The Galapagos Island chain, a province of Ecuador, is an extremely unique and diverse ecological wonderland situated about 1000 km west of the coast of Ecuador straddling the equator in the Pacific Ocean. It is a protected national park and it also holds the distinction of being Earths very first world heritage site. Access to all of the islands is tightly controlled by the national park service and only a few of the islands are permanently inhabited. The majority of the islands are only accessible by registered tour boats with national park guides who take visitors onto the islands at specific locations through carefully maintained walking areas. When I inquired about the number of ships that sailed the waters around the chain I was told that there were eighty three boats that could take twenty or so passengers each and only another five that could hold 100 or more people. The uniqueness and attractiveness of the islands to visitors is due to a number of factors. Firstly, they contain a number of spieces of birds and land animals found nowhere else on earth. Secondly, they are a special part of history as detailed in Charles Darwin's ground breaking book on evolution from the ninteenth century, "On The Origin of Species by the Natural Struggle for Life". The ship he traveled on, the "Beagle" landed on what is now called Santa Cruz island, and during the five short weeks he stayed in the Galapagos Islands he formulated his theory of evolution by natural selection, which was to later be published as his revolutionary book written twenty years later. Because of this publication the Galapagos Islands have been a tourist hot spot ever since. Lastly, and most curiously, the islands birds and animals are largely indifferent to human presence and a visitor can walk up to, photograph, and practically touch many of the species of birds and animals that live and nest on the islands. The sea lions are curious playmates to snorkelers and scuba divers and show no fear toward them. The flightless cormorants and penguins swim around humans in the water with casual awareness and no fear. The sea is full of turtles, marine iguanas, tropical fish of all colours and sizes, a half dozen varieties of sharks, and many other unique and interesting attractions. All of this makes the islands a photographers and naturalists paradise. Incredible images can be captured here that would otherwise require a photographer to be housed untold hours in a blind or some other camouflaged structure so that his presence would be hidden from his fearful subject. Here, no such precautions need be taken. Almost all of the animals are instinctively blasé about the presence of humans and show no fear or concern, even when nesting and caring for their young. Photographically my only regret this trip (and it is a big one) is that I did not bring any underwater gear with me to capture images and video of the aquatic life, and the images I missed has made me determined to return to this wonderland and experience the amazing place that it is once again. The Galapagos Islands continue to be accessible to visitors from around the world and they remain a prime example of how an important historic and unique area of flora and fauna can be kept from being ruined by over development or negligence. We can only hope that they remain as they are for the future years and generations of visitors to come.
© Steve Tambosso - "The Wandering Fireman"