Classroom Connections: The Galapagos

Cindy McArthur

Cindy McArthur

PVS Volunteer Cindy McArthur, ‎National Partnership Coordinator at USDA Forest Service and currently a chaperone with the Hawaiʻi student delegation in the Galapagos, helped the PVS Education Team gather information and resources for this post. Thank you Cindy!

Crewmembers on the Worldwide Voyage are currently in the Galapagos, an island archipelago located nearly 1000 kilometers of the coast of continental Ecuador. The islands were accidentally “discovered” in 1535 by Thomas Berlanga when his ship bound for Peru went off course. The islands earned their name Insulae de los Galopegos, or Islands of the Tortoise, due to the amazing variety of tortoise species found there. Completely remote from the continent, creatures on these islands developed unique characteristics to survive the arid conditions and limited availability of fresh water. For example, the Galapagos Marine Iguana is the world’s only seagoing lizard and survives by feasting on seaweed deep below the ocean surface.


The islands are also home to wide variety of sea birds, including blue-footed boobies, albatross, frigate birds, penguins, flamingos and the celebrated Darwin Finches.


Characteristics of Darwin’s finches

Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos on his five year long voyage around the world on the HMS Beagle. A naturalist (natural scientist) by trade, Darwin’s took careful field notes, made detailed sketches and collectioned various species from the Galapagos Islands. The data he collected there played an important role in his influential and controversial 1859 publication called On the Origin of Species, where he articulated his theory that all species evolved from a common ancestor. He demonstrated that species could change over time by inheriting advantageous characteristics or traits that improved the individual’s chances of survival, through a process he called “natural selection.”


Characteristics of Hawaiian Honeycreepers Iiwi

In Hawaiʻi, the endemic Honeycreeper species are much like Darwin’s Finches in the way that they can illustrate the concept of natural selection. The PRISM project out of UH Hilo published a lesson Adaptations, Genetic Variation and Natural Selection, which was designed for middle schoolers and piloted at the West Hawai’i Explorations Academy to better understand the concept using endemic species of Honeycreepers in place of Darwin’s Finches. The Hō`ike o Haleakalā Curriculum, designed by Maui teachers with the support of field biologists for high school students also offers a lesson on Adaptation and Speciation that draws connections between the Finches of the Galapagos and the Hawaiian Honeycreepers. The National Park Service even has an Electronic Field Trip that uses the Honeycreeper to educate students about adaptive radiation in birds.

Charles Darwin though was not the only person though who saw the Galapagos for the many gifts it had to offer. The Islands quickly became a destination for whaling ships who harvested many of the tortoise species and fur seals to extinction. However, the more recent history of the islands though has focused on conservation, leading to the creating of a National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site and expanded Marine Reserve. Ecuador, which officially took over the island chain in 1832, has also acknowledged the economic importance of protecting these islands for science and tourism in recent years, and now prohibits the harvesting of the ancient tortoises, hammerheads, whale sharks and other species. An estimated 160,000 people visited the islands in 2006 generating about $418, 000,000.00 in tourism related revenue.

Giant-tortoiseThe local conservation efforts in the Galapagos has resulted in one of the few success stories in protecting wildlife and brining species back from the brink of extinction. In 2016, the first baby tortoises in 100 years were born on the Galapagos Island of Pinzon. More information about the Galapagos conservation efforts can be viewed at:

This past week, Hawaiʻi students and teachers from Kamehameha Schools, Hālau Kū Māna and Castle High School joined Worldwide Voyage crewmembers in the Galapagos Islands. Students visited the Charles Darwin Research Station, engaged in conservation activities with the National Park, and spent time with local students from the Tomas de Berlanga School on Santa Cruz Island. Through this experience, students were able to compare and contrast environmental and sustainability challenges facing the Hawaiian and Galapagos Islands.

mapVoyage Map Fall 2016

A map of Darwin’s HMS Voyage of the Beagle has similarities to Hōkūleʻa’s Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage


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