Following in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, 13 students and two science faculty members traveled to the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean during March Break to take part in an environmental project and explore the unique flora and fauna that inhabit the remote volcanic archipelago.
This was the first trip to the Galapagos organized by Loomis Chaffee's Alvord Center for Global & Environmental Studies, which offers several international education programs to students each year.
Skirting a winter storm, the travelers departed from Loomis on March 2 and arrived on Santa Cruz Island, where they began their 10-day itinerary with an introduction to the history, culture, economy, and sustainable agriculture practices of the area. They visited the Charles Darwin Research Station and spent time hiking, swimming, and kayaking in nature preserves and surrounding waters. In their travel blog, the students made note of the many species they observed, including green sea turtles, marine and land iguanas, and a multitude of tropical fish that evolved in isolation in an "eco-bubble" that exists on the archipelago, which is part of Ecuador.
The group traveled by boat to Isabela Island, where, with local guides, they snorkeled through the tunnels of Cabo Rosa and hiked to the top of Sierra Negra, the island's largest volcano.
Seniors Mairin Moylan and Julia Zabinska shared this observation of an activity in Isabela in the group's travel blog:
"... We saw the nesting area of some blue-footed boobies [birds] and learned about their habits. We learned that the amount of sardines consumed determines the blueness of the boobies' feet, making them more desirable to potential mates. To quote our tour guide Fernando, 'There's a difference between a blue Bugatti and a blue Chevy.'"
Later, the group met with researchers at the Galapagos Science Center, a collaboration between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador, constructed to promote science and education to protect and preserve the ecosystem.
The group traveled by boat to their final location, San Cristobal Island, stopping along the way at Floreana to visit the Peace Asylum in the highlands and snorkel at Black Beach. In San Cristobal, the group learned from members of the Galapagos Science Center about the risks that micro-plastic pollutants pose to aquatic life. Afterwards the students took part in a research effort examining the impact of micro-plastics on the archipelago environment by measuring and tracking marine species using photographic images and computer software.
Before returning home, the student and faculty travelers reviewed their research work under the direction of a science center staff member. Observing the measurable effects brought into focus for the group, the impact that humans have on the earth — even in remote, previously untouched areas — and the responsibility that humans bear for the consequences of advancement.
Science teacher Neil Chadhary '05 reflected on the trip in his blog entry: "Over the days of our journey, we have seen a facet of the beauty of the natural world. ... We have also seen that beauty smudged, broken, or erased by the consequences of human industrial achievement. ... We bear an impression of the preciousness and perilousness of the natural world."
Connect to the Galapagos 2018 travel blog to read more impressions from students and faculty and to view photos from the trip.