I'm Shirley Griffith.
I'm Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today, we tell about
the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean and the unusual creatures that live
The nineteen islands that make up the Galapagos lie
along the equator one thousand kilometers west of Ecuador. The islands are named for the giant tortoises
that live there. Galapagos has been
called "a living museum and showcase of evolution." The animals on the islands influenced British
nature scientist Charles Darwin's ideas about evolution by natural selection.
nineteen seventy-eight, the islands were the first place named to the World
Heritage List by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization. In two thousand seven
UNESCO added the islands to its World Heritage in Danger list. The main reason is the increase in the number
of visitors to the islands.
The World Heritage Committee said increased
tourism, immigration and invasive species threaten the animals of the
Galapagos. Many of these animals are
found nowhere else in the world. The committee noted that the number of days
spent by passengers on ships in the area has increased by one hundred fifty
percent in the last fifteen years. More than one hundred seventy thousand
people visited the islands last year.
tourism has brought thousands of workers from Ecuador to the Galapagos Islands to
seek jobs. Some workers have brought
non-native animals like dogs, cats, pigs and goats. These animals compete for food with the
islands' native animals. Some also
attack the native animals. And the waste produced by the islands' growing
human population places an increased threat on the wildlife.
government has tried to enforce severe limits on the number of Ecuadorians who move
to the islands. But many Ecuadorians have criticized the government's efforts. They feel they have the right to live on the
islands to make a better living.
new report in the journal Global Change Biology says the ecosystem of the
Galapagos Islands has changed forever. This destruction is due to human
activity in addition to warming water temperatures and overfishing.
who wrote the report say at least forty-five species are now extremely
threatened. And they say that it is likely that two species are probably gone
forever. These are the Galapagos damsel fish, and the twenty-four rayed
Mystery always has been
part of the Galapagos Islands. In
fifteen thirty-five, a ship carrying the Roman Catholic Bishop of Panama came
upon the Galapagos accidentally. Tomas
de Berlanga named the Galapagos group the Enchanted Isles. He was surprised to see land turtles that
weighed more than two hundred kilograms and were more than one meter long.
He said they were so large each could carry a
man on its back. Bishop Berlanga also
noted the unusual soil of the islands. He suggested that one island was so rocky it seemed like stones had
rained from the sky.
took official possession of the islands in eighteen thirty-two. The British
nature scientist Charles Darwin is mainly responsible for the fame of the
Galapagos Islands. He visited the
islands in eighteen thirty-five. He collected plants and animals from several
islands. After many years of research,
he wrote the book "The Origin of Species" in eighteen fifty-nine. He developed
the theory of evolution that life on Earth developed through the process of
book changed the way people think about how living things developed and became
different over time. Darwin said the
Galapagos brought people near "to that great fact -- that mystery of mysteries
-- the first appearance of new beings on earth."
hundred years later, in nineteen fifty-nine, the Ecuadorian government declared
almost all of the islands a national park. The Charles Darwin Foundation was formed the same year to study and
protect the plants and animals on the islands.
More than one hundred twenty-five landmasses make up
the Galapagos. But only nineteen are
large enough to be considered islands. Scientists have been wondering for years about the position of the
Galapagos in the Pacific Ocean. Scientists used to think that the islands were connected to the South
American mainland and floated out to sea slowly.
scientists think the islands were always where they are now. But they think the islands once were a single
landmass under water. Volcanic activity
broke the large island into pieces that came to the surface of the sea over
But scientists wonder how animals arrived on Galapagos
if the islands were always so far from the mainland. Scientists think most Galapagos plants and
animals floated to the islands. When
rivers flood in South America, small pieces of land flow into the ocean. These rafts can hold trees and bushes. The
rafts also can hold small mammals and reptiles. The adult Galapagos tortoise
clearly is too big for a trip hundreds of kilometers across the ocean. But, turtle eggs or baby turtles would be
small enough to float to the islands.
The Galapagos Islands are home to many unusual birds,
reptiles and small mammals. Some of the
animals live nowhere else on Earth. The tortoise is the most famous Galapagos
reptile. But the marine iguana is also
unusual. It is the only iguana in the
world that goes into the ocean. It can dive at least fifteen meters below the
ocean surface. And it can stay down
there for more than thirty minutes.
In two thousand nine scientists confirmed the discovery
of a new species of iguana. This pink iguana is believed to be a more ancient
form of the species than other known iguanas on the islands. This newly
discovered iguana has a pink head with black stripes on its body.
strange birds also live on the Galapagos. One of them is the only penguin that lives on the equator. Another is
the frigate bird. It has loose skin on
its throat that it can blow up into a huge red balloon-like structure. It does this to attract females that make
observation flights over large groups of males.
The Galapagos also are noted for a bird that likes
water better than land or air. The
cormorant is able to fly in all the other places it lives around the
world. But the Galapagos cormorant has
extremely short wings. They cannot
support flight. But they work well for
The islands also have a large collection of small birds
called Darwin's finches. Charles Darwin
studied the finches carefully when he visited the Galapagos in eighteen
thirty-five. He separated the birds by
the shapes of their beaks. He discovered that finches that lived in different
places and ate different foods had different shaped beaks.
But the most famous animals on the Galapagos Islands
are the thousands of giant tortoises. And the most famous of these is the one that scientists call Lonesome
George because he is the last of his kind.
He has been called the rarest creature on
Earth. At one time, the islands were
home to about fifteen different kinds of land turtles. The largest island, Isabela, has five
different kinds of tortoises. But,
Lonesome George is not one of them. He
comes from a smaller island called Pinta.
found George in nineteen seventy-one. Humans and non-native animals had caused
much damage to the environment on his island. Some animals and plants had disappeared. Lonesome George was the only tortoise found on Pinta.
Scientists took the tortoise to the Charles Darwin
Research Center on Santa Cruz Island. They wanted to help him find a female tortoise for mating to produce
baby tortoises. The scientists had been successful in similar efforts for
thousands of other tortoises.
researchers placed George in the same living area as females from the nearby
island of Isabela. Scientists thought George would be more closely related to
the females from Isabela than to other Galapagos tortoises. In two thousand eight, George surprised scientists
by mating for the first time in thirty-six years.
Scientists took the eggs to a laboratory where they
could be protected and closely observed. Unfortunately, the eggs were later
found to be infertile. But new eggs have appeared in two nests over the past
year. Although he is between ninety and one hundred years old, George may yet
become a father. So, there is still hope that in the near future, George will
not be quite as "lonesome" anymore.
program was produced by Dana Demange. I'm Steve Ember.
I'm Shirley Griffith. Transcripts and archives of our shows are at
voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again
next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.