Humans in the Galápagos

John Merck and Fern Gookin

For the last 2000 years, people have colonized the islands of the Pacific, so in a way it's surprising that the Galápagos remained pristine while places like New Zealand ahd Hawaii had their natural systems trashed and stomped on. Yet, in another way, it makes perfect sense. The islands simply aren't conducive to argiculture except in a few scattered places. Thus, for most of their human history, they have been the marginal habitation of marginalized people.

Discovery: 1485-1570

  • 1485: Incas The Inca Empire was based in the mountains of southern Peru. In 1463, they began the conquest of what is now Ecuador under Pachacuti, the 9th Inca. This conquest was essentially complete by the end of the century. An odd side note: Legend has it that the Inca prince and future 10th Inca, Tupac Yupanqui ,organized a fleet of balsa rafts to investigate stories of uninhabited islands to the west. This expidition returned after nine months with the skin and jaws of a "horse" (probably a sea lion) and reports of two islands - One volcanic.

  • 1535: Official Discovery The Spanish Bishop Fray Thomas de Berlanga, sailing from Mexico to Lima, made the official discovery of the islands when his ship was becalmed and drifted off course. He described the tortoises and iguanas, and coined the name "Galápagos" after the shape of the saddle-backed tortoises. Several sightings and landings occurred in the following decades, but no one suggested that the islands were in any way useful

  • 1570: Mapped The islands first appeared on a map as "Insulae de los Galopegos".

    Exploration and Exploitation: late 1500s-1870s

  • 1593-1710: Pirates and Buccaneers Near the turn of the 17th century, English, French,a nd Dutch pirates and buccaneers finaly found a use for the Galápagos as a hide out and logistical base for raids on the coast of South America. The pirates impacted took thousands of tortoises to provision their shipsand released goats to the islands to maintain a food supply in while on the Galápagos. In an early form of biological warefare, the viceroy of Peru introduced dogs to the islands to get rid of the goats, hoping to get rid of the pirates' food. This was unsuccessful; goats and dogs are two of the most devastating introduced species to the islands. Even in Darwin's time, the memory of English buccaneers was fresh in the minds of South Americans. Indeed, Darwin describes being the guest of an aristocratic family in Valparaiso and having his hostess remark that when she was young she couldn't iamgine sitting down to dinner with an Englishman.

  • 1790: First Scientific Mission Alexander Malicina of Spain went to the islands for research purposes, but the reports from the expedition were lost.

  • 1793-1870: Whale Exploitation Whales are being hunted in the islands' waters. This industry reduced tortoise and fur seals populations, as well as whales.

  • 1793: Post Office Barrel The post office barrel is erected on Floreana. Visiting ships can leave letters in the barrel. These letters will stay there until a ship stops at the barrel that will be traveling in the direction of the letter's destination. The barrel was a customary stop, and still stands there today as an odd piece of tacky tourist kitch - a warning of the dangers of commercialization.

  • 1800-1900: Fur Seal Exploitation Fur Seals are hunted nearly to their extinction by North Americans and Europeans.

  • 1807-1812: First Permanent Settler Patrick Watkins took up residence on Floreana (which would subsequently become a magnet for some very colorful people). Contemporary accounts describe him as monstrously deshevelled and criminally depraved. He eventually fled with the aid of five crew members of a whaling ship, whom he had effectively enslaved. It's assumed he later murdered them.

  • 1813: Piracy's last gasp American Capt. David Porter attacks and captures the British whaling fleet during the war of 1812. He is the historical prototype of the French bad guys in Master and Commander. Unlike the fictional French, he won.

  • 1832: "Archipelago de Ecuador" Since Watkins' departure, the islands had lacked permanent inhabitants. This changed when Ecuador officially annexed the islands. They give the archipelago the name "Archipelago de Ecuador", and give the islands their Spanish names. A colony was established on Floreana by Gen. José Villamil. Not long after Villamil's departure, the Floreana colony was converted to a penitentiary, primarily for political prisoners and prostitutes.

  • 1835: H.M.S. Beagle The young Charles Darwin visits during the voyage of the H. M. S. Beagle.

  • 1869: An officer named Manuel Cobos came from the mainland with soldiers imprisoned for rebellion. He is known as the "Dog King" of Charles Islands because he is said to have controlled his prisoners with dogs and treated them as slaves, and to have abused the wives of his subordinates. Nasty guy by all accounts. After Cobos' overthrow in 1904, the domesticated animals within their penal colony were released and became feral.

    Settlement: 1880s-1930s

  • 1886: School Set Up on Floreana A small school was set up on Floreana for children.

  • 1892: "Archipelago de Colon" The official name of the islands changes from the "Archipelago de Ecuador" to the "Archipelago de Colon" in honor of Christopher Columbus's "discovery" of the Americas four hundred years earlier.

  • 1885: Puerto Baquerizo Moreno In the 50 years of Ecuadorian rule, several attempts at colonization had vailed. Finally a successful colony was established at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal.

  • 1893: Puerto Villamil Established on southern Isabela.

  • 1905-1906: California Academy of Science Scientists come to the islands and make the first extensive research and collections on the islands.

  • 1923: William Beebe A famous scientist of his time, Beebe writes a book called The Galápagos World End. This brought attention to the islands from all around the world and inspired people to move to the islands.

  • 1924-1930: First Commercial Production of Salt Salt mines were established on Santiago by Mr. Egas. This was a successful industry until the national park bought their lands.

    Idealists: 1926 - present

    The devastation of Europe during the First World War created a generation of emotionally scarred people seeking a better life. Some, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, stayed home and became spritualists. Others sought the isolation of the Galápagos in which to build their Utopias:

    Conversion to Park

  • 1959: Galápagos National Park Non colonized areas of the islands are placed in the park.

  • 1964: Darwin Research Station opens.

  • 1969: Tourists arrive: The Lina-A, operated by Metropolitan Touring, brings the first organized tour of the islands.

  • 1986: Puerto Baqueirizo Moreno: Airport opens.

  • 1993: Telephone Connection to Mainland Telephone service is made available to the mainland and all over the world. The Galápagos Islands are now linked to the outside world; internet cafés are even available in the towns.

    GEOL 388: Field Natural History of the Galápagos Islands

    Summer Semester I 2004
    Conservation in the Galápagos

    Primary Threats:
    I. Biodiversity Issues:
    Island communities are particularly vulnerable to environmental threats:

    So danger of extermination by habitat loss, by predation, by ecological replacement, by disease, and more.

    Some specifics examples:

    II. Limited Natural Resources: Wood, mined rock and gravel, and arable land are all relatively rare, and freshwater more so.

    III. Marine Reserve Issues: more below

    IV. Management of Human Population:

    History of Conservation Efforts in Galápagos
    First laws specifically addressing protection of Galápagos in 1934. Some islands become reserves for a natural park: did not include Santa Cruz, Floreana, San Cristobal, or south Isabela and Fernandina. A population of land iguanas form Baltra are seeded onto Seymour (by the American Hancock Foundation) to see if they could survive there: this actually saves a part of the otherwise-extinct Baltra population of Conolophus.

    1957: UNESCO (with help from the New York Zoological Society, Time Inc., and the government of Ecuador) funds a study to organize a conservation strategy for the Archipelago, including an on-site biological research station.

    In 1959 (100th anniversary of the publication of The Origin), the International Congress of Zoology forms a Galápagos committee (headed by Sir Julian Huxley) to create the "Charles Darwin Foundation" in Brussels. Construction of the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) in Puerto Ayora begins in 1960. Opens in 1962, and officially inaugurated in 1964.

    In 1965: Ecuadorian government sets up boundaries of Galápagos National Park, and begins the eradication of all feral goats.

    1999: declaration of the Galápagos Marine Reserve, outlawing industrial fishing within the Park. (However, local "artisanal fishing" was allowed).

    Current Efforts and Crises:
    Reestablishing wild populations (esp. of land iguanas and tortoises: terrestrial animals which are very vulnerable to predation as young): a major activity of the CDRS. Conolophus was just reintroduced to Baltra!

    Controlling Introduced Species:

    Control and Regulation of the land use
    Zone laws for the park: different levels for zone for different sections, each with their own limitations on use. The following zones have been established:

    Series of rules governing what can be brought into the Park: Sistema de InspecciÛn y Cuarentena para las Islas Galápagos (SICGAL)

    Marine Reserve
    As of 1999, extends 40 miles from the baseline of the islands. However, have been several incidents with "pirate" fishing fleets (especially going after large fish, such as groupers, sharks, and tunas).

    Artisanal local fishermen are allowed to fish in these waters, under certain restrictions of takes and seasons. Unfortunately, local fishermen have greatly expanded their take of pepiños (local name for sea cucumber species Stichopus fuscus). Because of high prices offered in East Asia, these have become very marketable. Clashes between fishermen and the Park Service and scientists with the CDRS have occurred, because of the illegal practices related to the harvesting. This has lead to occupation of CDRS by fishermen, and non-violent protests by public in response.