San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

Trip Start Feb 03, 2006
1
53
59
Trip End May 09, 2006


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Monday, May 1, 2006

5/1 San Cristobal Island
Spent the day at San Cristobal island, and the little port city there. Visited the interpretative center, which dealt mainly with the islands' history, both natural and human. The Galapagos are basically the tops of mountains in the sea, that just happen to be high enough to stick out of the water. They were, and are still being, formed by volcanic activity, as the many craters and black volcanic rock give evidence of. The islands are believed to be between 5 and 10 million years old, with volcanic activity still going on to this day, an eruption occurred just a few months ago. All plant and animal life came to these islands from somewhere else. And despite the unique nature of the wildlife here, there are really a very limited number of species. There are no amphibians, and very few mammals (especially if you take away what has been introduced by man in the last few hundred years). Oddly, there were no insects at all, until man unwittingly carried them here over the last few hundred years. All species, of both plant and animal, came to this island, and according to Darwin and other scientists, adapted to the unique environment here, forming new and different species. Many animals only exist on one or two islands. There is a theory that during the last ice age, about 20,000 years ago, that the oceans were much lower, the water being locked up in ice further from the equator. This leaves the possibility that for some period of time, there would have been a land bridge that allowed some species to travel here from the continent. As the ice age ended, the land bridge disappeared, and these species were left to deal with their new environment.

The Galapagos islands were discovered in 1535, by a Spanish captain, who only had negative things to say about his visit. Partly, I believe, because he and his crew were in desperate need of fresh water, and there is not much here. But also because there was nothing obvious that would bring any wealth to Spain. He described the penguins he found as 'stupid' because they were so slow on land, and because they did not even have the sense to run away from them. He also thought the iguanas the most hideous creatures he had ever seen. The Galapagos were uninhabited formally for hundreds of years after that, except by pirates, who used these islands as a base for raiding Spanish ships. Since that time, the island has been used as a penal colony for criminals from Ecuador, and have 'survived' several unsuccessful attempts to be settled for industrial or agricultural uses. However, over the centuries, multiple species are now extinct because of human activities here, similar to the American Bison, where there were thought to be so many that they could be captured or killed indefinitely... Some species are extinct because of creatures introduced by man, such as rats and goats, that have essentially eaten the vegetation necessary for the survival of certain species.

Since 1959 the islands have been declared a national park by Ecuador, though only in the past 20 years or so has there been real enforcement of conservationist policies. Tourist use on two of the islands that I visited are probably going to be suspended for 20 years or so, in order to ensure that some of the fragile ecosystems are not damaged irreparably.
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webmaster surtrek on

The largest fresh water lake in the archipelago, Laguna El Junco, is located in a crater in the highlands of San Cristóbal, in the southern half of the island. The lake harbors a large population of birdlife, but reaching the lake requires a short uphill walk. Nearby, La Galapaguera is a breeding station and sanctuary for giant tortoises.

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