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Galápagos Islands and Ecuador

About the Program

On January 4, 2008, 14 students and 2 professors will begin a journey to one of the most geologically exciting and biologically diverse places on Earth — the Galápagos Islands and Ecuador.

Sponsored by the Biology and Geology departments, this January Session program will allow students to earn college credit (either undergraduate or graduate) while studying in one of the world’s greatest natural laboratories.

Located on the equator 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands are home to a wide variety of animal and plant species, many of them unique to the islands. There are 17 unique species of reptile, including the plentiful marine iguanas and the Galápagos tortoise. Unique birds include the flightless cormorant and the many species of Darwin’s finches. Of the 500 species of higher plants found on the islands, 40 percent are unique. Created from a volcanic hot spot, the islands also offer a wide range of volcanic landforms.

It was the unique biodiversity of the Galápagos that inspired Charles Darwin, a visitor to the islands in 1835, to develop his now-famous theory of evolution.

“There’s no place quite like it on Earth,” says Bret Bennington, associate professor of geology and a program instructor, “If you’re interested in evolution, the Galápagos is the mecca. It’s where it all started. It’s also an amazing laboratory for learning about ecology, geology, plate tectonics, and volcanoes.”

The group will take a seven-day guided boat trip around the islands, with stops to explore the islands on foot and the rich marine life by snorkeling. Following their stay in the Galápagos, the group will return by plane to Quito, on mainland Ecuador.

From Quito, students will take a day trip to the Cotopaxi stratovolcano to learn about Andean geology, ecology and volcanism. They will then travel by plane and boat into the Amazon jungle, where they will spend two days studying the complex ecology of the rainforest in Yasuni National Park.

Throughout the trip, the group will be accompanied by guides knowledgeable about the region’s biology, geology and evolutionary history.

In addition to writing a research report on a topic of their choosing related to the trip, students will be responsible for keeping a journal and for creating a photographic record of the species and geological features they encounter.