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The Galapagos Islands are the perfect place to explore if you love to travel.
An island consisting of 13 major islands and six smaller islands. A part of the Republic of Ecuador lies on either side of the equator in the eastern Pacific ocean.
The undiscovered land of the Galápagos Islands was first visited by Fray Tomás de Berlanga in 1535 during a voyage to Peru. De Berlanga belongs to the Spanish Empire which made Spanish the principal language of the islands. And in 1684, the first crude map of the Galapagos was made considering it as a group of islands or ‘Galápagos Archipelago’.
The Galápagos Archipelago is characterized by several existing volcanoes, rare species of plants and animals, and marine species. The islands are also home to many endemic species. These species were extensively studied by Charles Darwin.
Scientists have researched this complex island for more than 180 years. However, the first scientist to research was Charles Darwin, he came to the Galapagos in 1835 on a ship named HMS Beagle. His observation and collections of wildlife mainly contributed to his theory of evolution by natural selection.
Situated at the conflux of three ocean currents, the island is called the ‘melting point’ of marine species. The islands have a high diversity of endemic species and exemplary flora and fauna. The extreme isolation of land, adaptive geographical location led to the growth of unusual plants and animals which are found nowhere in the world. These include giant tortoises, huge cactus, marine iguanas, and much more native flora.
With such a life-threatening species, the question arises in our minds, is Galapagos Islands safe to travel to? Can you stay in Galapagos? And many more. However, earlier in the 1800s it was quite threatening for people to visit such remote areas with existing natural predators. But later with conservation efforts in 1978, UNESCO recognized the islands as a World Heritage Site making it safer to travel. Also, during the early years, the conversation efforts such as introducing new species and eradication threatening ones by the Galápagos National Park made it safer to live as well as travel.
Today, more than 160,000 tourists each year travel to the Galapagos. The worldwide fame of national parks and marine reserves has made Galapagos the most popular holiday destination. In fact, the main economy of the Galapagos depends on tours and travels. Multiple options for travel to the islands have been introduced. There are now 54 land sites, 116 visitors sites, and 62 scuba-diving sites in the Galapagos.
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The Galápagos Islands has located approximately 605 mi (973.7 km) off the west coast of South America. It is nearest to continental Ecuador to the east which consists of 127 islands. The Galapagos has 3042.5 sq. mi (7880 sq. km) spread over an ocean of 17,374.6 sq. mi (45,000 sq. km). Standing astride on the equator, these islands are located on both the northern and southern hemisphere at the coordinates 1°40'N–1°36'S, 89°16'–92°01'W.
This group of islands consists of 18 main islands, three small islands, and 107 islets and rocks. The archipelago is on the top of the Galapagos hotspot where the Earth’s crust melts by a mantle plume in order to create volcanoes.
However, all 18 main islands have at least a land area of a km sq. Among them, Darwin and Espanola are the northernmost, and southernmost islets respectively. Also, the youngest island is Fernandina Island and Island Isla Española is one of the older islands.
The minor islands include Daphne Major, South Plaza Island, Nameless Island, and Roca Redonda. The Galapagos is surrounded by the Galapagos Marine Reserve extended to its current area of 51351.6 sq. mi (133,000 sq. km) created in 1986.
Land of naked volcanoes, rocks, and islets, the Galápagos Islands is now home to thousands of plants and animals species. The adaptation of species also depends on climate and weather conditions. Galapagos weather changes as the altitude increases and gradually temperature decreases. The Galápagos Islands has a wide range of habitat zone that is distinctively divided into five zones: arid, marine, shore, humid, and transition zones.
The most widespread zone of the Galapagos is the arid zone which is the habitat for most of the Galapagos species and also is spread on all of the main islands. Creatures of this zone learn to survive with very little freshwater. It has rocky soil that keeps plants like cacti, shrubs, and deciduous trees dominating this ecosystem.
On the other side, the marine zone consists of the whole Galapagos Marine Reserve which is spread over 51,000 sq. mi (132,089.4 sq. km). It is the habitat of most of the migrating marine species and the world’s largest concentration of sharks, including pregnant whale sharks. The most significant marine ecosystem of the planet is Galapagos Marine Reserve and home to sea turtles, sharks and manta rays, and more water plants and mammals.
But, if you’re looking for some of the unusual species, you must explore the shore zone of the islands. Multiple adaptations of plants and animals are seen in this salt-ridden shore zone. Species like Galapagos Penguins have developed adaptations in Galapagos’ salty ecosystem. Santa Cruz and Rabida islands have various species of Mangrove and briny lagoons adapting in this habitat with up to 97% salt in water.
Besides, most of the islands in the highest area have the greenest ecosystem called the Humid zone. This zone varies highly in altitude, ranging from more than 300-900 ft. (91.4-274.3 m) above sea level and as high as breaking the cloud cover. What’s more, about it is, it is further divided into three mini zones: Scalesia, Miconia, and Pampa. It is the highest, wettest, and rarest zone for the rarest species to adapt. Tourists often visit San Cristóbal and Santa Cruz with this habitat to see an amazing variety of ferns, orchids, and more.
Last but not the least, the middle zone between arid and humid has a unique ecosystem. The transition zone of the Galapagos Islands is home to several plants and animals of the arid zone. This habitat has slightly deeper soil than that of the arid zone. Most of the Galapagos Tortoises adapt to this natural habitat. It is also suitable for agricultural activities because of its annual rainfall. It is also the reason why it is the best place for the adaptation of a wide range of plants.
With the trailblazing work of Charles Darwin on adaptation and natural selection, the Galapagos is famous for its ecotourism and adaptation of endemic species.
The Islands has 500 species of native plants, out of which 180 are endemic species. The islands showcase unique species of revolutionary evolution and ecology. Islands with the arid region are populated with cacti including giant candelabra cactus, lava cactus, and prickly pear. Other habitats are home to include endemic plants like Galapagos peperomia, Galapagos lantana, straight-spine lecocarpus, disc-like flowers, and more. However, the Galapagos is known for its Mangrove trees including black, button, white, and red trees grow.
Not only plants but the Galapagos is highly diversified with land as well as marine life. It is home to the largest aaremal and marine mammals. The land iguana is endemic to Galapagos species including large lizards which live up to 60 years and giant tortoise that weighs up to 500 lb (226.8 kg) and lives over 150 years.
Moreover, the Galápagos Islands has a huge marine reserve that is residence to 2909 marine species such as the Galapagos fur seal, marine iguana, Sea lions, sea lizard, the sea iguana, and many more unnamed species that live underwater and on seashores.
Anyway, if talking about plants and animals why not about birds? As it is also an important part of the Galapagos ecosystem and scientific research. Darwin’s evolution theory began from observation of Galapagos birds. Rare 13 species of finches mostly populate this island, known as Darwin’s Finches. These are small birds that have different beak shapes and sizes. Besides, the islands are also populated with Galapagos mockingbirds, waved albatross, rare seabird, woodpecker finch, and more.
For millions of years, the Galapagos Islands had nothing but their volcanic islands, lava tunnels, and exemplary endemic species. But, in 1535 with the discovery by the Bishop of Panama, the Archipelago was included in the geographical map of the world.
Despite being discovered, the islands were only used by the pirates and Buccaneers. However, the first human to set his home on the island was Patrick Watkins, an Irish sailor in 1807. Later in the 19th century, the discovery of whale fat attracted many livelihoods to settle and work in the Galapagos. The Galapagos’ Population increased from 1,000-2,000 people with these new economic activities in 1959.
Today, out of 18 uninhabited islands, four islands are used as inhabited islands with more than 30,000 inhabitants. There are three airports in Galapagos Archipelago namely, Seymour Airport in Baltra Island, San Cristobal Airport, and a small airline stripe on Isabela Island. And the island with the largest population is Puerto Ayora of Santa Cruz island inhabiting 10,000 local population. The islands are currently visited by more than 20,000 people every year to enjoy ecotourism, view endemic species of flora and fauna, and explore marine life with Galapagos’ cruises.
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