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The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago (extensive group) of volcanic islands located 563 miles (906 km) directly west of Ecuador. The islands are distributed on either side of the equator in the Pacific Ocean. The group consists of 18 main islands, three small islands, and 107 rocks and islets.
Below are some interesting facts on The Galapagos Islands, or alternatively, you can download our comprehensive worksheet pack to utilize within the classroom or home environment.
Facts About the Galapagos Islands
- When the Galapagos Islands were accidentally discovered in 1535 by Tomas de Berlanga, the Spanish Bishop of Panama, they had no original inhabitants.
- De Berlanga’s ship was just drifting by the Islands on its way to Peru when the discovery was made.
- The date was recorded as March 10, 1535.
- Bishop de Berlanga reported back to the Spanish monarchs about the Islands. He also informed them about its apparent rich flora and fauna.
- The Islands appeared on Abraham Ortelius’ atlas in 1570. They were named “Insulae de Los Galopegos” or Islands of the Tortoises due to the enormous number of giant tortoises found there.
- The first navigational chart of the Galapagos Islands was created by Buccaneer Ambrose Cowley in 1684.
- Cowley named the individual islands after British royalty and noblemen and also some after his fellow pirates.
- The islands were used as hideouts by pirates, who pilfered silver and gold from Spanish galleons traveling from South America back to Spain in the early 19th century.
- In 1793, officer James Colnett of the British Royal Navy proposed the Islands be used as a base for whalers operating in the Pacific Ocean because the Islands offered a supply of fresh water and also of meat which was needed by the whalers.
- Unfortunately, using the Islands as a base was detrimental to the Galapagos tortoises, as many were taken aboard the whale ships and used as a source of food/fresh protein.
- This caused a considerable decline in the tortoise population and brought the tortoises close to extinction.
- Ecuador annexed the Galapagos Islands in 1831 and named them the Archipelago of Ecuador.
- In 1832, a group of convicts was shipped to the island of Floreana (Isla Santa Maria).
- Then, in September 1835, HMS Beagle, a survey ship, arrived on the Islands with a notable naturalist named Charles Darwin on board.
- Charles Darwin proceeded to study the local fauna and flora. He noted that almost all of the plants and animals were endemic to the islands and these discoveries contributed to his theory of natural selection.
- Darwin also included the Islands on a map in order that more people became aware of them and could visit the Islands.
- A group of Norwegian settlers arrived on the Islands between 1920 and 1930.
- The Ecuadorian government allowed them to inhabit the island and decreed that no tax would be levied for the first ten years.
- Consequently, additional settlers arrived from America and Europe.
- The Islands became Ecuador’s first national park in 1959.
- The Islands were also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.
Geology and Geography
- The Galápagos Archipelago is characterized by numerous volcanoes, possibly due to the young and thin oceanic crust.
- Volcanism has been continuous on the Galápagos Islands for longer than 20 million years.
- Lacking a well-defined rift zone, the islands have a high rate of inflation (response to pressurization) prior to eruption.
- The Galapagos group consists of 18 main islands, three smaller islands, and 107 rocks and islets.
- The majority of islands are more broadly part of the South Pacific.
- The closest landmass to the islands is mainland Ecuador, the country to which they belong, 500 mi (926 km) to the east.
- Islands in the chain are located in both the northern and southern hemispheres, straddling the equator.
- The Galápagos Archipelago consists of 3,040 sq mi (7,880 km2) of land spread over 17,000 sq mi (45,000 km2) of ocean.
- Isabela, the largest of the islands, measures 2,250 square miles (5,800 km2), which is almost three-quarters of the total land area of the Galápagos.
- Some of the older islands have disappeared while the youngest islands, Isabela and Fernandina, are still forming.
- In June 2018, Sierra Negra, one of five volcanoes on Isabela and one of the most active in the Galapagos archipelago, began erupting for the first time since 2005.
- The 18 main islands each have a land area of at least ½ sq mi (1 km2).
Climate and Ecology
- The archipelago is characterized by a mixture of a tropical savanna climate and a semi-arid climate.
- Although the islands are located on the equator, the Humboldt Current brings cold water to them and causes frequent light rain most of the year.
- From June to November, the season known as the garúa, the sea is about 72 °F (22 °C), with a steady, cold wind blowing from the south and southeast, causing frequent drizzles (garúas) for most of the day and dense fog often concealing the islands.
- From December to May, the warm season, the average sea and air temperatures rise to 77 °F (25 °C), the sun shines, and there are heavy rains.
- As altitude increases on the large islands, the weather changes.
- Temperatures decrease gradually with altitude, while precipitation increases due to the condensation of moisture in clouds on the slopes.
Flora and Fauna
- On the larger islands, the pattern of drier lowlands and wetter highlands impacts the flora.
- In the highlands, the vegetation is lush and green with areas of tropical woodland.
- The lowland areas tend to have more arid and semi-arid vegetation areas of cacti and thorny shrubs and almost bare volcanic rock elsewhere.
- Most of the Galápagos are covered in semi-desert vegetation. This includes grassland, shrublands, and dry forest.
- Some of the islands have high-elevation areas with higher rainfall and cooler temperatures which are conducive to shrublands, humid-climate forests, and montane grasslands (pampas).
- There are some 500 species of native vascular plants on the islands, including 90 species of ferns.
- About 180 vascular plant species are endemic.
- The islands are well known for Galápagos lava lizards, giant tortoises, finches, flightless cormorants, and marine iguanas, which have evolved to adapt to the islands’ environments.
- The main threat to Galápagos is plants and animals introduced or brought accidentally or willingly to the islands by humans.
- Introduced animals include feral goats, cats, and cattle which are quick to reproduce and with no natural predators. They quickly decimated the habitats of native species.
- The native animals also lacked natural predators on the islands and were defenseless to introduced predators.
- There are now over 700 introduced plant species, but only 500 native and endemic species.
- This is creating a major problem for the islands’ natural species.
- In 1930 the first protective legislation for the Galápagos was enacted and was supplemented in 1936.
- Only late in the 1950s was positive action taken to control what was happening to the native fauna and flora on the islands with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature organizing a fact-finding mission to the Galápagos in 1955.
- In 1957, UNESCO, in cooperation with the government of Ecuador, sent an expedition to choose a site for a research station.
- UNESCO recognized the islands as a World Heritage Site in 1978.
- In 1986 the ocean surrounding the islands was declared a marine reserve.
- In 1990, the archipelago also became a whale sanctuary.
Notable species on the Islands include
- Galápagos land iguanas
- Marine iguana
- Galápagos tortoise
- Galápagos green turtle
- Sea cucumbers
- Flightless cormorant
- Great frigatebird and magnificent frigatebird
- Blue-footed booby
- Galápagos penguin
- Waved albatross
- Galápagos hawk
- Four endemic species of Galápagos mockingbirds
- Thirteen endemic species of tanagers (Darwin’s finches)
- Galápagos sea lions
Did You Know?
- The government of Ecuador controls tourism in the Islands.
- Traveling to see the endemic species should be done with a professional tour operator through the cities of Quito and Guayaquil.
- The Galapagos Islands have a diversity of plant and animal species not found anywhere else in the world.
Galapagos Islands Worksheets
This bundle contains 11 ready-to-use Galapagos Islands Worksheets that are perfect for students who want to learn more about the Galapagos Islands which are an archipelago of volcanic islands located 563 miles (906 km) directly west of Ecuador. The group of islands consists of 18 main islands, 3 small islands, and 107 rocks and islets.
Download includes the following worksheets:
- Galapagos Islands Facts
- Where are the Galapagos Islands?
- Identify the Islands
- Galapagos Islands Word Search
- What am I?
- Charles Darwin in the Galapagos Islands
- Search It Up!
- Beautiful Galapagos
- Travel Brochure
- Protect the Tortoise!
- Galapagos Islands Acrostic
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you stay on the Galapagos Islands?
Yes, you can stay overnight on some of the Galapagos Islands. Those specific islands are Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana.
What is special about the Galapagos Islands?
The environmental conditions make the Galápagos a unique island ecosystem.
Do any humans live on the Galapagos Islands?
Four islands are inhabited by humans, with a total of around 30,000 inhabitants.
What language do they speak in the Galapagos?
The official language of the Galapagos Islands is Spanish.
How many different species are found on the islands?
There are nearly 9,000 species found on the islands and in their surrounding waters, many of them endemic.
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Link will appear as Galapagos Islands Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, May 4, 2017
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