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March 14, 2009

Darwin and Galápagos: 200 years after

This year we celebrate two hundred years of the birth of Charles Darwin, and independently of this date, we celebrate the evolution’s theory and the Galápagos Islands, in my original country Ecuador.
Charles Robert Darwin (Naturalist, 1809 -1882) was born on February 12, 1809 in Shrewsbury, England. Darwin was born on the same day as Abraham Lincoln. He was the fifth child and second son of Robert Waring Darwin and Susannah Wedgwood. Darwin was the British naturalist who became famous for his theories of evolution and natural selection. Like several scientists before him, Darwin believed all the life on earth evolved (developed gradually) over millions of years from a few common ancestors.
From 1831 to 1836 Darwin served as naturalist aboard the H.M.S. Beagle on a British science expedition around the world. In South America, Darwin found fossils of extinct animals that were similar to modern species. On the Galápagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean he noticed many variations among plants and animals of the same general type as those in South America. The expedition visited places around the world, and Darwin studied plants and animals everywhere he went, collecting specimens for further study. The Darwin’s birds are very famous: Darwin’s Finches, The Mangrove finch, Galapagos Penguin, Galapagos Petrel, Albatros, Cucuves, Cucuve de Floreana.
Upon his return to London Darwin conducted thorough research of his notes and specimens. Out of this study grew several related theories: one, evolution did occur; two, evolutionary change was gradual, requiring thousands to millions of years; three, the primary mechanism for evolution was a process called natural selection; and four, the millions of species alive today arose from a single original life form through a branching process called speciation.

Darwin's theory of evolutionary selection hold
s that variation within species occurs randomly and that the survival or extinction of each organism is determined by that organism's ability to adapt to its environment. He set these theories forth in his book called, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859) or “The Origin of Species” for short. After publication of Origin of Species, Darwin continued to write on botany, geology, and zoology until his death in 1882. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.
Darwin wrote several famous texts about science: The Origin of Species, Voyage of the Beagle, The Descent of Man, The Autobiography, Charles Darwin's Letters: A Selection, 1825-1859.There is much to discuss and much to talk about the impact and development of evolution in science, religion and everyday life. Many authors have written books on this vast subject. It is not my purpose to do an extensive discussion on evoliucion but just remember this ingenious thinker.

Galápagos, Darwin and the birds
The Galápagos Islands are located at the equator and about 1,000 km off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific. Galápagos comprises 14 major islands, more than 120 smaller islets and rocks, and the ocean around them. The total land mass is about 8000 km2 and the Galapagos Marine Reserve that surrounds the archipelago is 138,000 km2. The islands have a current length of less than 4 million, and separately from other land masses as a result of volcanic eruptions. 
People, both residents and tourists, have become part of the ecosystem of the Galapagos, as many species of flora and fauna that were introduced into the islands by humans. The challenge of everyone is to protect and conserve Galápagos and found the best way to integrate the needs of the human population with ecosystem, limiting the biological impact in this unique part of the world. It’s not possible separate the environmental sustainability of economic and social.
The Galapagos Islands and Marine Reserve contains a unique combination of ocean and terrestrial ecosystems, each with many different habitats and communities. They are located at the point where ocean currents are important, and the islands include the intersections between several tectonic plates in motion. The combination of these circumstances makes it an unparalleled location on the planet. The archipelago is also the best preserved tropical ocean in the world. Species that have adapted successfully to a barren and inhospitable landscape often occupy a unique niche in this ecosystem, and have little competition for food, water and space. The introduction of new species into ecosystems so simple can have rapid and far-reaching.
The islands face several challenges in the area of conservation and sustainability. Currently over 20% of endemic plant species and 50% of vertebrate species are considered endangered. Moreover, it has come to believe that invasive species pose the greatest threat to native terrestrial biodiversity. Among other challenges, are the excessive harvesting of natural resources of the sea, climate change and pollution. The increasing ease of international travel and the popularity of the Galápagos as a tourist destination means that tourism itself, which before was only as a benefit for the conservation of archpelago, is also part of the problem.
The evolution's way will continue and us with it. Which is our future? a good question to be resolved in future talks. Continue to enjoy the wonders of the Galapagos and if you can travel to the islands before they become extinct.

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