A Naturalist's Pilgrimage to the Galapagos
Smithsonian's Laura Helmuth vacationed in the Galapagos Islands and returned with even more respect for Charles Darwin
- By Laura Helmuth
- Smithsonian.com, January 30, 2009
Today Darwin is the patron saint of the islands. This statue of him looms over a cove on San Cristobal where the H.M.S. Beagle is thought to have first set anchor. The arch is along the road to the Charles Darwin Research Station Santa Cruz, and the mural is near the main dock on the same island.
He could have figured out evolution with natural selection without the help of the Galapagos, but the islands inspired him. The islands were young, had been periodically sterilized by lava, and were far from the mainland, so Darwin realized that whatever species lived there had arrived from elsewhere and had subsequently adapted to the strange conditions.
The islands also provided simple and compelling examples of evolution--the finches with beaks adapted to different types of seeds, for instance--that would help Darwin make the case for evolution to the rest of the world.
And that's one of the main reasons tourists come to the islands--to see the origin of Origin of Species, to see the creatures that inspired his insight. And, this year, to celebrate his 200th birthday.