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Galapagos Islands history

The Galapagos History started about 3.5 million years ago. Located on the joining of the Nazca and Cocos plates with the Pacific Plate, the islands are located in a very seismic active area.

The modern history of the Galapagos Islands commenced with the (accidental) European discovery of the Galápagos when De Berlanga's (the 4th Bishop of Panama, who was on his way to visit Peru to settle a dispute between the Peruvian conquistadores) vessel drifted off course when the winds diminished, and his party reached the islands on 10 March 1535. Nevertheless, modern studies prove that there has been presence from sailor on the islands before this but as no remains of graves, ceremonial vessels and constructions have ever been found, it was concluded that no permanent settlement occurred at the time.

In the Galapagos Islands history, the Islands first appeared on the maps around 1570.The islands were named Islands of the Tortoises in reference to the giant tortoises found there.

The first English captain to visit the Galápagos Islands was Richard Hawkins, in 1593. Until the early 19th century, the archipelago was often used as a hideout by mostly English pirates who pilfered Spanish galleons carrying gold and silver from South America to Spain.

In 1793, James Colnett was one of the first to actually note that unique fauna and flora of the islands and started to described it. One of the effects was that whalers and hunters for the giant tortoise came to the islands and seriously diminished the tortoise and whale population. The presence of these sailors, pirates and whalers left also other “scars” in the Galapagos History such as immense fires and the extension of several animals

In 1832, Ecuador annexed the Galápagos Islands naming them the Archipelago of Ecuador. This new name added to several names that had been, and are still, used to refer to the archipelago. The first governor of Galápagos, General José de Villamil, brought a group of convicts to populate the island of Floreana, and in October 1832, some artisans and farmers joined them.

On 15 September 1835 one of the most famous visitors arrived to the Galapagos Islands to revalue the importance of the Galapagos History to the scientific world. The voyage of the Beagle brought the young naturalist Charles Darwin to these islands. Being primarily a geologist at the time, Darwin was impressed by the quantity of volcanic craters they saw, later referring to the archipelago as "that land of craters." His study of several volcanic formations over the 5 weeks he stayed in the islands, led to several important geological discoveries, including the first, correct explanation for how volcanic tuff is formed. During his time on the islands, Darwin became more and more aware of the geographical differences between the islands and the fact that many of them contained endemic animal and plant species. These facts were crucial in Darwin's development of his theory of natural selection explaining evolution, which was presented in The Origin of Species.

In 1920's and 30's, a small wave of European settlers arrived in the islands. Ecuadorian laws provided all colonists with the possibility of receiving twenty hectares each of free land, the right to maintain their citizenship, freedom from taxation for the first ten years in Galapagos, and the right to hunt and fish freely on all uninhabited islands where they might settle.

During World War II, Ecuador authorized the United States to establish a naval base in Baltra Island, and radar stations in other strategic locations. Baltra was established as a US Air Force base. Crews stationed at Baltra patrolled the Pacific for enemy submarines, as well as provided protection for the Panama Canal. After the war, the facilities were given to the government of Ecuador. Today, the island continues as an official Ecuadorian military base. The foundations and other remains of the US base can still be seen as one crosses the island

The Galápagos became a national park in 1959, and tourism started in the 1960s, imposing several restrictions upon the human population already living on the island. Today most people on the island live from tourism and the islands are visited all year round.

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