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The Galapagos Islands, made famous by Charles Darwin and the unique wildlife he studied, remain one of the most pristine tropical island systems in the world. But the islands have seen dramatic changes since Darwin’s exploration, including a surge in population and an expanding tourism industry as well as threats from pollution, illegal fishing and invasive species.

Bartolome Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. rel= © Martin HARVEY / WWF

Discover the unique wildlife
There are few places in the world that fascinate quite as much as the Galapagos Islands.
Located 1,000km due west of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, the islands are home to many unique species found nowhere else in the world.

The best known are the Galapagos giant tortoise, land iguana and lava lizard.

At sea, one finds Galapagos penguins, marine iguanas, fur seals, sea lions, whales, sharks, marine turtles and many fish species.

The archipelago is also home to some of the world's largest colonies of seabirds.

Due to the volcanic nature of the islands, plant life is scarce. But many native plants have equally adapted to the harsh conditions just as its animal counterparts - the Galapagos has its very own species of cotton, pepper, guava and tomato.

Marine iguana (<i>Amblyrhynchus cristatus</i>), the only sea-going lizard in the world, ... 
© WWF / Martin HARVEY
Marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus), the only sea-going lizard in the world, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
© WWF / Martin HARVEY
Where are the Galapagos Islands?

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Conservation at work
For more than 40 years, WWF has worked to support conservation in the Galapagos.
WWF's vision for the Galapagos is to ensure ecological integrity, economic prosperity and social equity for the future of the islands and the people who live here.

To ensure that the vision becomes a reality, WWF is working closely with local authorities and other conservation organizations to tackle a number of threats -  introduced species, poaching, overfishing, tourism development and agriculture - and to support scientific research and conservation management within the Galapagos National Park and marine reserve.

The Galapagos Islands are also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Darwin's finches

The 13 species of finches found on the Galapagos Islands inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.

Medium ground finch (Geospiza fortis), Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos, Ecuador. © WWF
Subsequent scientific research supports the theory that finches of a single species arrived and dispersed to different islands. The beaks of each of the species evolved over time to best take advantage of available food sources and were most likely to reproduce and pass on their traits. This process of evolution - called adaptive radiation - continued until each group of finches developed into a different species.

Facts & Figures

  • Straddling the Equator, the Galapagos Islands are located in both the northern and southern hemispheres.
  • The archipelago consists of 13 main islands, 6 smaller islands and 107 rocks and islets.
  • Nearly 9,000 species are found on the islands and their surrounding waters, many of them endemic.
  • The total land mass is almost 8,000km2; the Galapagos Marine Reserve surrounding the archipelago is 138,000km2.
  • The Galapagos National Park covers about 95% of the islands.
  • Around 250,000 giant tortoises are thought to have lived on Galapagos before the arrival of humans. Today only 15,000-20,000 survive.
  • In 1835, Charles Darwin sailed to the Galapagos Islands on the HMS Beagle; in 1859 he published the Origin of Species, which introduced the concept of natural selection.