Isla Floreana has arguably the most interesting human history of all of the Galapagos Islands. It is the site of the first Galapagos ‘post office’, established in 1793 by whalers. It consisted of a wooden barrel that served as a post box, so that mail could be picked up by passers by and delivered to its destination in Europe and North America. Floreana was also home to the first Galapagos resident – a bold Irishman named Patrick Watkins who was stranded in 1803 and then settled to sell supplies to whalers until 1809. Later residents included convicts, pirates and colonists.
The island is also the setting for the unusual and strange turn of events in the 1930’s known as the ‘Galapagos affairs’ involving a scandal and three mysterious deaths of some of the first permanent residents of the island.
Floreana is now home to approximately 140 people, the majority of whom make their living by farming. The Wittmer family, descendants of some of the first settlers of Galapagos have a small hotel, restaurant, gift shop and post office in Puerto Velasco Ibarra. This the only hotel and it boasts the only telephone on the entire island. This small hamlet also has a church and one school with two teachers. There are currently no restaurants or bars. The main water source for Floreana is a natural pond that fills up with rain water during the rainy season; during droughts water problems can become quite serious for the population. Transportation to and from Floreana is very limited, with a boat from Santa Cruz Island arriving, on average, every two weeks.
Of all the Galapagos Islands, Floreana is the one most altered by the presence of humans and invasive feral goats. The goats and some other invasive herbivores were completely removed by the Galapagos National Park in 2007, but a devastated landscape no longer fit to sustain Floreana’s native wildlife was left in their wake.
Floreana is also home to the endemic medium tree finch and one of the only endemic snails on the Islands. The Galapagos storm petrel is also found on Floreana, a sea bird which spends most of its life away from land. There are nesting sites of pelicans, herons and red-billed tropicbirds. Pink flamingos nest here between December and May. White tipped reef sharks and stingrays are commonly seen in the waters surrounding the island, green sea turtles nest on the beaches between December and May and pacific green sea turtles nest from December to March.
Conservation work is now focused on restoring healthy populations of Galapagos racers, hawks, barn owls, rails, three species of finch, and most notably, the Floreana mockingbird. Now extinct on the main island, the Floreana mockingbird can only be found in two small populations located on two tiny islets off the coast of Floreana.
The Galapagos Petrel and the Floreana mockingbird have both been subjects of successful conservation projects. Learn more about the success here.
We currently have an appeal running, to raise money in order to restore Floreana to its former glory, and to bring the Floreana mockingbird back to its original home. Click here to read more and donate.
Written by Jenny Vidler – Communications and Membership Assistant