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Introducing The Galapagos Islands

By Amy Howarth

Posted: 27th June 2014 15:02

The Galapagos Islands, part of Ecuador, are an archipelago of 19 volcanic islands which rose up from the sea; the islands themselves being peaks of underwater volcanos.  They see a lot of volcanic activity with over 50 eruptions occurring during the last 200 years.  Although no lasting damage was done, this continuous activity nourishes the archipelago’s unique flora and fauna inhabitation. 

The Galapagos Islands inspired none other than Charles Darwin to create his theory of evolution by natural selection.  There is a large number of endemic species residing on the islands which have adapted to The Galapagos and can be found nowhere else in the world.  On land you will find snakes, lizards and giant tortoises, while many different species of birds soar overhead.  One bird that elsewhere in the world would join its sub species in their flight is unable to do so in the Galapagos; The Flightless Cormorant, which is the only species of Cormorant that has lost the ability to fly. 

Discover & Explore

Equipped with a snorkel, mask and flippers, just off the shoreline you can experience the vast marine life of the islands.  Find gentle giants such as the gliding mantra, whose underwater flight is mesmerising, and the docile white tipped reef shark.  It won’t be hard to spot the dazzling colours of the angel fish, and perhaps you will glimpse the vibrant magenta octopus. 

A diving trip will take you down into the depths of the ocean, where you can find hammerhead sharks, sea lions and sea turtles.  Or, if you would prefer ride the waves instead, embarking on a boat trip to spot whales and dolphins. 

With over 500 species the flora of the Galapagos Islands is just as diverse as its dependent fauna.  You will find numerous cacti, such as the Prickly Pear Cactus, which the giant tortoises feast on.  In the coastal zone’s Mangrove Swamps, the critically endangered Mangrove Finch nests, its population estimated between just 60 and 140. 

Volunteer on the Island Equivalent of Noah’s Arc

This archipelago hosts fascinating biodiversity, but the continual existence of the endemic species residing here is dependent upon its conservation.  The opportunity to experience the charm of these islands whilst aiding to their well-being is one to be seriously considered by those wanting to volunteer and also experience, and aid, a particularly unique ecosystem. 

With so many tourists flooding to the Galapagos Islands every year, its natural state is constantly being damaged and altered.  There is fear that one day these alterations will mean that they will no longer be the same place that inspired Darwin, and so volunteering to aid the conservation of the islands is a worthy way to be able to experience their magnificence whilst ensuring your own visit does not further affect this exceptional part of the world. 

Teach English to Local School Children

Living and dining with a local family will give you a first person insight into life on the islands, and hearing about their experiences will give you a particularly personal understanding of the problems the Galapagos are facing. 

An essential part of the conservation of the archipelago is keeping the revenue inside the islands, and a sure way to contribute towards this is by ensuring the local school children have the opportunity to work there when they grow up.  Learning English gives them the opportunity to work as tour guides and with so many tourists visiting daily this will allow children to communicate and educate visitors about the island. 

Although you will work alongside their class teacher, you will be given the opportunity to put your own individuality into what you teach by planning lessons and organising activities for the children.  You will be teaching the importance of conservation to ensure the allurement of the Galapagos is recognised and protected for many years to come.

Forest Conservation & Sustainable Farming

You know when you go through an airport and security go through your luggage with a fine-tooth comb? No, maybe it is just us who look like we may be smuggling in illegal substances.  Either way, part of the reason they check is to ensure you are not bringing into the country any new pets that haven’t been given clearance.  Now, if foreign species is something Gatwick and Heathrow have to monitor, imagine how much more important it is when you take into account the fragile eco-system of the Galapagos. 

By completing a Forest Conservation & Sustainable Farming volunteering program, your work will include removing foreign species and keeping native species away from competitors that drain the resources.  Invasive species are constantly competing for food and space, and this is causing huge problems for the conservation of the Galapagos.  The damage caused is irreparable, and the fact that native species have evolved in seclusion means they do not have any defence against these changes.

You will reside in an intimate, down to earth setting.  Living in a house made of bamboo and cement, you will be involved in a very pastoral, raw experience if you choose this voluntary work.  Going back to basics there is no hot water, instead it is naturally warmed by the sun.  The closest phone and internet access is a 30 minute drive.  There is a communal area for volunteers to relax together in and a local chef who prepares local dishes. 

While this experience is based around the surrounding environment, there is no need for professional experience in this particular field.  All round this is a really ‘green’ way to volunteer, ensuring your experience appropriately aids the islands and that your involvement leaves behind no damaging effects.

Conservation volunteer programmes

Although a more expensive option, conservation programs allow you to experience a little of every voluntary possibility.  Heading to the giant tortoise breeding centre you will be maintaining their habitat and keeping record of the eggs they lay.  Enjoy hiking over the island through stunning scenery to monitor populations of sea lions, marine iguanas and sea birds, giving you a positive chance to witness the many endemic species in their natural state.  Eradicating invasive species, planting indigenous species and beach clean ups are all part of this programme, and you will also get to travel to local schools to teach children about the importance of the conservation of their home. 

This is a wonderful way to get involved with all areas of conservation during your journey to the Galapagos, and with weekends off you can further explore whichever areas have captured your intrigue.

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