Discovered by chance on 10 March 1535 by the Dominican Tomas de Berlanga, fourth bishop of Panama, it has been proven that the South American Amerindians had already visited the Galapagos Islands well before their discovery by the Spanish.
The Islands were given their name by the mapmakers Abraham Ortelius and Mercator, who named them "Insulae de los Galopegos" (Turtle Islands)
Added to the territory of Ecuador in February 1832, the archipelago was home to a group of prisoners with the goal of populating the archipelago. As of October 1832, several craftsmen and farmers joined them on the Island of Floreana.
On the 15th September 1835 the HMS Beagle, captained by Robert Fitzroy, arrived in the Galapagos. This expedition was a scientific and geological study of 4 of the 13 islands. During this voyage, a young British biologist, Charles Darwin, studied the diversity of the present species. The HMS Beagle left the islands on the 20th October to continue her expedition around the world. Darwin would later publish, from his observations, his famous study on evolution and natural selection in 1859: The Origin of Species. Today, at Puerto Ayora, the largest town of the archipelago, situated on Santa Cruz Island, we find a research centre named after him.
In 1959, 97% of the archipelago territory, 800 000 hectares, were declared a national park by the Ecuador Government. This national park was added to the world heritage list by UNESCO in 1978. In 1986, an additional 7 million hectares were added to create a marine reserve.
The Galapagos are, above all, an exceptional natural reserve. The environment of the Islands remains extremely protected, largely thanks to the National Park rules. These rules are enforced by the National Park guards and the marine biologists from the Charles Darwin Foundation.
Galapagos National Park Rules
· Do not disturb or touch any animal. Respect the distance between yourself and the animal.
· Do not remove or displace any plant or rock
· Do not bring back any living organism or displace them from island to island. Every island has its own fauna and flora and displacement may rapidly destroy their equilibrium.
· Do not feed the animals. This may be dangerous for you and may also affect the social structure and natural behaviour of the animals.
· Do not frighten any animal during its rest or nesting period.
· Remain on the dedicated pathways. There are many visitors to the islands and it is important not to damage the vegetation or cause erosion.
· Do not throw away any waste, neither on land, nor in the water.
· Do not buy any local pre-cut souvenirs (except wood) as this encourages the exploitation of natural resources used in the fabrication of these souvenirs. In particular, seals teeth, black coral, turtle products or shells.
· Do not smoke on the islands.
· Demonstrate your responsible attitude in the defence of the environment. This remains an obligation for all of us.
The non-observance of these basic rules could seriously endanger the fragile equilibrium of one of the last havens on our planet. The guides have the authority relating to these rules and can apply heavy fines to anybody found to have seriously infringed. Expulsion from the islands may even be envisaged.
On the 23rd June 2007, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee added the Galapagos Islands to the list of world heritage in peril. This was done to obtain additional aid for their preservation. The Galapagos Islands are effectively threatened by invasive species and increasing immigration.