The Galapagos archipelago is located on both sides of the equinoctial line approximately 970 km (600 miles) west of mainland Ecuador. Local time is -6 GMT. It consists of thirteen major islands, six minor islands, 42 islets and many rocks, which cover a total area of 7,850 km². The largest island is Isabela, with an area of 4,590 km², which also has the highest point in the archipelago, the Wolf Volcano, with 1,690 meters above sea level. 97% of the total area of the islands is part of the Galapagos National Park, the rest corresponds to the inhabited and cultivated areas of the Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, Isabela and Floreana islands, in addition to the Baltra island, fully occupied by the Armed Forces of Ecuador. The Galapagos are also a province of Ecuador, whose capital is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, on San Cristobal Island. Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island, is the city with the greatest tourist movement. The total population of the islands, including the floating population, is 16,109 inhabitants.
The Islands formed about 4 or 5 million years ago as a result of volcanic eruptions, emerging from the surface of the ocean. Currently, the Galapagos are considered one of the most active volcanic groups in the world. Many of the islands are only the tips of some volcanoes and show an advanced state of erosion, others are completely submerged. Recent eruptions, such as that of Marchena in 1991 or Fernandina in 2005, are evidence that the islands are in constant process of formation. Other islands such as Baltra and North Seymour have evidence of having been formed by tectonic movements, in which the ocean floor was pushed towards the surface.
The Galapagos Islands make up the most diverse and complex archipelago in the world, in which conditions remain relatively intact. Because of its distance from the continent and the fact that it was never linked to it, the existing flora and fauna evolved extraordinarily to what they are now and remained unchanged until man first came to them. The species of plants and animals of the islands had no predators during thousands of years of evolution, which is why animals show no fear of the presence of humans and other animals. This makes Galapagos a very special and fascinating place and of so much interest for science, tourism and photography, where visitors can have an experience with nature that they will not forget in their entire lives.
But at the same time this same peculiarity makes its balance so delicate and fragile, and that is why in its management it is essential to control the introduction and spread of foreign species, as well as a strict control of tourism and other human activities, such as fishing. The institution responsible for the management and protection of the islands and the Marine Reserve is the Galapagos National Park, with the collaboration of other entities, such as the Charles Darwin Foundation.
The wildlife is mainly composed of birds, mammals and reptiles. There are no amphibians in the Galapagos. Its richness in marine life makes these islands an incomparable place and that is why today it has the reputation of being the most important diving destination in the world. At present there are plants and animals introduced by the settlers some years ago, such as goats, pigs, donkeys, dogs, cats and rats, which, finding no competitors, have expanded becoming one of the main problems for the conservation of the fauna of the islands. The same occurs in the case of plants, so that the institutions involved in conservation are also responsible for the control and eradication of plants and animals.
Despite being on the equator, the Galapagos Islands do not have a humid and hot climate equal to other equatorial regions, because they are in a dry area of the Pacific, where temperatures are kept low by the influence of the cold Humboldt current, which It comes from the Antarctic. This very particular phenomenon of air cooling, together with the trade winds of the southeast and sometimes the influence of El Niño, produce two climatic seasons throughout the year. The “rainy” season from January to May is characterized by warm temperatures between 23 and 27 ° C and sunny days. The ocean is warmer and less moved, with better visibility underwater. This season may have periods of rain, which is usually scarce, but there may be years with excessive rainfall, such as those caused by the El Niño phenomenon.
The cold season from June to December, with temperatures falling below 19 ° C or less, is mainly caused by the cold Humboldt current, which arrives strongly from the north coast of Peru. Cold water lowers the air temperature, bringing with it a moving sea with less visibility underwater and cloudy skies. The cold season is generally dry, although in the high areas there is a presence of garúa, which keeps them always wet. This gives that in the large islands, with altitudes greater than 500m, there are up to 7 vegetation zones, each with its own microclimate. This current also brings a lot of plankton, which, together with the cold water, causes a notable increase in marine life, which increases the activity of land animals, especially birds, thus promoting their reproduction.
The terrestrial ecosystems of the islands cannot survive without a parallel protection of the adjacent marine environment, for this reason on March 18, 1999 the Galapagos Marine Reserve becomes effective, whose limits are 40 miles taken from the baseline of the islands outside the archipelago, forming with it the second largest marine reserve in the world.
This area has extraordinary biological characteristics, mainly due to ocean currents coming from tropical and subtropical regions that converge on the islands, bringing animals from all over the Pacific and part of the Indo-Pacific, creating a great biodiversity and producing an isolation curtain. genetic. The temperatures of these currents also contribute to the variety of marine ecosystems. This is why here there is 23% endemism and it is also the only refuge for endangered species of reptiles and marine mammals, such as turtles and whales, which find their main breeding site in the archipelago.
The Galapagos archipelago is one of the most fascinating places in the world for deep and surface diving. It has been declared one of the seven underwater wonders of the world by CEDAM and Rodale’s Scuba Diving magazine places it as the world’s first diving destination. Its waters offer the opportunity, to observe its flora and fauna, coral reefs, whales, whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, rays and manta rays, turtles, iguanas, hundreds of varieties of fish and many others that would make the list endless. One of the most fun experiences is diving or swimming with the playful sea lions, which apparently have more fun with our presence in the water.