Galapagos travel guide:
Some Galapagos geography
Why are the Galapagos so special? Take a deep breath for a little light geology, ecology and oceanography that helps explain why.
The Galapagos islands are situated over a ‘hot spot’ in the earth’s crust where from time to time over the last 4 million years eruptions have created submarine volcanoes whose tips are the islands we see. Convection currents in the earth’s crust are gradually pushing southeast, so the islands are forming sequentially: as each new island is created it is gradually moved off the hot spot as if on a conveyor belt. Volcanic activity then ceases and the landscape is softened by erosion and events such as caldera collapses. The newest islands, in the north west, which were formed barely a million years ago, therefore have the most dramatic topography.
So the islands have never been connected to the mainland, they just rose up from beneath the sea. And each island is a different age from the next.
As the Galapagos islands have never been connected to the mainland, all the land species found here have colonised from some far-away source, travelling by wind, or water, or attached to something else—either as spores or seeds, or as entire plants or animals.
This process has been sporadic and random, so niches have been filled by species that would not have been able to do so on the mainland.
For example, no large mammals reached the Galapagos, so the largest natural herbivores on the islands are reptiles.
The Galapagos is at the junction of two circulating ocean currents: a warm current from the Gulf of Panama in the north, and the cold Humboldt current from the south. These two currents create conditions that can suit both tropical and temperate species, which explains why you will find sea lions and tropical fish, penguins and flamingos at the same time.
Further complexities in ocean currents at a more local level lead to very different environments in the eastern islands compared to those islands in the west of the archipelago, so different species of plant and animal are found on different islands.
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Darwin & the Galapagos
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