Since 2009, about a dozen new species of fish, animals and corals, among them a spectacular pink iguana, have been discovered on or around the Galapagos Islands.
The Pacific Ocean archipelago, where Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was hatched, is providing an endless source of work material for researchers, biologists and scientists, who are delighted by the discoveries. Thankfully, computer technology and robots (for land research as well as sub-marine) have made make the scientists’ work easier. Co-ordinated by the Galapagos National Park, teams from different countries are working tirelessly to observe the ecosystems on the islands, which are a province of the South American country of Ecuador. What might be the world’s most pristine habitat, shelters fragile life forms that might never have established a footing elsewhere. In July, biologists from the University of San Nicolas de Hidalgo in Mexico and the Ecuadorean Environment Ministry confirmed the existence of two new fish species, the Scorpaenodes sp. and Gobiomuros sp., which measure between 10 and 25 centimetres. They swim in the rocky waters and reefs surrounding the islands of San Cristobal (Chatham), Santa Cruz (Indefatigable), Santa Fe (Barrington), Espanola (Hood) and Isabela (Albemarle). ”The discovery of these two new marine species confirms that the Galapagos are a living laboratory and that we still do not know all the species that co-exist in it,” says the director of the Galapagos National Park, Arturo Izurieta. ”This contributes to the knowledge of marine fauna, science and research of the Galapagos’ unique ecosystems.” The two fish species join the 2,900 species - 25 per cent of which are native to the region - that have already been identified on this island marine reserve.
In early 2009, scientists made a surprising discovery on the Wolf Volcano on Albemarle Island. Researchers from the University of Rome Tor Vergata found a pink iguana with features that were different from the black sea iguanas and the land iguanas (whose backs and crests are of a yellow colour). The discovery of the pink iguana, described as a ‘living fossil’, has been fascinating for scientists. ”It is surprising that a discovery of this nature was made in the 21st century,” says Ecuadorean biologist Washington Tapia. In 2012, scientists catalogued a new shark catfish species: Bythaelurus giddingsi, which lives at a depth of between 400 and 600 metres in the ocean surrounding the Galapagos Islands. It can measure 30 centimetres and has light-coloured spots on brown skin. The Galapagos sea has recently spawned a new coral species. Researchers from the US and British universities of Miami and Southampton identified three coral organisms in the reefs and rocky volcanic shorelines of Darwin and Wolf islands.
One of these species, earlier thought to have been extinct, was able to survive the fierce weather of the El Nino weather phenomenon. This finding made scientists realise that ‘some coral species are more resistant than we thought’, says chief researcher Terry Dawson, of The Charles Darwin Foundation, which has been working on the Galapagos since 1959. In 2010 it offered the results of work with lichens and announced the discovery of 10 new species. In 2013, local fishermen delivered to authorities a rare fish belonging to the Uranoscopidae family, which had a round mouth and an elongated body, with characteristics different to other such fish found elsewhere in the world.
After focusing their work on the small island of Daphne, British scientists Peter and Rosemary Grant, from Princeton University, published (in the US National Academy of Sciences) results of research they had conducted for 28 years on a new class of finch (bird). The object of their study had a unique bird song and beak and it was registered as a new species in 2009. Finches in the different islands, with their varying sizes and beak functions, were key in helping Darwin confirm his views on natural selection – compiled in the landmark book, The Origin of Species. Potential subjects for research programs appear limitless here. For example, scientists recently launched a project, located on the oceanic spreading ridge near the Galapagos Islands, to investigate hydrothermal vents, formed when seawater meets hot magna. This habitat, which is low in oxygen, lacking sunlight and with gases and fluids at temperatures of up to 400 degrees Celsius, is unlike any other in the world. The Galapagos Islands, declared a World National Heritage Site by UNESCO, provide daily lessons on the importance of protecting nature and wildlife.