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Comparing The Old And Present Galapagos Islands

1173 words - 5 pages

Cody BealeJuly 23rd, 2014The Galapagos Islands: 1800's vs. ModernIn June 1831, the H.M.S. Beagle set sail from England under the command of Commander Robert Fitz Roy on a 4 year surveying mission (Fitz Roy was promoted to Captain during the cruise). Fitz Roy had decided to take along some one who would "profit from the opportunity of visiting different countries yet little known." The person who took up this unpaid position was 22 year-old Charles Darwin. Darwin had begun his studies as a medical student, then became a divinity student at Cambridge. Neither field has excited him, and his father, a physician, considered him something of a disgrace. Darwin had become interested in geology and spent some time studying geology informally with the great Scottish geologist Charles Lyell (geology was not yet a formal field of study). He was an avid beetle collector as well. After three years of surveying the South American coast, the Beagle reached San Cristobal (Chatham) in September 1835. The Beagle spent 5 weeks in the Galapagos carefully charting the archipelago. Fitz Roy's chart was remarkably accurate and remained in use until the U.S.S. Bowditch recharted the area in 1942.In the meantime, Darwin made careful observations about both the geology and biology of the islands. Darwin was particularly struck by the" differences between the inhabitants of the different islands":"The distribution of tenants of this archipelago", he wrote, "would not be nearly so wonderful, if for instance, one island has a mocking-thrush and a second island some other quite distinct species... But it is the circumstance that several of the islands possess their own species of tortoise, mocking-thrush, finches, and numerous plants, these species having the same general habits, occupying analogous situations, and obviously filling the same place in the natural economy of this archipelago, that strikes me with wonder."[In some cases, what Darwin considered separate species are now considered races or subspecies.] Darwin landed at only four of the islands (San Cristobal, Floreana, Santiago, and Isabela); his wonder would have been all the greater had he visited other islands, for the same pattern is repeated throughout the archipelago.Upon his return, Darwin continued to ponder this. But he had other work to do as well. The voyage of the Beagle had been a unique scientific opportunity and he made the most of it. In 1845, he published a general account of his observations as The Voyage of the Beagle. He also published books on the Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs, Volcanic Islands visited during the Voyage of the Beagle and Geology of South America, plus Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle as well as a number of scientific papers. Darwin's best work, however, on this business of species, their distribution, and their place in the "natural economy", was still to come. It took Darwin nearly 25 years to complete it, though he had the most important part worked out in his...

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