“… nothing but seals, and turtles and such big tortoises that each could carry a man on top of himself, and many iguanas that are like serpents…”
These were the thoughts of the first visitor to the Galapagos Islands, Fray Tomás de Berlanga, who, 479 years ago today, accidentally discovered the Islands. Fray Berlanga, the Bishop of Panama, was actually on his way to settle a dispute in Peru but slackening winds and a strong westerly current took him and his crew off course to the Archipelago on March 10th 1535.
He was clearly not impressed at the “worthless slag” which could “create little grass, and only some thistles”. Perhaps his bad mood was caused by the fact his boat was quickly running low on water and their incorrect belief that “on account of its size and monstrous shape, there could not fail to be rivers and fruits”. After spending a few days searching several islands for water and sustenance, Fray Berlanga and his crew left and headed back eastwards towards the mainland having resorted to squeezing juice out of prickly pear cactus fruits for refreshment.
The Islands left enough of an impression on him to include a description of them in his letter to Carlos V, King of Spain, however not enough of an impression to be formally given a name or even claimed as Spanish territory. It was this discovery however, which led to them appearing on world maps as early as 1569. It would be another 300 years after Fray Berlanga’s visit that the HMS Beagle and its crew, including a young Charles Darwin, would made their famous expeditions through the chain of islands.
The Galapagos Conservation Trust and Royal Geographical Society are hoping many more young explorers follow in the footsteps of Fray Berlanga by Discovering Galapagos with the aid of a new educational website.
Discovering Galapagos, the project’s title, will provide a global education platform for all things Galapagos. There will be English and Spanish language websites designed for teachers and students in both the UK and Ecuador. They will have the ability to share classwork, hold Q&A’s with Galapagos experts via Skype and also connect with each other to find out what the life of a student in a very different country is like.
It will not only be of interest for students however, as the website will also showcase the diverse and important conservation projects that are happening right now. All the information and resources – including teaching materials, interactive activities and quizzes – will be free and available to all. The target is to get the website live by September to coincide with the start of the new academic year and the launch of the new UK national curriculum.
To make sure you keep up to date with the developments of this international project please sign up to the newsletter by visiting Discovering Galapagos. Let the journey begin!
by James Medland