Think Galapagos founders Rachel & Santiago have worked with author and science journalist Henry Nicholls several times over the years in his capacity as editor of Galapagos Matters (the Galapagos Conservation Trust’s members’ magazine).
Here, as our guest blogger for March, Henry talks about his new book on the islands, The Galapagos: A Natural History, which was published this week.
The Galapagos: A Natural History
At first glance, the Galapagos might not seem like much: a rabble of recently erupted, sparsely inhabited volcanoes in the Pacific Ocean. In fact, this was the experience of many of the early visitors to the islands. But for Darwin (and all those who came in his intellectual wake) the Galapagos proved to be an inspiration.
After my first visit to the Islands in 2003, they inspired me too. Shortly after my return to the UK, I wrote a feature on the solitary giant tortoise Lonesome George for the scientific journal Nature. The people I interviewed had so much to say about this singular animal, much of it controversial or contradictory, that I knew quite quickly I wanted to write a biography of this reptilian icon. The result was my first book Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of a Conservation Icon, a project that brought me still closer to the Galapagos. I became an ambassador for the Galapagos Conservation Trust, the editor of their magazine Galapagos Matters and was approached to write a new book on the islands. The Galapagos: A Natural History goes on sale in the UK this week (Profile Books) and will appear in the US in April (Basic Books).
There are lots of very excellent books on the Galapagos already, but they tend to fall into one of two categories: guidebooks that describe and illustrate the flora and fauna of the archipelago and books that explore the rich and fascinating human history of the Islands. Over the last decade writing and thinking about the Galapagos, I have come to appreciate more than ever that this division between natural and human history does not capture the Islands as they really are. So in writing The Galapagos, I made it my explicit goal to blur this distinction and draw these two divergent genres together into a lively hybrid form.
The structure of the book is simple: I begin with rocks, then turn to the ocean, seabirds, plants, insects, land birds, reptiles and humans that colonized the archipelago. In treating humans as just the latest in a succession of colonists, I hope it is clear that we are now part of the ecological makeup in the Galapagos. Crucially though, we are the only species capable of directing the future of these remarkable islands. The Galapagos is filled with the surprising findings of decades of scientific research and carried along by a colourful cast of human characters from the Bishop of Panama to the incumbent President of Ecuador. What happens in the Galapagos matters to all of us. I hope my book shows why.