6-9.


Island: A Story of the Galápagos

by Jason Chin

Through watercolors and text, Chin explains the Galapagos Islands’ geology, evolution and wildlife in a language your pre-teens will understand. For ages 8-12.


Inside the Beagle with Charles Darwin

by Fiona Macdonald and Mark Bergin

Board the HMS Beagle and learn how life aboard was for the Galapagos Islands’ most famous naturalist scientist, Charles Darwin. For ages 7-12.


Lala Goes To the Galapagos Islands

by Virginia Ives

A grandmother’s photographic journey with her grandson to the Galapagos Islands. For ages 5 and up.


An Old Shell: Poems of the Galapagos

by Tony Johnston

Through his 34 poems and drawings, Johnston tells us about his trip to the magical Galapagos Islands. For ages 7 and up.


Tomas and the Galapagos Adventure

by Carolyn Lunn

A fun tale of Tomas, an Ecuadorian child, who dream-journeys to the Galapagos Islands where he rides on a sea turtle and sees humpback whales and hammerhead sharks, lunches with pirates, and escapes from a volcanic eruption – and makes it home in time for dinner! For ages 5-8.


We’re Sailing to the Galapagos

by Laurie Krebs and Grazia Restelli

Get ready to sail to the Galapagos Islands, to see waved albatrosses, iguanas, giant tortoises and more of the isles’ fascinating animals. For ages 5-8.


These twelve titles will help your young explorers prepare for their Galapagos adventure. And be sure to check out the other parts of Galapagos Travel Planner’s exclusive “Twelve Titles on Galapagos” series: Natural History, Human History, and Videos. Did we miss your favorite book? Share it in the comments below.


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The Charles Darwin Research Station

The Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island is one of the most popular stops on any visit to the Galapagos. But what exactly does it do in the islands, and why is it so important?


History of the Charles Darwin Research Station

Efforts to protect the Galapagos Islands began in the 1930s. It wasn’t until the 1950s, however, that things began to gel. With the support of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and UNESCO, the Belgian-based Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) was established in 1959 to begin building the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS). This would be the headquarters for CDF’s conservation projects.

The Ecuadorian government signed a 50-year agreement with CDF. In August 2016, the CDRS’ mission was extended for another 25 years. CDF’s scientific research will focus on global warming, the impact of human activity in the Galapagos, innovation of sustainable systems and the islands’ biodiversity. Its work will be conducted in both Galapagos National Park and the Galapagos Marine Reserve. CDF will collaborate with Ecuador’s higher education and scientific institutions, as well as with internationally recognized universities and research institutions.

The early history of the CDRS, before tourism became the mainstay of the islands, is fascinating reading. Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, member of the CDF Executive Councils since 1959, discusses the necessities of preserving the Galapagos Islands and the search for the research station’s headquarters in his work, Galapagos: The Noah’s Ark of the Pacific. Roger Perry recounts his experiences as the CDRS director (1964-1970) in Island Days.


CDRS and the Preservation of the Galapagos Islands

Since its inception, the CDRS has worked with national and international institutions and scientists to study and preserve the Galapagos Islands’ unique flora and fauna. In its over 50 years of existence, CDF has helped to establish the giant tortoise breeding program, thus saving these gentle giants from extinction on Española and other islands, as well as the land iguana program. It has aided the Ecuadorian government in setting up quarantine inspection to prevent the introduction of alien species to the islands, and in programs to eradicate goats, rats and other invasive animals. CDRS scientists’ research also was instrumental in the creation of one of the world’s largest marine reserves.

One current research project is on the elimination of the Philornis downsi fly, an introduced species that kills endangered Mangrove finch and other songbird hatchlings. Another project is Galapagos 2050, an innovative program to reforest the islands with native plant species. As well, CDRS scientists continue monitoring over 100 species on land and in the sea, from birds to sharks.

Over this past half-century, CDF’s mission also has extended to education, working in the islands’ schools and with the local communities. CDF has trained national park personnel, and over 2,000 students from Galapagos and mainland Ecuador.

CDF has been recognized for its work in preserving the Galapagos Islands’ unique environment. These awards include the Sultan Qaboos Prize for Environmental Preservation (UNESCO, 1999), J. Paul Getty Wildlife Conservation Prize (2001), Society for Conservation Biology Award for Distinguished Achievement (2002), Cosmos International Award (Japan, 2002) and the BBVA Foundation Prize (2004).


Visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station

Many cruise ships stop at Santa Cruz Island to visit the research station in Puerto Ayora. If you’re an independent traveler, though, you can easily get there yourself.

The Charles Darwin Research Station is located at the southern end of Avenida Charles Darwin, about 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) from downtown Puerto Ayora. Between the national park headquarters and the station, you’ll encounter the path to the tortoise breeding corrals and Lonesome George exhibition hall.

At the station itself you can visit the CDRS museum which also has a gift shop, snack shop and observation tower. The G. Corley Smith Library houses one of the largest Galapagos-specific collections in the world. Paths lead to gardens and displays explaining CDF’s latest projects. As well, there are several beaches that are popular with local Galapagos residents. Before you leave, be sure to take your photo with Charles Darwin (his statue, that is, at the Fischer Sciences Building).

CDRS also has an internationally-recognized herbarium with the most complete Galapagos plant collection in the world and an insect collection, both open to researchers. The science research laboratories and offices are closed to the public.

From any corner in the world, you can browse the CDF’s herbarium, museum collections and select publications through its Datazone. The library’s catalog is also available online. And if you can’t (yet) make it to the Galapagos Islands, check out Google 360, a “street-view” trek of these enchanted isles, another project in which the CDF was a partner.


For generations to come, the Charles Darwin Foundation and its Charles Darwin Research Station will continue to provide essential scientific information to the Ecuadorian government and local communities, to help protect these special Galapagos Islands.


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Twelve Titles on Galapagos – Human History

While you’re dreaming of your Galapagos Islands vacation, these books will transport you back to the times of some of the original human settlers of these enchanting isles. Read them in the comfort of your home or toss a few into your suitcase.

The Galapagos Islands has a fascinating human history, dating back several hundred years. Our list includes the accounts of explorers and colonizers, and a few literary works inspired by the Galapagos’ colorful inhabitants.

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.)


General Galapagos Human History

The Enchanted Islands: The Galapagos Discovered
by John Hickman

The human history of the Galapagos Islands, from their possible discovery by the Inca, and through the centuries with pirates, whalers, explorers and scientists. Includes a chapter on the Charles Darwin Research Station and the National Park.


The Curse of the Giant Tortoise
by Otavio Latorre

In the Galapagos they say the giant tortoise can see the true heart of humans. What have these long-lived reptiles seen of those that wanted to exploit the islands?


Charles Darwin Slept Here
by John Woram

Without a doubt, Woram’s book provides the best overview of the Galapagos Islands’ human history, recounting the experiences of a bishop, buccaneers, whalers, settlers, a US President and (of course) Charles Darwin.


Galapagos Explorers and Colonizers

A Pirate of Exquisite Mind—Explorer, Naturalist and Buccaneer: The Life of William Dampier
by Diana Preston and Michael Preston

William Dampier was much more than a mere 17th century pirate: he also was a naturalist and scientist who wrote three best-selling travelogues. This book is not only a biography of Dampier’s life, but also an in-depth examination of the pirate way of life.


The Enchanted Islands: A Five-Year Adventure in the Galápagos
by Ainslie Conway and Francis Conway

Like many Galapagos settlers in the 1930s, the Conways thought they might have better opportunities in the Islands than in Depression-era US.


My Father’s Island: A Galapagos Quest
by Joanna Angermeyer

In the 1930s, the Angermeyer brothers set out to sail the world, but settled in the Galapagos Islands. Joanna tells their story, and why she never got to know her father, Hans Angermeyer.


The Floreana German Colony

The Galápagos Affair
by John Treherne

Treherne examines the real-life murder-mystery on Floreana Island in the 1930s that involved the Baroness and her two lovers, Friedrich Ritter and his companion Dore Strauch, and the Wittmer family.


Satan Came to Eden
by Dore Strauch

The events surrounding Floreana’s German colony in the 1930s – as told by Friedrich Ritter’s companion.


by Margret Wittmer

Wittmer’s book focuses more on her family’s homesteading on Floreana for over 50 years, though she also touches upon the events leading to the mysterious disappearances and deaths that affected the small German colony in the 1930s.


Galapagos Literature

Isle of the Black Cats
by Gustavo Vascónez Hurtado

In this novel, Ecuadorian writer Vásconez speculates about whether the Germans settlers on Floreana Island were, in fact, spies for the Nazis, Japan, Stalin and the US.


Enchanted Islands
by Allison Amend

Another novel about real-life Galapagos colonizers … and perhaps spies, but Amend takes the Conways as her topic.


Piazza Tales
by Herman Melville

This collection of stories includes “The Encantadas, or Enchanted Islands,” ten stunning sketches about Galápagos.


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


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