In Galapagos Travel Planner’s continuing series on the colonization of the Galapagos Islands, today we visit the history of Floreana Island.
Floreana, located in the southern part of the Galapagos archipelago, is an island full of history and mystery. It is the Galapagos Island that has been inhabited by humans for the longest time. Named for Ecuador’s first president, Juan José Flores, over the centuries Floreana has also been called Charles Island and Santa María.
In the 1950s, Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl (of Kon Tiki fame) stated that a carved head near Asilo de la Paz and pottery shards prove that South American indigenous visited the Galapagos centuries before the Spanish – a theory not supported by academics.
The first human known to reside long-term in the Galapagos Islands is Patrick Watkins, an Irish sailor marooned near Floreana’s Black Beach from 1807 to 1809. He survived by growing vegetables that he traded with passing ships. Watkins inspired part of Herman Melville’s novella, Las Encantadas.
During this era, whaling ships found safe harbor on the north shore of Floreana. Sometime before 1793, a barrel post office was established, and thus the bay’s name: Post Office Bay. In the latter half of the 19th century, several short-lived settlements were established on Floreana, including a political prison colony and an orchil lichen dye enterprise.
In 1926, Norwegian settlers set up a fishing cannery at Post Office Bay. When that business failed, many went to live in the fledgling town on Santa Cruz Island’s Academy Bay.
Galapagos’ most famous residents lived on Floreana during the 1930s. This German settlement began when Dr. Friedrich Ritter and Dora Strauch arrived in 1929. Soon thereafter, the Wittmer family arrived, and later the Baronness Eloise von Wagner and her two lovers. The disappearance of the Baroness and one lover, and the sudden death of Ritter is a mystery that endures to this day. The Wittmer family continues to live on the island.
After World War II, more settlers arrived on Floreana. Since then, the population of the island has grown to a bit over 100 inhabitants, many living in Puerto Velasco Ibarra. Farming is the main occupation, though eco-tourism is beginning to take hold.
Human occupation has taken a heavy toll on Floreana’s environment. The native species of giant tortoise is extinct, and the Floreana Mockingbird and other species are endangered. In 2011, scientists from the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Galapagos National Park began “Proyecto Floreana,” an effort to restore the island’s ecosystem.
Been to Floreana island? Share any tips for future travellers in the comments below.
Photo credit: NH53