Galapagos

Geography of the Galapagos Islands


The Galapagos Archipelago is located at a distance of 972 Km (600 miles) West of mainland Ecuador. Local time is GMT - 6. It consists of 13 main islands, 6 smaller islands, 42 islets and many rocks, covering a total surface of 7,850 km².

The largest island is Isabela, with a surface of 4,590 km², which also has the highest point of the archipelago, Wolf volcano with 1,690 meters of altitude.

The Galapagos Archipelago was formed as a result of tectonic activity between the Nazca, Cocos and Pacific plates. They are the most outstanding peaks of the underwater Carnegie range, which extends from Galapagos to the western edge of South America. It is known that the first island emerged more than 5 million years ago and younger rocks to the West have approximately one million years old. Especially the Western Islands Isabela and Fernandina, maintain an active growing process; the most recent volcanic eruption was in 2009.

97% of the total area of the Islands is part of the Galapagos National Park, the rest are inhabited areas of Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, Isabela and Floreana, in addition to Baltra Island, occupied in its entirety by the armed forces of Ecuador. Galapagos is a province of

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Ecuador since 1975; its capital is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island. Puerto Ayora, on Santa Cruz Island, is the most populated and busiest tourist wise city. The total population of the Islands, including the floating population is approximately 30 thousand inhabitants.

Map of the Galapagos Archipelago

Galapagos map.

Islands:

Isabela

(Albemarle)

4.588 Km²

Santa Cruz

(Indefatigable)

986 Km²

Fernandina

(Narborough)

642 Km²

Santiago

(James)

585 Km²

San Cristóbal

(Chatham)

528 Km²

Floreana

(Charles)

173 Km²

Marchena

(Bindloe)

130 Km²

Española

(Hood)

60 Km²

Pinta

(Abingdon)

59 Km²

Baltra

(South Seymour)

27 Km²

Santa Fe

(Barrington)

25 Km²

Pinzón

(Duncan)

18 Km²

Genovesa

(Tower)

14 Km²

Rábida

(Jervis)

4.9 Km²

Seymour

(North Seymour)

2.0 Km²

Tortuga

(Brattle)

1.3 Km²

Wolf

(Wenman)

1.3 Km²

Bartolomé

(Bartholomew)

1.2 Km²

Darwin

(Culpepper)

1.1 Km²

Conservation

Tortuga gigante

The Galapagos Islands form the most diverse and complex Archipelago in the world, in which the conditions remain relatively untouched. Due to its distance from the continent and because it was never attached to it, the existent flora and fauna evolved extraordinarily up to what they are today and have remained unchanged until man arrived to them for the first time. The species of plants and animals inherent to the islands didn't have any predators for thousands of years of evolution, for which animals show no fear in the presence of humans and other animals. This is what makes Galapagos such a very special and fascinating place and of so much interest for science, tourism and photography. Visitors will never forget this experience with nature.

Iguana terrestre

Meanwhile, this same particularity is the cause of its delicate and fragile balance, thus the importance of the control of the introduction and spreading of foreign species, as well as a strict tourism control and other extractive human activities such as fishing. The management and protection institution on the isles is The Galapagos National Park with the collaboration of entities, as Charles Darwin Foundation and others.
The wild life is made up mainly of birds, mammals and reptiles. There are no amphibians in the Galapagos. Its rich marine life makes this place an incomparable place and is one of the most important scuba diving destinies in the world. At present, the animals introduced many years ago by settlers, as goats, pigs, donkeys, dogs, cats and rats which, having no competitors they have expanded, becoming one of the main problems for the conservation of the islands fauna. The same occurs with plants, thus, the institutions involved in conservation are also taking care of control and extermination of plants and animals.

Climate

Temperatura promedio

Although located on the equator, the Galapagos Islands are not always humid and hot as other equatorial regions, due to its location on the Pacific dry area, where temperatures keep low par of the year by the influence of the Humboldt cold current coming from the Antarctica. This very particular air cooling phenomena, together with the Southeast Trade winds and occasionally the Niño influence, produce two climatic seasons in the year. The rainy season from January to May, distinguishes itself by hot temperatures between 23° and 27°C on sunny days. The ocean is warmer and quite calm. This season can present rainy periods, which are generally scarce, but there could be years which present excessive rain, like the ones provoked by the El Niño phenomenon.

Precipitaciones

The cold season from June to December, with temperatures that decrease to at least 19C, is mainly provoked by the cold Humboldt current. The cold water makes the air temperature descend, bringing a rough wind with a wet mist and presents cloudy skies for several days. The cold season is generally dry, although a slight drizzle is present on high areas, which keeps them always humid. The result of this is that 7 different vegetation areas can be found on the bigger islands with altitudes higher than 500m, and each one of them with their own micro climate. The southern currents also bring large quantities of plankton, which together with cold water, provoke a distinct increase in marine life.

Marine Reserve

On March 18 1999 the MARINE RESERVE OF THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS was created under Presidential Decree, its limits are taken 40 miles from the base line of the outward islands, forming this way the second largest marine reserve in the world with approximately 180.000 square kilometers, 69,500 square miles.

This area presents extraordinary biological characteristics mainly due to oceanic currents, like the cold Humboldt and the warm El Niño, as well as the deep Cromwell counter current, which as it hits the Galapagos ridge, up swells bringing along huge quantities of minerals needed for the formation of phytoplankton, which is the base for of the marine food chain.

This convergence of currents with different temperatures,- added to the extensive volcanic activity and the abrupt changes in the deepest part of the ocean between the Galapagos platform and the abyssal depths to the south and west have given place to a great variety of marine ecosystems which maintain a close interdependence,- present species from every different region in the tropical and cold zones and attracts animals from all over the Pacific and part of the Indo-Pacific, creating an impressive biodiversity and producing as well a curtain of genetic isolation. That is the reason Galapagos presents a 25% of endemism. It is as well the only natural refuge for threatened species of marine mammals and reptiles like turtles and whales which find in the Galapagos their main breeding areas.

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