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Photo of Lynn Fowler Lynn Fowler as seen on Voyage to the Galapagos: Darwin's Eden.

Click on Lynn's photo to read a brief bio.

q It must be great to have your job, showing people the wonders of the Galapagos Islands! How did you decide this is what you wanted to do, and what education did you need to get the job? (Question from Cindy, 10th grade student)

A Thanks for your question Cindy, and sorry about the delay getting the answer to is not a simple matter to get an e-mail out to a ship in the Galapagos Archipelago! You are correct, the job I have is GREAT! I have always loved nature and wildlife but never really knew where this interest would take me. I got a B.A. in Biology and then went on to get both a Master's and PhD with the idea that the more I learned the more doors would be open for me. To work as a naturalist and an expedition leader as I do, one does not have to have these higher degrees, but I am pleased that I got them because I enjoyed the learning and am glad to have the information and knowledge to share with the guests who pass through these islands. I feel that if I can open the eyes of a few of the people who come here to the importance of saving these islands (and the need for protecting other wild and wilderness areas like the Galapagos all over the world) then I have put my many years of schooling to excellent use! Hope this answers your queries, study hard and good luck in the future.

q What is your favorite animal on the Galapagos Islands? (Question from Benjamin, elementary school student)

A Now THAT is a hard question because I really do love all the animals in the Galapagos Islands. If I absolutely had to pick a favorite though, I think I would choose the giant tortoises. I lived for over a year on a the rim of a volcano studying them and so I got to watch them closely and learned to know them well. After all, they were my only real "neighbors". They are so curious and slow and funny but they are also very vulnerable to man and all the domestic animals that man has brought to the Galapagos Islands; these are some of the characteristics that have endeared them to me.

q The show gave us a brief, but balanced overview of the negative and possible positive impacts of ecotourism. As someone involved in the industry as a guide, and as someone who clearly loves the islands, how do you feel about ecotourism? (Question from ScienceLab)

A I feel quite strongly that well-controlled ecotourism in the Galapagos benefits the Islands much more than it negatively impacts them. If people are able to visit the Islands and experience their uniqueness first hand, and see for themselves that the animals here are unafraid - indifferent - to man, and yet so vulnerable to us, and have intense and very personal encounters with the beauty and the wildness that is so prevalent and so distinct in this Archipelago, then I know that those people immediately understand the need to save these islands and other wild areas like them for future generations. There are many things that must be improved to properly handle the number of travelers who are now coming to Galapagos - for instance, a better quarantine system for all planes and ships that enter the Archipelago - but I sincerely believe that only if people are able to visit and experience these truly Enchanted Islands will we be able to obtain sufficient world support to save and protect them.

q The show devoted a lot of time to the reptiles and birds, not much was said about mammals or amphibians. Are there any endemic species of these classes, if so what are they like and how do they figure in the food chains of the ecosystems? (Question from Fran, Middle School Teacher)

A We devoted more time on the show about the Galapagos to reptiles and birds because these are the species that dominate our island fauna. Reptiles and birds arrive and establish more easily on isolated islands than mammals and amphibians do. As a matter of fact, Galapagos has no native or endemic amphibians at all! Historically amphibians could not make the 2 week ocean crossing nor could they reproduce if they did manage to arrive in Galapagos as on most of the islands there is no year round source of fresh water. Remember that most frogs and salamanders lay their eggs in ponds, puddles, streams... The bad news is that last year during the very wet El Niņo year, frogs DID get out to Galapagos transported accidentally on cargo ships and we are afraid that they might establish in the moist highlands of the inhabited island of Santa Cruz. It is hard to say what havoc they might cause to the fragile island ecosystem if they do find a suitable niche and begin to reproduce and spread.

Galapagos has several species of endemic (unique, found only here) mammals, and these are all either rice rats, bats or marine mammals. Most mammals are not good long distance ocean travelers but rats do disperse to islands. There are four species of rice rats found in Galapagos (and several others have gone extinct from the islands) that are not found anywhere else in the world. Bats can fly and hence disperse and we have two species in Galapagos: an endemic subspecies of red bat and a native hoary bat. Two species of sea lions (the California sea lion, which is a Galapagos race and the Galapagos fur seal which is an endemic species) and many different kinds of whales and dolphins occur in the Archipelago, but by far those with feathers and scales out number the rest of them!

q On the show you said that Galapagos Tortoises came to the islands on chunks of floating land. My question is: if the tortoises came from the mainland then why aren't there any left on the mainland? If the large land animals came from somewhere else, wouldn't there be evidence of them in other places besides the Galapagos? (Question from Todd, 10-year-old homeschooler)

A You asked a very good question, when you asked why giant tortoises no longer inhabit the mainland of South America if the ones now found in the Galapagos Archipelago originally came from there. Tortoises floated out to Galapagos many hundreds of thousands or even millions of years ago! There IS fossil evidence that tortoises resembling the ones in Galapagos were once found on continental South America, and, as a matter of fact, tortoises similar to those now found in Galapagos were once found in many parts of the world. Unfortunately, because they are slow, good tasting and their eggs are vulnerable to mammalian predators, they became extinct long ago over much of their former range. Now tortoises are only found in Galapagos and on the island of Aldabra in the Indian Ocean where they have been able to survive because few mammalian predators have ever arrived to these isolated islands. The bad news is that mammalian predators (dogs, rats, cats and pigs) and competitors (goats and donkeys) have recently been brought by man to the islands and the giant tortoises are now in danger.

q What would you say is the hardest part of your job in the Galapagos Islands? (Question from Adam, High School Student)

A I LOVE my job working as a naturalist and Expedition Leader for Lindblad Special Expeditions on board the M/S Polaris in the Galapagos Islands! And it is obvious that I do love my work as a naturalist, because I came here in 1978 planning to spend a single year in Galapagos, and have been here ever since! I will never tire of these fabulous islands and the unique and fearless creatures that inhabit them. I love the dramatic volcanic landscape and the fantastic snorkeling and I enjoy immensely the chance to educate the visitors who come to these islands. It is a joy to watch newcomers as they experience the enchantment of this magical place and, in the end, like almost everyone who comes here, realize that this is one of the wonders of the world and a place we absolutely must save for future generations. The only hard part of my job is being so far from my family. I miss my four sisters, one brother and my parents who all live in the USA. And, most of all, it is hard to be separated from my kids. I have an 11-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son and we live on a farm in mainland Ecuador. My kids get to come with me to Galapagos quite often and then, the job is PERFECT!

q What are tortoise shells made of? Do baby tortoises have soft shells when they are in their eggs? (Question from Westridge School)

A Tortoise shells are mostly made of calcium just like our bones are. The carapace (top, back shell) and plastron (bottom, belly shell) are made of thickened vertebrae, ribs and bony plates covered by horny scutes. To tell you the truth, I have never opened a tortoise egg to see if the baby's shell is soft when they are in their eggs. But my guess is that yes, their shells are probably at least a little bit softer while they are still inside their egg.


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
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