Saturday, March 06, 2010

Book 5 – Galapagos: A Natural History

By John Kricher

The majority of tourists who visit the Galapagos are pretty ignorant about the natural history of the islands, including myself. Tourists go to the Galapagos to behold its exotic uniqueness and most are content with the introductory information provided by the local guide. Maybe I’m a bit of a geek, but I had assumed many of my fellow passengers of the Galaventure II would also supplement their learning with books such as this indispensable guide.

Before the trip, I had read the first half of the book, which is perfect because it outlines the volcanic origins and geological development of the Galapagos archipelago, and how the various ocean currents affect the climate, and thus the overall ecology of the islands. Even though I was alarmed when I realized that we were in the middle of a not so mild El Nino (which can have a devastating affect on marine species), I learned that this is a phenomena that is part of the natural patterns of life.

The flora and fauna of the Galapagos are mainly identified as endemic, local or introduced. Since no natural history is complete without some account of its evolutionary history, it seems that all life on the Galapagos had originated from the mainland at some point. Kricher also talks about some notable human visitors of the islands, and helped to dispel a few misconceptions I had about how the Galapagos Islands influenced Darwin’s theory of evolution.

I also learned that in the 1920’s, the island of Floreana was also colonized by a few Euroeccentrics. For the Wittmers, who would’ve thought that their first and only neighbour would also be German? To make matters worse, along comes a rambunctious Austrian baroness with her two boy toys, arriving with the assumption that she would become the empress of Floreana. Suffice to say, these exploits became fodder for Frau Wittmer’s published memoirs.

Kricher is an ecologist, biology professor, as well as an ecotour guide, so the book is well-written in a way that it’s obvious the author is passionate about his subject. It’s nicely structured for the first-time visitor to the Galapagos who's interested in learning about its unique natural history without being bogged down by a lot of scientific detail. I enjoyed the sections where he writes about the well-known Galapagos species, as well as devoting an overall description about each island and their highlights. He also devotes a chapter explaining the brief history and conservation mandate of the Charles Darwin Research Station, and how the population growth and tourism industry have impacted the islands. All in all, I found this a very helpful, educational and engaging book.

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