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13/09/2022 History of Galapagos

Reflections on the life of Queen Elizabeth II

We would like to express our deepest condolences to the Royal Family on the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.

Tom O'Hara

Communications Manager

We would like to express our deepest condolences to the Royal Family on the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. As we mourn the only monarch that most of us have ever known, it is also a time to reflect on the life of a truly remarkable woman, and to take inspiration from the leadership that she provided throughout her long reign.

Queen Elizabeth II © Jacob King/PA Wire/PA Images.

The Queen often spoke movingly and perceptively about the natural world. In her 1989 Christmas Broadcast, she highlighted the need for international co-operation on issues such as global warming, ocean pollution and deforestation.

“These problems don’t affect just the countries where they are happening and they make neighbourly co-operation throughout the world a pressing necessity.”

In the same address, she went on to talk about the looming threat of extinction faced by so many species.

“…it is already too late to prevent all forms of damage to the natural world. Some species of wild plants and animals are, sadly, bound to become extinct. But the great thing to remember is that it is not too late to reduce the damage if we change attitudes and behaviour.”

The Queen travelled to 117 different countries during her reign, though she never visited the Galapagos Islands. Sylvia Harcourt, ex-Chair of the British School of Quito and General Assembly Member of the Charles Darwin Foundation, remembers speaking to Her Majesty about this at Buckingham Palace.

“When she so kindly awarded me with an MBE in July 2006, for my services to conservation in Galapagos and education in Ecuador, she told me how jealous she was of other family members who had been to the Islands, and she was sad that she would not get there.”

The Duke of Edinburgh visited the Archipelago three times, in 1964, 1971 and 1988, and he was a regular supporter of Galapagos Conservation Trust’s work, as well as Patron of the Charles Darwin Foundation.

Prince Philip at the top of steps on Genovesa Island looking at a bird

Prince Philip at the steps named after him during his visit to Genovesa in Galapagos in 1988 © Günther Reck/CDF

Prince Charles – now King Charles III – visited Galapagos in 2009 with Camilla to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, along with the 150th anniversary of the publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’ and the 50th anniversary of the Galapagos National Park. They visited the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz island and met many local dignitaries, British Embassy representatives and Foundation Board members and staff. They also met Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta giant tortoises, and were invited by the Park Director to adopt a tortoise. The chosen hatchling was then named William!

Charles Darwin Foundation Members Sylvia Harcourt and Godfrey Merlen were invited to meet privately with Prince Charles to brief him on the problems in Galapagos, and he generously agreed to get The Prince’s Trust involved in some projects.

Queen Elizabeth II in 1959 © Unknown/Library and Archives Canada, CC BY 2.0

As we navigate this unsettling period of change, it is reassuring to know that the new King has always taken such an active interest in protecting the environment. But as we look for guidance at such a momentous historical inflection point, we should perhaps return to that 1989 Christmas address, and the late Queen’s thoughts on the bigger picture.

“You’ve all seen pictures of the earth taken from space. Unlike all the other planets in the solar system, earth shimmers green and blue in the sunlight and looks a very pleasant place to live. These pictures should remind us that the future of all life on earth depends on how we behave towards one another, and how we treat the plants and the animals that share our world with us.”

Galapagos Islands from space © contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Perhaps most poignant of all are her words from a speech to launch the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow last year. The Queen spoke of her pride that the baton of environmental protection had been passed on to her son, The Prince of Wales, and her grandson, The Duke of Cambridge, and she urged world leaders to seize the moment and take action to address climate change.

“The benefits of such actions will not be there to enjoy for all of us here today: we, none of us will live forever. But we are doing this not for ourselves but for our children and our children’s children.”

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