Thus the several islands of the Galapagos Archipelago are tenanted, as I have elsewhere shown, in a quite marvellous manner, by very closely related species; so that the inhabitants of each separate island, though mostly distinct, are related in an incomparably closer degree to each other than to the inhabitants of any part of the world. (Charles Darwin October 1835)
The archipelago, formed by 13 major islands and many islets and rocks,i s located on the Equator, in the eastern Pacific, 10000 kilometers west of the South American coast. Like Hawaii, the islands have never connected to any continent. Nine of the major islands are volcanoes or groups of volcanoes, some of which are still active, with volcano Fernandina last erupting as recently as April 2009.
The Galapagos archipelago was first discovered in 1535 by Bishop of Panama, Fray Tomas de Berlanga, who first drifted off course while traveling to Peru. After the islands appeared on maps in 1570 they were used by bucacaneers, whalers, and pirates, for whom they provided refuge, water and food.
During the 19th century, the first colonies were formed, and the islands were annexed by Ecuador, to which country they still belong.
The Galapagos became an Ecuadorian national Park in 1959 aproximately four decades ago, when 97% of the total land area of the islands was declared protected.This was followed in 1978 by recognition of the archipelago as a United Nations World Heritage Site. The Charles Darwin Station that operates under a charter from United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and Galapagos National Park Service have been exemplary in demostrating what steps need to be taken to preserve life forms that, by their very isolation and peculiar evolution,are extremely vulnerable to invasive species and human disturbance.