The Galapagos consist of 13 large and several hundred small islands lying in the Pacific Ocean on or near the equator about 650 miles (1050 km) off the western coast of Ecuador.
The principal islands are Espanola (Hood), Fernandina (Narborough), Floreana (Charles), Genovesa, Isabela (Albemarle), Marchena (Bindloe), Pinta (Abingdon), San Cristobal (Chatham), Santa Cruz (Indefatigable) and Santiago (James). Santa Fe (Barrington), Baltra, Bartolome, Rabida and Seymour are some of the other larger islands. The islands are volcanic, with flat shorelines and mountainous interiors culminating in high central craters, some of which rise to more than 1,520 m (5,000 ft). Several volcanoes are active. The islands are fringed with mangroves and in other coastal areas the vegetation consists chiefly of thorn trees, cactus, and mesquite. In the uplands, which are exposed to a heavy mist, the flora is more luxuriant. Climate and water temperatures are modified by the cold Humboldt Current from Antarctica.
The Galápagos group is noted for its fauna. Unique to the archipelago are six species of giant tortoise, a burrowing land lizard and an unusual marine lizard that dives into the ocean for seaweed. The islands contain as many as 85 different species of bird, including flamingos, flightless cormorants, finches, and penguins. Sea lions are numerous, as are many different shore fish. The capital is Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristóbal although Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island has become the commercial centre.
The Galapagos Islands were discovered in 1535 by the Bishop of Panama and named Las Encantadas ("The Enchanted"). Voyagers, pirates, whale and seal hunters all visited before colonization began in 1832. In 1835 Charles Darwin, travelling on the HMS Beagle, spent six weeks studying the fauna of the Galápagos. His observations furnished considerable data for his thesis on natural selection "Origin of Species" published in 1859.
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