Galapagos islands history is fascinating, despite the islands’ being some of the most isolated in the world, and facts about the past are always packed with sordid tales of pirates and settlers, amazing tales of wildlife hunted almost to extinction and then re-established, and most famous of all, the voyage of the HMS Beagle, which brought the famous naturalist Charles Darwin to the islands' shores.
Although it is believed that indigenous peoples such as the Incas were visiting the Galapagos Islands for many years, the first definitive discovery of the islands in Galapagos Islands history was made by Fray Tomas de Berlanga in 1535. The mysterious islands intrigued sailors for years, as they continually disappeared and reappeared in the mists. Eventually, however, the islands were plotted and explored, as well as named. One of the interesting Galapagos Islands facts is that the islands were named after the many tortoises that inhabited them. These distinctive tortoises ranged between huge domed giants, small turtles, and as large saddle-backed tortoises. It was after these saddle-backed turtles that the islands were named Galapagos, which was a type of saddle.
Galapagos Islands history took on a colorful turn with the arrival of buccaneers and pirates during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, who used the islands as a base from which to loot passing ships. Unfortunately, one of the sad Galapagos Islands facts is that the arrival of humans also meant the exploitation of the Galapagos Islands' unique fauna—fur seals, whales, and tortoises were hunted for fur, blubber, and food, respectively. In 1832, the Galapagos Islands were annexed by Ecuador, and the first permanent settlements were established on the islands.
Soon afterward, in 1835, the voyage of the Beagle brought with it the arrival of Charles Darwin, the Galapagos Islands' most famous visitor. Darwin turned a scientific eye upon the fauna and flora of the islands, and was intrigued by the distinctive attributes of the tortoises, as well as other animals, on the different islands. After the voyage of the Beagle ended, later in his life, Darwin used his observations in the Galapagos to formulate his theory of evolution, which set off a revolution in the scientific community, as well as upheaval in general society.
It was not until 1959 that the unique ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands was recognized, and the area protected as a National Park by the Ecuadorian government. In 1978, the islands were given the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and growing numbers of tourists visit the islands every year to glimpse the amazing land animals and birds, to snorkel or dive in the waters teeming with wildlife, and to enjoy the unique beauty of the islands' hills and beaches.
Today, some of the most interesting Galapagos Islands facts have to do with how so many unique species of wildlife came to exist on the islands. Scientists believe that most, if not all, of the animal species in the Galapagos arrived by sea or by air, as most experts agree that the islands were never connected to the mainland, making land migration impossible. Tortoises clinging to driftwood were adept at adapting to the islands, in part due to their unique ability to go for long periods without food. They became the largest land herbivores on the islands. Penguins drifted up on the cool currents from the Antarctic, and other birds flew hundreds of miles to reach the islands. Today, much of the Galapagos' biodiversity remains mysterious, and many species may have yet to be discovered.