Eminent naturalist Charles Darwin was one of the first prominent visitors to the Galapagos Islands, and his influence on the Ecuadorian archipelago remains strong two centuries later.
Darwin collected a number of biological and geological specimens during his time on the islands in 1835, and it was this important work that allowed him to establish and publish his groundbreaking theories on biology and evolution.
And on a Quark Expeditions' Galapagos Islands expedition, you can to see how Darwin's legacy of understanding and conservation is being carried on to this day in the Galapagos!
Sea lions on the beach - Photo credit: Ecuador Tourism
Science and Conservation at Charles Darwin Research Station
The Charles Darwin Research Station is a biological research station and breeding center in the town of Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, and the most populous town in the Galapagos. Home to 12,000 people, the town is a popular draw in its own right, with restaurants, clothing stores, tourist shops and internet cafes.
The station was established in 1964 by the Charles Darwin Foundation, a non-profit organization with the mandate of providing scientific knowledge and assistance to preserve the islands. “Our mission is to provide science that will help to conserve the environment and biodiversity of the archipelago and that enables decision-makers to work towards a truly sustainable Galapagos,” says Foundation president Dr. Dennis Geist.
“We are doing this within the context of dynamic changes in the commercial, political and social landscapes of the Galapagos Islands. It is perhaps fitting that in this bastion of evolution, the Charles Darwin Foundation continually evolves as a matter of adaptation.”
The focus is on science and conservation, as you would expect, and almost every tour of the Galapagos includes a stop at the station. This allows the more than 100 scientists, educators, researchers, support staff and volunteers to share their important knowledge with visitors from around the world.
When you visit the station, expect to learn about the history of the islands, and about native plants and wildlife, including the Galapagos land iguana and the Galapagos giant tortoise, which is the largest species of tortoise on Earth.
Giant Tortoise- Photo credit: Ecuador Tourism
Galapagos Tortoises at Darwin Research Station
You will see giant tortoises at every stage of development at the Darwin Research Station, including unhatched eggs, and learn how the station and its staff have worked for decades to ensure the tortoise population in the Galapagos remains stable.
These vulnerable creatures have been threatened by various causes and predators, including humans, but their numbers have rebounded from about 3,000 in the 1970s to almost 20,000 today.
That's still a far cry from their estimated peak of more than 250,000 in the 16th century, when the islands were discovered by the Spanish. In fact, they were so plentiful that explorers came up with the name “Insulae de los Galopegos,” which translated to “Islands of the Tortoises.”
Snorkeling - Photo credit: Ecuador Tourism
Swim and Snorkel at Darwin Research Station
Conservation efforts by the Darwin Research Station and the Darwin Foundation extend to the land iguana and other fauna and flora on the islands. There are also initiatives to prevent invasive species from threatening the Galapagos.
Exhibits available at the station focus on geology, climate, and other vital aspects of the Galapagos ecosystem. And one of the most enjoyable options at the station is that you can literally immerse yourself in the ecosystem by swimming and snorkeling at a nearby lava rock beach!
Quark Expeditions offers two different Galapagos Islands guided tours – Galápagos Expedition: Darwin's Playground, Central and North and Galápagos Expedition: Darwin's Playground, Far West – each an adventure of a lifetime. Contact us today to get started!