The Galápagos: A Natural History deals with the extraordinary islands that gave the world Darwin's theory of evolution. The Galápagos were once known to the sailors and pirates who encountered them as Las Encantadas: the enchanted islands, home to marvellous creatures and dramatic volcanic scenery. This captivating history of the world's most famous islands charts their evolution from deserted wilderness to profoundly important scientific resource and now global tourist destination. The Galápagos' rich diversity of species made it the cradle of evolutionary theory.
Its scientific treasures have always been explored in surprising ways: Darwin rode on the back of tortoises, flung iguanas into the sea and attacked hawks with hats in the process of his discovery. And its lessons are far from exhausted: recently, Darwin's celebrated finches have helped biologists to film evolution in real time. The islands are famous throughout the world – recognition that brings with it 170 000 tourists a year and widespread development, as well as bitter clashes between environmentalists and local inhabitants.
Now, more than ever, we must be alert to the significance of this unique location – because what happens here foreshadows the fate of threatened ecosystems everywhere on earth.
1. Rocks 1
2. Ocean 17
3. Seabirds 31
4. Plants 47
5. Invertebrates 61
6. Land Birds 71
7. Reptiles 89
8. Humans: Part I 107
9. Humans: Part II 119
10. Humans: Part III 135
Appendix A: How to Visit the Galápagos 147
Appendix B: Friends of the Galápagos 153
Appendix C: Maps and Diagrams 155
Further Reading 185
Henry Nicholls is a journalist, author and broadcaster, specialising in evolutionary biology, conservation and history of science. He is the author of The Way of the Panda: The Curious History of China's Political Animal, which charts the intertwined fortunes of giant pandas and China over the last 140 years. His first book Lonesome George was about the Galápagos Archipelago and global conservation.
"From the plangent cries of blue-footed boobies to the plash of swimming iguanas, the Galápagos islands remain pristine — but for how long? In this natural and human history of Darwin's living laboratory, Henry Nicholls surfs from geology, oceanography and marine biology to resident land species, not least the burgeoning population of Homo sapiens. Throughout, he intertwines key accounts such as Darwin's inspired musings on geological uplift and the piscine encounters of pioneer diver William Beebe. One for the scientific islomane with a sense of the bigger picture."
- Barbara Kiser, Books in brief, Nature 507, 20 March 2014
"This is the perfect book to take with you if you are planning a trip to the Galápagos. Even if you are not, this is an enchanting and enlightening account of the most scientifically significant islands in the world."
- Tim Birkhead, author of Bird Sense
"If you read one book about the Galápagos, make sure it is this. Thoroughly researched, highly informative, lively and enjoyable, each page is a real pleasure to read. Whether a first time visitor or an old Galápagos 'hand' Henry Nicholls' The Galápagos should accompany you on any physical or virtual trip to these Enchanted Islands"
- Ian Dunn, Chief Executive Officer, Galápagos Conservation Trust
"The Galápagos is an engaging, informative introduction to the natural history of the archipelago. Charles Darwin's observations and insights on the Galápagos are effectively used to highlight key aspects of the archipelago's terrestrial and marine environments, the unique plants and animals they support, and how our understanding of them has evolved since his historic visit. The book also gives an accurate account of the current challenges facing Galápagos, and how they are being addressed. A surprising amount of information is packed into this concise and entertaining overview. An inspiring pre-travel read for anyone considering a visit to 'Darwin's Islands'."
- K. Thalia Grant and Gregory B. Estes, Darwin in Galápagos
"Henry Nicholls has turned his most observant eye on the remarkable, but less often described human history of Galápagos. The future of the islands and their distinctive biota will be in the hands of the national lawmakers and growing number of Galápagos residents as the isolation enjoyed by Galápagos becomes a distant memory. In his lively prose, Henry lauds the unsung scientists and conservation managers who work doggedly and successfully on persistent wildlife management challenges wrought by human accident or design. His persistent focus on stewardship-man's absolute responsibility to nature-is refreshing and important in the world of natural history literature. A thoughtfully executed and excellent read."
- Johannah Barry, president of the Galápagos Conservancy
"Tourists should read this book before they visit the Galápagos. In a relaxed and conversational style, Henry Nicholls introduces many of the animals and plants that live there, explains why so many are strange and unusual, and shows how natural history has been first shaped by geological history and then influenced by human history. The book is an inspiring call to visit the islands, to experience the animals and plants in the sea and on land, and to join in conserving them."
- Peter Grant, Professor Emeritus, Princeton University, and coauthor of 40 Years of Evolution: Darwin's Finches on Daphne Major Island
"From the fiery volcanoes that forged the islands to the invasive species that threaten them, this is a brilliantly clear and enthusiastic guide to all that matters about the Galápagos. Henry Nicholls manages to combine detail with passion as he takes the reader through everything from Charles Darwin's inspiration for evolution to the sad demise of the last giant tortoise of his kind, Lonesome George. I only wish the book had been written in time for my visit to the islands five years ago."
- David Shukman
"In his new natural history, Henry Nicholls transforms the Galápagos archipelago from perennial example to subject. Chapters devoted to geology, plants, animals, and insects finally provide a landscape framework for some of biology's most famous stories-from Darwin's finches to the giant tortoises that give the islands their name. Nicholls also includes a welcome and thoughtful discussion of the archipelago's most recent and transformative arrivals, its people"
- Thor Hanson, author of Feathers and The Impenetrable Forest
"The tale of the Galápagos's solitary giant tortoise and conservation icon was told to great effect by Henry Nicholls in Lonesome George. Sadly, George died in 2012, but happily Nicholls is back with an account that shows why the archipelago that shaped Darwin's ideas still matters to us."
- New Scientist
"I have been to the Galápagos five times, including an extended private expedition retracing Darwin's footsteps in these magnificent islands that so inspired his insights into the evolutionary process. I thought I knew everything about the islands until I read Henry Nicholls's The Galápagos, the best single-volume work I've found and the perfect guide for travelers. Every visitor to the islands should be given a copy of this marvelous natural history to read in order to fully appreciate the richness of one of the most important pieces of real estate on the planet. A captivating book."
- Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine and author of Why Darwin Matters
"Henry Nicholls has added an informative, fun and up-to-date read to the Galápagos literature. By sprinkling his discussion of the geology, biology and history of the islands with quotes from historical figures, including Darwin, the Bishop of Panama, Herman Melville, and many others, he takes the reader on a unique journey of discovery of the wonders of Galápagos. He merges historical information with up-to-date science and conservation, then brings the reader back to the sites and species they will see when visiting the islands. Most importantly he discusses why the Galápagos matters and the challenge to all of us to ensure its long-term protection."
- Linda J. Cayot, Science Advisor, Galápagos Conservancy
"In an enticingly structured, thoroughly enjoyable, rolling narrative, [Nicholls] discusses the islands' volcanic origins, native flora and fauna, and human explorers and residents. He also describes with firsthand excitement and surprising detail what it's like to be in the presence of the islands' remarkably tame wildlife, from the playful red-footed boobies to Pacific green turtles and the enormous tortoises for which the archipelago is named and which were slaughtered to the brink of extinction [...] There is no question, as Nicholls eloquently reveals, that we all have a stake in protecting the Galápagos."