Charles Darwin Foundation and Highlands

Jan 01, 2019 - National Geographic Endeavour II

Guests onboard National Geographic Endeavour II spent New Year’s Day exploring the island of Santa Cruz. It is a unique day of our expedition because naturalists have the opportunity to share important management, conservation, and cultural stories with guests. We began the day by visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS). Guests learned about the important role the CDRS plays as principal investigation body and advisor to the Galapagos National Park. We visited the famous giant tortoise breeding center, discussing the story of Super Diego – the giant tortoise of Española island that saved his race. We ended our visit at the CDRS with the Lonesome George exhibit, where we discussed the impacts that humans have on the environment and the importance of protecting Galapagos – not only for our own enjoyment but for its symbolic importance as a pristine living laboratory that we must learn from.

Our next stop on our tour of Santa Cruz Island was Aquelarre, a sweet little family-run restaurant in the highlands where we enjoyed a delicious lunch. On the way to Aquelarre, guests learned more about the human history and economic development model of Santa Cruz as we drove through several small towns. We also discussed the micro-climates exhibited in Galapagos as we climbed in elevation toward the highlands.

After lunch, we boarded several buses and rode to El Chato II, a large protected forest that is home to many Santa Cruz giant tortoises. Guests had a special opportunity to get up close to these impressive creatures and gain a deeper understanding of their ecology and importance to Galapagos ecosystems. As the top herbivore in Galapagos, giant tortoises are important seed dispersers, significantly shaping the vegetation of the archipelago. We also discussed their role as eco-engineers, meaning that by sheer virtue of their existence they alter their environment. Guests ended their tour of El Chato II by walking through lava tunnels that were formed millions of years ago when the volcano spewed massive lava flows that cooled and dried on their most outer surface, leaving behind hollow tubes.

Guests enjoyed a live musical and dance performance from local artists after dinner.

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About the Author

Alexandra Widman


Alexandra grew up on the southeast coast of the United States. She has a deep love for the ocean that stems from her childhood spent surfing, kayaking, diving and fishing on the Intracoastal Waterway. Alexandra has lived on San Cristóbal Island for the past 6 years, having fallen in love with Galápagos the moment she arrived as a fledgling marine ecologist. She holds a bachelor’s degree in marine biology and a master’s in environmental science and management from the University of California Santa Barbara.

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