Earth Expeditions

Galápagos: Islands of Change

Visit the realm of giant tortoises; study the forces of evolutionary, geologic, and social change; contribute to sustainable solutions for this astounding archipelago. 

Course Details
In Galápagos: May 26 – June 4, 2021
Add 1-2 days travel time as most flight plans have a required overnight in mainland Ecuador first. Students arrive at least one day before the course begins.
On the Web: April – December
Credits: 7 graduate credits from Miami University; course can be applied to the Global Field Program.
Course Cost: Projected 2021 Field course (in-country + web): $4,225 (price includes tuition for 5 graduate credits and in-country costs) + airfare to Baltra/Santa Cruz + $1,000 additional course support costs.

Projected 2021 Fall project course (web, required): $790 (price includes tuition for 2 graduate credits)

Course Overview

The Galápagos Islands are a spectacular natural treasure and one of the best places on Earth to appreciate change. To biologists, a trip to the Galápagos is something of a pilgrimage to sacred evolutionary ground, for it is here in 1835 that Charles Darwin witnessed how giant tortoises, finches, and other taxa each varied from island to island across the archipelago, observations that, among many others, shaped Darwin’s ideas on evolution. Darwin upturned the prevailing view of life by pointing out–with an uncommon amount of evidence, logic, and persistence—that individuals within the same species vary from one another, that some of these differences are inherited, and that from the differential success of these inherited variations, over time, emerge new races and species.

The Galápagos islands are also the product of geologic change. A hotspot deep below the Pacific Ocean fuels the creation of new Galápagos islands, while the oldest islands, succumbing to the forces of erosion and subsidence as they move eastward on a tectonic plate, submerge and become underwater seamounts. This cycle of island birth and death changes the member set of islands within the Galápagos archipelago, and so alters the landscape for evolution. Some Galápagos species alive today may have evolutionary histories on islands that have long ago sunk beneath the waves.

However, the most powerful changes impacting the immediate future of the Galápagos are of human origin. People are an increasing source of habitat destruction, overexploitation, and introduced species, but they are also the source of heroic efforts to save the Galápagos, and the work of government agencies, researchers, NGOs, educators, and other informed citizens provide some measure of hope.

For this course, we will be working with Ecology Project International (EPI), who have been champions for inquiry-driven field science and sustainability for many years, and who have made tremendous progress working with the Galápagos National Parks Service and others on ecological education. This course was created in partnership with the Houston Zoo and furthers a continuing commitment to conservation in the Galápagos. As part of this collaboration, the Houston Zoo, EPI, and Miami University have supported the work of Global Conservation Fellows from Ecuador in their master’s degree work with the Global Field Program.

Students in this course should be prepared to explore the forces of change in the Galápagos and contribute directly to sustainable solutions to current issues. The course takes place primarily on Isla Santa Cruz with a few days spent on Isabela Island.