The Galapagos Islands are located in the Pacific Ocean, 612 miles west of Ecuador. Their first recorded discovery was on March 10, 1535, by Fray Tomas de Berlanga, who found them accidentally while sailing from Panama to Peru. In 1570, mapmaker Abraham Ortelius plotted the Galapagos Islands, calling them the Isolas de Galapagos, or "Islands of the Tortoises," based on sailors' descriptions of the many tortoises inhabiting the islands. The islands of the Galapagos remained uninhabited on a permanent basis up until the 18th century when British and early American whalers and sealers began to visit the islands regularly as part of an effort to set up an industry center in the Pacific Ocean. On the island of Floreana in 1807, the first known human settler was Patrick Watkins, an Irish crew member on a British ship.
In 1835, Charles Darwin visited the islands while serving as an official naturalist aboard the H.M.S. Beagle. While on the Galapagos Islands, Darwin discovered that over time, different species adapt to their environment. He observed that each small island had its own characteristic species of bird, lizard and tortoise. He concluded that the differences were related to feeding habits. This theory helped form the basis of Darwin's work on biological adaptation, natural selection, and evolution.The archipelago is well known for its amazing and unique wildlife. It is a National Park and Marine Reserve, where all human activities acknowledge the protection on the islands ecosystems. The Islands cover an area in the Pacific Ocean of around 20,000 square miles and the total land mass of the islands is around 3,1000 square miles.
During the 20th Century, the Galapagos Islands were given the official name Archipelago de Colon ("Columbus's Archipelago"), in honor of Christopher Columbus, by the government of Ecuador. In 1934, the first legislation to protect the islands was enacted. The archipelago was later named a national park and is governed by the Ecuadorian National Park Service to this day. Since the 1964 establishment of the Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz, the Galapagos Islands have primarily become a site of increased scientific study and tourism.