Charles Darwin

Santa Cruz Island Travel Blog

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Our first visiit is to the island of Santa Cruz to see the Charles Darwin Research Centre. A short hop from Baltra.The name Santa Cruz is Spanish for “Holy Cross,” but its English name, Indefatigable, was named for the British vessel HMS Indefatigable.

Santa Cruz has a long history of human settlement and agriculture, which has left the landscape permanently altered by invasive species. Human development began in the 20th century on Santa Cruz when settlers from the United States and Europe moved to the area between WWI and WWII.

the Charles Darwin Research Centre is the operational center of the international non-profit Charles Darwin Foundation.The visitor center contains exhibits dealing with climate and geography and provides insight into the evolution of flora and fauna as well as conservation programs.

The Darwin Station conducts research and provides technical assistance to other researchers and governmental agencies, in particular the Galapagos National Park.

Charles Robert Darwin was born on 12 February 1809 in Shrewsbury, Shropshire into a wealthy and well-connected family. His maternal grandfather was china manufacturer Josiah Wedgwood, while his paternal grandfather was Erasmus Darwin, one of the leading intellectuals of 18th century England.

In 1831, he joined a five year scientific expedition on the survey ship HMS Beagle. At this time, most Europeans believed that the world was created by God in seven days as described in the bible. On the voyage, Darwin read Lyell's 'Principles of Geology' which suggested that the fossils found in rocks were actually evidence of animals that had lived many thousands or millions of years ago.

Lyell's argument was reinforced in Darwin's own mind by the rich variety of animal life and the geological features he saw during his voyage. The breakthrough in his ideas came in the Galapagos Islands. Darwin noticed that each island supported its own form of finch which were closely related but differed in important ways.

On his return to England in 1836, he proposed a theory of evolution occurring by the process of natural selection. The animals or plants best suited to their environment are more likely to survive and reproduce, passing on the characteristics which helped them survive to their offspring. Gradually, the species changes over time.

Darwin worked on his theory for 20 years. After learning that another naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, had developed similar ideas, the two made a joint announcement of their discovery in 1858.

In 1859 Darwin published 'On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection'.

 Darwin was vehemently attacked, particularly by the Church. However, his ideas soon gained currency and have become the new orthodoxy. Darwin died on 19 April 1882 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

We also visit The Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center, a long-term program run jointly by the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation, began in 1965 to save the giant tortoise population on Pinzón. It was quickly expanded to include other populations, in particular that of Española where only 14 individuals remained. It's most famous inhabitant is Lonesome George. 

A giant tortoise from the island of Pinta in the northern regions of the Galapagos Archipelago, George is the last known survivor of the Pinta tortoise.

Considered one of the rarest creature in the world and  a conservation icon. As throughout the rest of the islands, Pinta tortoises were over-exploited by whalers, fur sealers, and others in the 1800s. The first potential landfall heading into the islands and the last possible landfall heading home again, Pinta was probably a much used source of tortoises, thus reducing the population to near zero.

The Pinta tortoise was thought to be extinct in the early part of the 20th century. Except for the absence of giant tortoisesthe island was in near pristine condition until 1959, when fishermen released three goats there. Given the distance to Pinta from port, these fishermen simply wanted fresh meat on their long fishing voyages. The tiny goat population, however, exploded, and by 1970 it was estimated to be around 40,000.

The goats had devastated the vegetation and had essentially eliminated any good tortoise habitat left.

In 1971, József Vágvölgyi, a Hungarian scientist studying snails on Pinta saw a tortoise on the island, Lonesome George. Vágvölgyi recounted his observation back in port, and in the spring of 1972, Galapagos National Park rangers brought the tortoise to the Tortoise Center on Santa Cruz for its protection.

The hope was that a female Pinta tortoise would eventually be found in one of the zoos around the world or perhaps even on Pinta  and so Lonesome George would have a breeding partner. Despite extensive searches and genetic analyses of any potential Pinta tortoise found in zoos, none has been located.

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Santa Cruz Island
photo by: aswold