The Galapagos Islands
Michael Ellis

I just returned from the Galapagos Islands. Straddling the equator six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador everyone interested in the wild things of the planet sooner or later gets to these remarkable islands. Charles Darwin was certainly stimulated by his five week stay in 1835. I have been there numerous times and I’m always astonished by the place.

Those of us from the Bay area have several reasons to feel right at home in the Galapagos. The cool ocean temperatures (surprising for tropical waters) often create a fog layer reminiscent of our own seashore zone. The same brown pelicans wheel through the sky, yellow warblers sing from the coastal scrub and great blue herons hunt in the tide pools. A very close relative of our California sea lion is the dominant mammal. The ubiquitous barking and playful behavior of these frisky pinnipeds is evocative of home. But a Pier 39 it is definitely not. While humans have been living in the Galapagos for over two hundred years, there is very little fresh water available.

Like our own Farallons Islands there were originally no predators on the Galapagos so both groups of islands were a haven for breeding seabirds. White vented storm petrels, albatrosses, swallow tailed gulls and frigate birds thrive there. And on the Farallons are Murres, western gulls, Puffins and Ashy Storm petrels.

But one of the most remarkable connections is with the California Academy of Science. In 1905, scientists from San Francisco visited the Galapagos and during their 17 month stay collected 70,000 specimens. They assembled the largest collection of Galapagos plants and animals ever. The earthquake and fire of 1906 destroyed the original Academy building on Market Street and nearly all the biological specimens. The material on the way from the Galapagos formed the core of the rebuilding effort. And finally the largest town in the Galapagos is located in a port named Academy Bay. The 89 foot schooner, Academy, from California anchored there and the bay was honored for our local institution.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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November 7, 2010