Great legacies Children

Territory of the tortoise

In 1535, Charles V, King of Spain, ordered Fray Tomás de Berlanga (the Bishop of Panama at the time) to sail to Peru and submit a report on the happenings there. Promptly, the bishop set sail but nature deigned otherwise. A strong ocean current carried him off to the Galapagos Islands, instead.

When the winds died down the bishop and his men went in search of water. To their dismay they could find no water. They were forced to squeeze water from cactus pads to survive. Later, they found water in the second island.

Berlanga described the island as where “God...had rained stones” and the land so infertile that it did not have “even the power of raising a little grass”. But he did note the populations of different animals. There were large populations of seals, tortoises, iguanas and “many birds like those in Spain, but so silly that they do not know how to flee and many were caught in hand”.

Captain Diego de Rivadeneira named the islands ‘Las Islas Encantadas’ meaning ‘Enchanted Islands’ because of the difficulty in navigating around the islands due to strong currents and frequent patches of fog. Infact, Rivadeneira thought the islands were just floating in the ocean.

Spain never moved to establish any settlement on the Galapagos Islands due to the inhospitable conditions that had been reported. The islands were uninhabited and would remain so for centuries.

In 1570, a Flemish cartographer named Abraham Ortelius, named the islands ‘Insulae de los de Galapagos’.

Galapagos islands caught the attention of the western world especially after 1845 when Charles Darwin accompanied Captain Robert Fitzroy as a travel companion and naturalist on the HMS Beagle.

During his visit to the islands, Darwin noted that the creatures were unique, having adapted perfectly to their environment. This led him to wonder about the origin of the islands’ inhabitants.

Among those that impressed Darwin were the finches (that are now named in his honour) which he discovered had developed different types of beaks. These beaks formed as specialised tools in searching for seeds, catching insects or sucking the nectar from the cactus flowers. Darwin would later base some of his thought from the supposing that these finches were all descendants of the same lineage.

Years later in 1859, Darwin finally consolidated all of his observations into his famous book On The Origin of Species, drastically and controversially altering the scientific view on the biological origins of life.

There are dwarf penguins, sea lions, seals and over 100 species of birds. In the Darwin family itself there are some 28 types of birds. The island has a dense rainforest in the centre.

In 1959, the government of Ecuador officially named it Archipelago de Colon. It is a protected national park and marine reserve.

The Galapagos islands are described as, “a living museum and a showcase of evolution.”

Sea lizards

The marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) is a species of iguana found only on the Galápagos Islands (Ecuador) that has the ability to forage in the sea making it a marine reptile.This iguana feeds almost exclusively on algae.

Galapagos tortoise

Giant tortoises are the longest-living of all vertebrates, averaging over 100 years. The oldest on record lived to be 152. They are also the world's largest tortoises, with some specimens exceeding 5 feet in length and reaching 550 pounds. There are likely just 10 types of giant tortoises left in the Galápagos, down from 15 when Darwin arrived.

Cormorants

The Galapagos flightless cormorant (Phalacrocorax harrisi) is a great example of the adaptability of the species in situations where they have to compete for food. The cormorant can grow up to a meter high and weigh up to five kg. It has stopped flying and has instead picked up fishing. Its current wings are one-third the size required to fly. It is considered to be one of the rarest birds in the world.

This archipelago was formed as a result of sea volcanoes about three to six million years ago. When the volcanoes erupted, the open craters rose upwards from the Pacific ocean. When the seating lava, heat and ash cooled, around 60 islands of different sizes formed. The Galapagos Islands lie 700km west of Ecuador, South America. The archipelago has 13 major islands and more than 100 smaller islands that straddle the equator off the Ecuadorian coast.

Galapagos, a province ofi Ecuador, is a UNESCO World Heritage site because, thanks to its isolation, the flora and fauna of Galapagos has not changed since prehistoric times. They are different from the species that exist in other areas. The tortoises saved the lives of passing sailors for hundreds of years, as they could survive for almost a year in the hold of ships and provided a fresh meat source, but this consumption almost led to their extinction.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2021 4:32:17 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/territory-of-the-tortoise/article29416512.ece

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