The Galápagos Islands
July 29 – August 11, 2013

Photo: José Alejandro Alvarez

As is well known, the Galápagos Islands – also called the bewitched islands (“Las Islas encantadas”) – have been a source of fascination since their discovery in the 16th century. While they initially served as a refuge for pirates, the visit of the HMS Beagle in 1835 with the naturalist Charles Darwin marked the beginning of an unbroken interest for scientists and visitors. Since these days the Galapagos are renowned as the laboratory of the natural world, the exemplar of Darwin’s natural selection theory.

The archipelago is famous as a physical construct – its islands rose out of volcanoes in the sea and moved slowly over the millennia via a tectonic ‘conveyor belt’ across the ocean floor. The newest islands are about half a million years old but include large tracts of cooled lava that appear to have just stopped flowing (the last major eruption was on Fernandina Island in 2009 and approx. 57 eruptions in 9 volcanoes were historically recorded), while the oldest have areas of equally startling maturity of form and vegetation.
The colonisation by plants and animals over the several millions of years has provided us with one of the most unique examples of species colonisation and evolution. Unique species include the famous Galapagos tortoises, the flightless cormorant, the Darwin finches and many more equally fascinating animal and plant species. The distant ancestors of all of these species must have once reached the islands from the American continent, in many cases by floating on driftwood.

The Galapagos are one of the last ecosystems where the impact of humans has been largely minimised. Nevertheless, the increasing human population, the sharply increased tourism and the pressure by industrial fisheries is jeopardising this unique paradise (or paradise almost lost). The fields of interest during this expedition will be coral reefs, underwater recordings, wildlife, seamounts and volcanoes. All TBA21–Academy activity on board the Dardanella were documented by a journalist and underwater photographer.