What better way to honor Charles Darwin’s 207th birthday and the 157th anniversary of the publication of his On the Origin of Species than with a trip to the Galapagos Islands. There you can follow in the footsteps of the 26-year old naturalist, who arrived on the HMS Beagle for just five weeks in 1835 and changed the course of history.
How did he do it … simply by observing nature with an open mind and a sense of awe in this remote island laboratory 600 miles west of mainland Ecuador.
Specifically, Darwin noticed that the beak structure of finches varied from one island to the next, designed to optimize food gathering in each unique setting. The realization that these and other adaptations were passed on to the offspring – and therefore that species were not immutable — led him to write The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859, almost 25 years later.
This theory, radical at the time, is a key underpinning of science today.
Click here to view my Galapagos slideshow.
It’s one thing to read a theory, another to experience it through all your senses in a place of stark beauty. So when my husband and I spent a week exploring a dozen of the Galapagos Islands, our daily hikes and swims provided the ultimate hands-on lessons in species adaptation.
When our naturalist guide asked our group to touch a prickly pear cactus, we gingerly complied. Much to our relief, not a finger was pricked by the needle-like spines.
“There are no reptiles to protect against on this island, and soft spines allow birds to land here,” said Harry Jimenez, dive master and island native. Jimenez and Orlando Romero were our guides, mentors and companions during a week-long cruise aboard Ecoventura’s 20-passenger motorized yacht Letty.
At a cove on stark Fernandina, youngest and most pristine of the islands, hundreds of dark grey marine iguanas sunbathed on the black pahoehoe (smooth, ropy) lava, while pairs of flightless cormorants prepared their nests. Both are prime examples of species adaptation: the former evolved from land iguanas seeking food by going deeper into the water for algae; the latter became more efficient hunters without wings, which then atrophied over time.
The “aha” moments came often in this remote Pacific outpost, and back onboard the Letty we would share our discoveries with fellow passengers over sunset cocktails or ample meals based on local healthful cuisine. As we passed around copies of The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in our Time or The Voyage of the Beagle: Charles Darwin’s Journal of Researches with our new friends, the Letty cruised past islands of startling beauty, whose ongoing impact on the world can’t be overstated.
Click here for my Galapagos journey, Part 2.
Ecoventura, a family-owned company based in Guayaquil, Ecuador, transports 4,000+ passengers annually aboard a fleet of three expedition vessels; 20-passenger motor yachts with 10 double cabins. The company also operates a 16-passenger dedicated dive live-aboard offering 7-night weekly itineraries. All vessels have been retrofitted to meet or exceed the highest possible environmental standards.
Click here for current rates, schedules and itineraries or call 800.644.7972.