In modern science the word ‘Galapagos’ is unequivocally linked with the name ‘Charles Darwin’. Darwin’s expedition to the Ecuadorian islands in 1835 had a critical impact on his formation on the Theory of Natural Selection.
The 22-year-old Charles Darwin was a failing and unmotivated medical scholar, so when he chose to accompany Captain Robert Fitzroy as a travel companion on the five-year voyage of the HMS Beagle he had no idea of the revolutionary scientific research the cruise would provide for him. Darwin’s book, ‘The Voyage of the Beagle’ provides an account of the naturalist’s worldwide journey. Years later, many holidaymakers follow in the footsteps of the scientist, embarking on their own Galapagos cruise
The HMS Beagle departed England from Plymouth in the December of 1831, but did not reach the Galapagos Islands until 4 years later in 1835 after surveying the coast of South America. However, Darwin’s discovery of the Theory of Evolution was as much an accident as Fleming’s discovery of Penicillin.
Quite by chance, Darwin observed that some of the unique creatures that inhabit the Galapagos Islands were similar on each of the islands he visited, but were adapted to their individual environments. The most famous example of this is Darwin’s finches. The finches, though largely similar, had evolved to perfectly survive on each island. This was particularly observable in the birds’ beaks which were longer, sharper, fatter etc. according to the demands of the environment in which the finches were found. The fifteen subspecies of finch indigenous to the Galapagos have since been named after Darwin in honour of his discovery.
This revelation provided the basis for Darwin’s famous theories of Evolution and Natural Selection. He deduced from his observation of the Galapagos finches that they were all descendants of a common ancestor, sharing the same lineage.
Twenty-four years after his initial discovery, Darwin finally consolidated his theories and observations derived from the finches on the Galapagos into his internationally revered book ‘The Origin of Species’ which provided a controversial and revolutionary change to the scientific view on the origins of life.
Charles Darwin’s discovery on the Galapagos Islands is arguably one of the most insightful biological revelations of the modern science, placing Darwin in the leagues of Isaac Newton, Alexander Fleming and Albert Einstein as one of the greatest scientific minds of his time.