Las Islas Galápagos (January 1986)

Up until 2008, our past endeavors were retained only as memories and on 35mm slides. While our memories may have faded (just a bit), the slides haven’t – and we have a lot of them. So we’re digitizing a select few to bring a bit of our past into the 21st Century. The photos below are from a few of those old slides.

As an undergraduate biology major, I had developed a deep-seated desire to visit the islands that kick-started Darwin on his path (along with Wallace) to scientific immortality. By December 1985, I had accumulated enough vacation days, along with a foreign travel clearance from my then employer, to finally make the pilgrimage.

After flying to Quito, I joined a group of nine fellow tourists as we made our way to Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz (1). We spent three days there, visiting the tortoises at the Darwin Research Station, hiking to a stunningly white and broad beach, and seeing rays swarm in a lagoon. Then we boarded a motor sailing boat – the Yacht Encantada – to visit Isla Floreana (2), Isla Española (3), Isla Santa Fé (4), Isla Genovesa (5), Isla Santiago (6), and Isla Bartolomé (7). The routine was for the boat to sail or motor between islands overnight so we could spend the whole next day exploring an island.

Las Islas Galápagos (numbers show islands in order visited)

On our way back to Isla Santa Cruz for our flights home, we stopped briefly at Daphne Major (8), where B. Rosemary Grant and Peter Grant, a wife-and-husband team of scientists from Princeton University, had been conducting field work on Darwin’s finches since 1973. The remote location of this tiny island enabled them (and other researchers) to study the evolution of biodiversity due to natural selection under pristine conditions.

A visit to the Galápagos is not about people or architecture or art or culinary delights or any other human concerns – it’s about the plants and animals, many of which are unique to this place. You can’t touch or bother or harass either the plants or the animals. But they are so calm in the presence of humans that you can get a very, very close look at them. Traveling with such a small group also meant that we could spread out and not confront any animal with a wall of agitating humanity. So, between the pilgrimage to Darwin, the tortoises, and all the other plants and animals we got to appreciate close-up, this trip was a resounding success.

Isla Santa Cruz

Darwin Research Station
One of the islands’ most famous inhabitants
Tortoise finishing a grass snack
One of the many marine iguanas on Isla Santa Cruz
Hiking to the beach (this is rugged country even with a trail)
On the beach near Tortuga Bay
Rays swarming in a lagoon
Yacht Encantada
Main cabin on the Encantada
On our way to Isla Floreana

Isla Floreana

Isla Floreana
A dry lake bed in the island’s interior
A basking fur seal
The “post office” established before 1793 at Post Office Bay (the postcard I left here did indeed get mailed to me)

Isla Española

On the beach
Marine iguana
Galápagos hawk
Nazca (or Masked) Bobby
A fuzzy Nazca Bobby juvenile
Blue Bobbys with chicks
Nesting Red-billed Tropicbird
Blowhole at Point Suárez
Basking fur seals

Isla Santa Fé

Land iguana
You can get close…but not too close
Land iguana
Lava gulls

Isla Genovesa

Red-footed Bobby
Sally Lightfoot crab
Juvenile Bobby on a post
Galápagos Short-eared owl

Isla Santiago

Making it ashore ahead of a big cruise ship (there were 12 of us and 300 of them)
Lava (Galápagos Green) Heron
Sally Lightfoot crab
The islands are, in many ways, deserts surrounded by the sea

Isla Bartolomé

Looking toward Isla Santiago
The oft-photographed spire on Bartolomé (note our ship’s masts on the right)
Galápagos Penguin
A sleepy Galápagos Penguin
Nazca (or Masked) Bobby
Lava Gull with chick

Daphne Major

One of Darwin’s finches [Shutterstock]

Sadly, the group of bird species collectively known as Darwin’s finches face possible extinction due to an invasive avian parasite fly (Philornis downsi) native to mainland Ecuador and Brazil. The fly was unwittingly introduced in the 1960s and has now spread to the majority of the islands. During its life cycle, the parasite kills by sucking the blood out of its host populations – here the Darwin’s finches and other bird species. Efforts are underway to find ways to kill this parasite without harming the birds or other wildlife.

Homeward bound

I was never able to make a return visit but I like to think that the plants and animals are still there waiting to be appreciated. What has changed is the number of people trying to make a living on the islands. Thanks to increased tourism and new fisheries, the islands’ population has grown from roughly 3,000 in the 1960s to approximately 30,000 today. Not unexpectedly, this growing human population is threatening the health of the ecosystems and species on which tourism depends. Fortunately, these threats – from introduction of invasive species to rapid, largely unregulated construction in the islands’ towns – are now recognized and steps are being taken to address them. But, as in so many other places, accommodating both economics and ecology is an on-going, and ever challenging, process.


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