April 8, 2015, 9:57 p.m., Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island, the Galapagos Archipelago, Ecuador
The team is finally here on Santa Cruz, where the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) is based in Puerto Ayora. We are collaborating on this research expedition with the CDF, which has worked for fifty years to conduct scientific research in the Galapagos, and they are hosting us here during our work. Their research base is situated right by a mangrove-lined coast at the edge Puerto Ayora, the largest population center in the Galapagos. Its population of 12,000 souls still amounts to more than half of the total human population of the untamed archipelago. To maintain the natural character of this constellation of other-worldly islands in the middle of the Pacific, the government of Ecuador restricts immigration to the Galapagos, generally granting only temporary permission to residents, business-owners, and scientists alike. One certainly has the sense that this outpost is a land of travelers, where the human as well as the entire biological community is composed of an odd assortment of wanderers, brought to these rocky shores by wind or wave to find their way in an alien and ever-changing environment. True home to none, but refuge to many, the Galapagos still has left its mark on a many organisms, who have adapted in a wide range of ways to survive here. The long-necked Galapagos tortoise strains to reach the flesh of the endemic Opuntia echios cactus, whose tall woody stalk resists herbivory from these giant, but earth-bound, grazers. And Galapagos’ finches, famously recognized by Charles Darwin to have radiated to fill a range of niches here, giving birth to many divergent species where first there had been one, are visible everywhere here, cheerful reminders of the vigor of evolutionary change in this natural laboratory, and of the momentous significance of these islands to the history of science.
We are only the latest travelers to this wonderful place, and we are eager to make our own mark, contributing something to the record of scientific observation here. But I wonder, as we strive to achieve our research goals in the Galapagos Islands, what mark will they leave on us?
Author: Matthew Coasta
PhD student, SIO
Matthew Costa is a Regents Fellow 2013-4 and NSF Graduate Research Fellow 2014-present, and is pursuing a Ph.D. in biological oceanography as part of the Gulf of California Marine Program. He is interested in community ecology, biodiversity and functional diversity, and coastal ecosystem processes and services. His research focuses on carbon storage in sediments of the mangrove forests in the southern Gulf of California. Prior to study at SIO, he completed a B.A. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University studying mangrove species zonation in Bermuda.