The Galapagos Islands were declared a National Park in 1959, protecting 97.5% of the archipelago's land area. The remaining area was set aside for the four human settlements that existed at that time. Approximately 1,000 to 2,000 people called the islands their home. In 1972 a census was done in the Archipelago and a population of 3,488 was recorded. By the 1980s, this number had dramatically risen to more than 15,000 people.
In 1986 the surrounding ocean was declared a marine reserve. UNESCO recognised the islands as a World Heritage Site in 1978, which was extended in December 2001 to include the marine reserve. The Charles Darwin Foundation dedicated to the conservation of the islands was founded in Belgium in 1959.
Noteworthy species include:
Land iguana, Conolophus subcristatus
Marine iguana, Amblyrhynchus cristatus (only iguana feeding from the sea)
Galapagos Giant tortoise, Geochelone elephantopus, known as Galapago in Spanish, is the animal that gave the name to the islands.
Galapagos Green Turtle, thought to be a subspecies of the Pacific Green Turtle, Chelonia mydas agassisi
Sea cucumber, the cause of environmental battles with fisherman over quotas of this expensive Asian delicacy Holothuria spp.
13 endemic species of finch, popularly called Darwin's finches
Galapagos penguin, Spheniscus mendiculus
Flightless cormorant, Nannopterum harrisi
Galapagos Hawk, Buteo galapagoensis
Sea lions or sea wolves which belong to glacier seas are present on the Galapagos islands because of the Humboldt cold current. They are found mainly on the Plaza Sur, Santiago and Fernandina islands.
The archipelago has been known by many different names, including the "Enchanted Islands" because of the way in which the strong and swift currents made navigation difficult. The first crude navigation chart of the islands was done by the buccaneer Ambrose Cowley in 1684, and in those charts he named the islands after some of his fellow pirates or after the English noblemen who helped the pirates' cause.
The main islands of the archipelago are: Santiago, Santa Cruz, Floreana, San Cristobal, Española, Santa Fe, Isabela, Fernandina, Marchena, Pinta, Baltra, Bartolome.