The Galápagos Islands are a collection of about 127 volcanic islands, of which some are islets. Only four of the islands are inhabited, with a total population of about 30,000 people. The Ecuadorean government administers the area as a national park. The travel distance from there to Ecuador is 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) by sea. The waters around the islands are all part of the Galapagos Marine Reserve. The underwater geomorphological forms of the Galapagos islands are endemic to the archipelago, which can also boast having a wider biodiversity of marine life than that found anywhere else in the world. The best time to tour the islands is from June to September when the weather is sunny and dry. Much rainier weather occurs from December to May.
The number of tourists that visit the Galapagos annually totals about 170,000 in number. The tourists come to gawk and observe the endemic wildlife, and see firsthand how much it differs in the short distance from one island to the next island. Diving is also a popular activity, and one that allows tourists to swim with the widest range of marine life to be found in one single area. It is easy to get to the Galapagos with there being two airports on two of its larger islands, hosting flights which originate from Guayaquil and Quito on mainland Ecuador. Tourists can also travel between islands by plane or using day boats, with tours being available with itineraries catered to the preferences of different tourists' respective individual interests.
The Galapagos has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978. The importance of the Galapagos Islands couldn't be overestimated in its value as a place where evolution is still going on, and about 95 per cent of its pre-human biodiversity still exists. The location of the islands is also where the three major ocean currents meet. Not only have scientists recognized the value of the islands and its ecosystem, but now tourists have also come to play. The islands offer boat tours, plane-based sightseeing, surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, and bird watching. Island hopping is another popular option here with tourists.
The Galapagos islands are a showcase of biodiversity of land animals, plants and marine life. Even within and between each of its own individual islands, plant and animal life differs from one island to the next island. The most famous endemic species in the Galapagos include giant tortoises, land iguanas, marine iguanas, sea lions, and flightless cormorants. Plants such as giant daisy trees, giant cacti, and native trees still thrive in the same islands as well. Many of the bird species that Charles Darwin studied there in the 1830s are still reproducing in the same areas as well. Marine life flourishes here, with a rate of endemism of 18.2 percent. Scientists have also found exceptional degree of interaction between terrestrial and marine lifeforms of the Galapagos.
Exploration of the islands with safety in mind reduces any risks associated with it, and should not pose a danger to tourists. Conversely, human intervention has affected the Galapagos Islands' fragile biodiversity. Increased demographic growth, increased tourism, governance issues, and illegal fishing are affecting the islands still. Humans bringing in invasive species also have directly affected the native and endemic species. To counter these issues, the Galapagos National Park Service has implemented a zoning system to prohibit or allow use of certain areas by the locals. Other efforts are being supported by government institutions towards sustainability in the use of natural resources there.