Photo : Adam Soule, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Photo : Adam Soule, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The Galapagos Islands are typically known for Charles Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory and the species richness of its unique wildlife—60% of all species are endemic or indigenous to the Islands. Despite the Galapagos Islands being a world famous site of scientific discovery and natural beauty, the unique underwater foundation of the Galapagos archipelago has remained relatively unstudied. That is, until a group of scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) recently embarked on an expedition to research the underwater mountains, called seamounts, of the archipelago. Their initial findings have just become public and they are groundbreaking.

The international team of researchers used high-resolution survey and sampling methods to conduct the first mapping of seamounts and diverse marine life. With their unprecedented approach, the researchers discovered 70 seamounts, more than 150 rock samples and 300 biological samples—most of which were previously unknown. It is theorized that the seamounts formed during a period of low sea level corresponding to the last ice age about 26,000 years ago. By understanding the implications of sea level and climate change on the evolution and migratory patterns of animals on the islands, researchers could better understand the impact future climate changes have on biodiversity and animal survival.

Scientists are hoping these discoveries will help protect the seamounts by adding them to the Galapagos Marine Reserve. The Galapagos Marine Reserve, one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world is home to more than 2,900 marine species. In a recent report from Nature World News, Pelay Salinas de Leon, a senior marine ecologist at the Charles Darwin Foundation said, “Seamounts are biodiversity hotspots and essential stepping stones for migratory species, including many threatened shark, turtle and cetacean species. We still have many months of samples and data analyses ahead of us, but this expedition highlights the need to include some of these seamounts as protected areas in the ongoing rezoning of the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR).” Perhaps even more exciting was the discovery of a new species of catshark. The crucial information and discoveries from this expedition will be incredibly important in continued conservation and protecting the biodiversity of the Galapagos.

For wildlife lovers, nature explorers and outdoor enthusiasts curious about these discoveries and the biodiversity wonders of the Galapagos Islands, Natural Habitat Adventures and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) offer sustainable and educational Galapagos trips. WWF’s world-renowned scientists train Galapagos expedition group leaders and the trip is 100% carbon-offset. This is one of the most sustainable and informative ways to travel to the Galapagos Islands during this time of scientific discovery and natural wonder.

As the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute research expedition continues on the Galapagos archipelago, the scientific community anticipates further exciting discovery and knowledge of biodiversity and seamounts. The expedition and research speaks to the need to include these seamounts as protected areas within the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Hopefully this research will provide the incentive for adequate conservation and protection.

This post is by our newest About Galapagos contributor Maia Wikler, a Colorado College graduate with a passion for anthropology, human rights, travel and conservation. When she isn’t writing or reading she loves to be active outside and planning the next adventure.