Guest Blog | Cynthia McArthur: Galapagos

From Tourists to Family, Observations of Student Evolution in the Galapagos

cindy macarthur

Blog by Cynthia McArthur, PVS Volunteer, ‎National Partnership Coordinator at USDA Forest Service, and a chaperone with the Hawaiʻi student delegation in the Galapagos

Being able to explore the Galapagos Islands with the Hawaiian Student Delegation to support Hōkūleʻa and the Worldwide Voyage was a dream come true. Although I found the famous Darwin finches and giant tortoises fascinating, I was more intrigued by the changes I witnessed in the students. Through the photos and examples below, I will playfully demonstrate how key evolutionary concepts that typically take generations to manifest were witnessed in just a few days by our students living on a new and foreign island called Santa Cruz.


The ABCs of evolution:

A. Adaptation: a trait that helps an organism survive in an environment.

B. Competition: when resources like food and water become limited, species must compete to survive. Competition is part of natural selection or survival of the fittest.

C. Galapawareness: a new term invented by the students to emphasize culturally sensitive conservation efforts. Galapawareness means learning to conserve natural resources and care for each other like a family.

Example #1 limited fresh water. We quickly learned that American style showers in the Galapagos were not sustainable. Regularly, the power would go out and the water pump would stop the flow of fresh water. During one occasion, we accidentally used all the water in the hostel’s storage tank and had to wait until morning for the water delivery truck. No showers, no flushing toilets. Naturally, under these unfamiliar circumstances, students with short hair were better adapted to survive. However, students defied Darwin’s theory of competition by sharing their own bottled drinking water to remove shampoo out each other’s eyes and hair.

Example #2 limited understanding of the local language. Students quickly adapted to the language barrier by learning, laughing and repeating important phrases. Fortunately, one member of our twenty-seven person team spoke fluent

Photo Credit: Mike Henley.

Photo Credit: Mike Henley.

Spanish so we didn’t get into too much trouble. The language barrier led to some pretty cool experiences when we realized the spirit or mana of traditional Hawaiian chants like Oli Mahalo needed no translation to be appreciated by local residents. We also discovered that songs by Justin Bieber and Vance Joy’s Riptide were part of a bizarre universal language that all the students from both countries understood perfectly.

Example #3 limited access to Wi-Fi and mobile technology. Wi-Fi is an endangered species in the Galapagos. Students who were used to working almost exclusively on mobile devices at home evolved to recording their observations in weather resistant field notebooks by hand. Because the internet was challenging to access, students adapted their research techniques drawing from personal observations and face to face interviews with local experts and scientists. Besides, who needs Google when we had Dr. Sam ʻOhu Gon on our highlands expedition!

Drea Moliga records observations in her field journal. Photo Credit: Oiwi/PVS.

Drea Moliga records observations in her field journal. Photo Credit: Oiwi/PVS.


Alejandra Mejia of the Charles Darwin Foundation uses a stuffed animal to demonstrate how not to handle marine iguanas. Photo Credit: Cindy McArthur.

In conclusion, the most inspiring part of the evolutionary changes witnessed during our adventure in the Galapagos is that they will live on when the students return home. Watching these young people working together makes me believe that Hōkūle’a will be in good hands. I am confident these students will successfully adapt to the many new challenges and environments they will face in the future.

Photo Credit: Halau Ku Mana.

Photo Credit: Hālau Kū Māna.

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