Using Technology to Explore the Galapagos Islands

In describing the Galapagos Islands 178 years ago, Charles Darwin noted that “It seems to be a little world within itself”. Thousands of tourists visit Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands every year, and no doubt many armchair travelers wish they could experience this extraordinary destination first hand. Now, thanks to collaboration between Google, the Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park, anyone with access to the internet can take a virtual tour of the one of the world’s most biodiverse places on Google Street View, both on land and underwater.

In May this year the Google team spent ten days capturing the islands on film by means of a special backpack camera, dubbed the Street View Trekker. Viewers can enter the underwater world of Galapagos sea lions, climb the island’s largest volcano and get up-close to giant tortoises, as well as marine iguanas, frigatebirds and blue-footed boobies, to mention just a few of the amazing creatures found on the archipelago. The zoom-in, zoom-out feature allows viewers to explore the islands and their shorelines in 360° detail.

Traveling by boat to San Cristobal Island with the Street View Trekker strapped to the front of the boat, the team filmed the craggy shoreline and the frigatebirds that nest there. Upon landing on the island they went to the tortoise breeding center where work is being done to conserve and increase the tortoise population on the islands which has been negatively impacted by invasive species. Working with Catlin Seaview Survey, the team filmed sea lions in the crystal clear waters around Floreana Island. While hiking through Isabela Island’s wetlands, the team captured marine iguanas on film, and on North Seymour Island they filmed the mating dance of blue-footed boobies.

While offering fascinating footage to the general public, this project will also be used for research relating to conservation of the environment, animal migration patterns, and very importantly, the impact that tourism has on the islands. Together with citizen scientist network iNaturalist, the Charles Darwin Foundation is offering members of the public the opportunity to become ‘Darwin for a Day’ and identify plants and animals on the Galapagos Street View – an excellent way to explore this remote and fascinating part of Ecuador.