Journal (Part One)
to a bad start
Writer, adventurer and three-time Guinness World
Record holder Dan Buettner recently spent some quality time studying
ecology, evolution and the Galápagos Islands. Here, from
his journal, are some impressions.
endlessly brag about the Galápagos Islands. "The largest,
most complex and most diverse archipelago left in the world,"
trumpets one book. "The best place on earth to swim with large
marine mammals," boasts another.
For me this tiny cluster of islands, 600 miles off
South America's Pacific coast, belongs in the same book of acquired
tastes as caviar, blue cheese and those big snails the French call
escargot. When you first experience them, you can't imagine liking
them, much less paying for them.
Charles Darwin, who started all the commotion when
he based his theory of natural selection on his five-week journey
here, simply declared that the Galápagos "strike me
his Web site.)
I'm not as impressed. In fact, the first day here
put me in a bad mood. I'm sitting on a boat rocking back and forth
in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. After just six hours, I'm sunburned,
dripping sweat and seasick. One of my teammates just puked overboard.
From deck, I can see three islands in the distance.
They all look, as writer Herman Melville described them over 150
years ago, "like cinder heaps on a vacant lot."
They're covered with jagged rock and prickly vegetation.
If you were unlucky enough to be marooned on any one of these islands,
the heat and lack of water would turn you into a mummy in a matter
of weeks if not days.
About the same time our earliest human ancestors were
standing up on two feet and walking, the Galápagos were erupting
out of the ocean's surface. Over the next five million years, plants,
animals, birds and insects floated, swam or flew to these islands.
Here, they evolved into perhaps 8,000 unique species, many of which
appear no place else on earth.
The arrival of human beings brought many problems
to the Galápagos.
buccaneers and whalers stopped on the islands usually just long
enough to hunt tortoises for meat. They took an estimated 100,000
tortoises, hunting two entire species into extinction.
Then, about 150 years ago, people began to clear land
and build houses. Now, some 20,000 settlers are trying to make a
living in a difficult part of the world.
In the process, however, they unintentionally destroy
habitats (through land clearing), pollute the water and cut down
too many trees.
Fishermen local and foreign take too
many creatures from the seas. Populations that are dangerously low
include sharks (caught for shark-fin soup), sea cucumbers and lobsters.
Perhaps worse, their animals (pigs, goats, cows) escape and eat
the food of native species.
On top of it all, 60,000 tourists (like me!) visit
the islands, erode the trails and accidentally import intruders
in the form of insects in their luggage or seeds clinging
to their socks.
Whether it's the Galápagos or your own community,
it boils down to this: how can we strike a balance between our way
of life and other creatures' rights to live?
Read more entries from Dan's