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Destination: Galapagos Islands Cyber Field Trip

Photo of Mandy Williams
Q&A with Mandy Williams

You can learn more about Mandy Williams in Meet the Team.



Question Has your trip to the Galapagos lived up to your expectations? If so, how? If not, what about your trip was a disappointment? Would you return if given the opportunity to do so (Carol Troy, Middle School Teacher)
Answer Well to tell the truth, I didn't really know what to expect from all this. So I really didn't have any preconceived notions of what it would be like. However, I have really enjoyed it, and I feel good about the work we've done. If given the chance to return, I would come back a hundred times over.
Question Do you think that the ecosystem of the Galapagos would "crash" if the islands became a major attraction like Hawaii? (Monica Park, High School Student)
Answer Yes, I certainly do. The reason the islands are so beautiful and pristine is because they are part of a national park and are off limits in a lot of places. I can't even imagine all the damage it would do to have people moving in, hotels going up, vacationer activities, jet skis, and so on. I think it would destroy much of what makes the islands so great.
Question I am curious about your experience as the only student on the trip. Do you think that the rest of the team takes your opinions seriously with you being younger and less experienced than the others? (Amberly, High School Student)
Answer That's a good question. I was curious about that myself before we left for the trip. However, everyone has been really great. I don't pretend to know more than I do, so I ask questions when I need to. But otherwise if I have something to say I do feel like people are listening.
Question How can you summarize your experience thus far for eager and envious science enthusiasts, such as myself, in the United States? (Maria Rugg, Middle School Student)
Answer The trip has been great! It has been a lot of work getting it together to put up information on the web for you guys, but I really think that it's worth it. The Islands are amazing, the wildlife is incredible, and the people are terrific. My favorite animal has always been the turtle, so for me to get to come down here and visit the giant tortoises was really a one-in-a-million opportunity that I could not refuse, and it lived up to my expectations, and went well beyond.
Question The opinion poll on this website asks if tourism should be limited to prevent damage to the Galapagos. What's your opinion? (Sara, Middle School student)
Answer Yes, I agree. I think should tourism is a good thing only to a certain extent. I would hate to see the Islands go down hill because of excess tourism. At the same time, the islands are wonderful, and if people have the chance to come visit them, then I do recommend it. I also know that tourism helps the islands in some areas. So while it is a good thing, I do agree that it be carefully monitored and limited where needed.
Question Is there any edible vegetation or fruit on the islands? If so, have you and the crew tasted any of it? (Antonio Silva, Middle School Teacher)
Answer Actually, yes, there are a number of edible fruits on the islands. Most of them are not native, however. For instance, yesterday, when we were on the island of Santa Cruz, we came across avocado trees and blackberry bushes. Both of them were introduced by man and seem to be crowding out much of the natural vegetation.
Question Is all the water around the Galapagos Islands clean and clear? (Katerina Barquet and Lauren Dobay, Middle School Students)
Answer Absolutely. The water down here is the most beautiful water I've ever seen. It's a wonderful turquoise color and you can see straight through it. It's also very clean. I have seen no trash or debris floating in any of the areas we've been.
Question How is the baby seal that you saw? Will this experience of this trip change what you do for a career? These are questions from my students, we are following your trip with GREAT interest. (Mary DeCoy's Middle School Students)
Answer If you are referring to the baby sea lion that gave me a kiss the other day, she is doing fine. She really was the cutest thing ever! However, not all of the animals have perfect lives out here. Life is harsh and just today I got a glimpse of that. We were on Tower Island and we were walking along the beach when I noticed a baby sea lion, maybe only a year old. The back of his tail and rear flippers were gone. It was most likely due to a predator attack. If he had been born that way he would not have survived to be as old as he was. Unfortunately, with this new problem, he probably won't survive. He won't be able to swim as fast to catch his fish, and he probably won't be able to escape the next attack. That is the reality of nature. It was sad to see. I wanted to just take him home with me, but it was a prime example of natural selection.
Question What types of transportation do the tourists and researchers use on the Galapagos? (April Pardym, High School Student)
Answer On the islands you see many people just walking or riding their bicycles. However there are cars and trucks, and even buses. I saw to or three people with dirt bikes too. In order to get from island to island those who don't have their own small outboard motor boat can take get a ride with a "taxi", a boat that takes them from one island to the next.
Question I'm doing a report on San Cristobal and I'm looking for an animal to become a "specialist" on. I wanted to research a furry, land dwelling mammal, something cute. Can you tell me what animal would fit this description? (Meaghan Hobson, High School Student)
Answer Well Meagan, I think that's a great project, and even though this animal is sort of a land and water dweller, I think the sea lion fits that description perfectly. They certainly are cute!
Question When you are on the islands do you have certain restrictions that you have to abide by? For example do you have restricted areas that you are limited to? (Brian Batchelor, High School Student)
Answer Yes we do. On each of the islands that are part of the national park, we are only allowed to be on the specified trails that are outlined. The guides are with us at all times, and we stay where we are allowed to be. Some of the islands, such as Tower Island, have only a few places that people are allowed to be. The rest of the island is cut off to tourists. Scientists who are on the island for research and who have written permission are the only people allowed to be in the "cut off" sections.
Question Have you gained a new perspective for why wildlife preservation is important to our future and our kid's future while visiting the Galapagos Islands? (Kimberly Pace, High School Student)
Answer Actually, I have always felt very strongly about wildlife preservation. There are so many species of animals that are long-gone and that you and I will never have a chance to see first hand. That is a terrible shame. Today I visited Lonesome George, who is the last of a particular sub-species of the Giant tortoise. It was sad to think that a person has to come all the way out the islands to see the last of this race. There is no female of his kind, so once George dies, that's the end of the line for his sub-species. My kids might never get to see the very same kinds of animals that I have seen on this trip. So, yes, I do think that wildlife preservation is important -- it's extremely important -- and I encourage people all over the world to get involved environmentally however they can.
Question Where in the US did you depart from to go on the trip and how long did it take to get to the Galapagos Islands? What methods of transportation did you use and did you need any special medical immunizations? (Robert Haas, Middle School Teacher)
Answer It was a long trip for sure! Sherri and I both live in Texas. First we caught a flight from the DFW airport in Texas to Miami. Then from Miami we flew to Guayaquil, Ecuador. From that airport we took about a ten-minute bus ride to a hotel in Guayaquil. The next morning we woke up bright and early and got back on the bus and drove back out to the airport. This time we boarded a smaller plane that flew us out to the island of Baltra. From that airport we boarded bus that took us to the coastline. That ride was only three to five minutes long. Once we got to the coastline, we boarded little rafts (the same ones that have taken us from our ship to the different islands each day) that took us out to our ship, the M.S. Polaris. The ship is too big to come in to the little inlet that we were standing on. So it was a pretty long journey! We weren't required to get any immunizations, however it was recommended that we get boosted on our tetanus shots, which I did.
Question How did you become a part of the team? And what inspired you to come out and explore with the scientists? (Corey Shapiro, Middle School Student)
Answer I am a former student of Sherri Steward's from Grapevine High School in Grapevine, Texas. She was my Advanced Ecology teacher. I have known her for four years now. It was she who was selected as a teacher ambassador to the trip, to be in charge of the "cyber field trip." Sherri had a GTE GIFT fellowship several years ago, and GTE is also the corporate underwriter of Scientific American Frontiers. That's how her name came up. She then had to find a student interested in science and willing to make the journey. I was head of the Ecology Center back when I was in high school, so she knew that I was willing to get involved and had a genuine love for science. She called me up, on my birthday of all days, and asked me if I would be interested. She didn't have to twist me arm. As soon as she said the word "Galapagos" I was in. And I have enjoyed it the entire time I've been here!
Question Do you interact with the animals or feed them, or do you try to stay away so that they will keep their natural instincts? (Erica Osborn and Matt Perkins, High School Students)
Answer We can get pretty close to the animals, but we are not allowed to touch them. If the animals get curious and come up and touch us, that's O.K. As long as we don't reach out for them. We try to leave them alone in their natural habitat. They don't fear people though, so we can get pretty close.
Question What do you think is the most important concept about biology that the Galapagos Islands showcases? (Carolyn Broucek, High School Teacher)
Answer I think that the most important thing to note about the islands is simply the fact that there is life here at all. Just think, the islands began as nothing but hot lava that dried and formed into volcanic rock. Then over millions of years began to show signs of life. Many of the plant and animal species are found only on these islands and nowhere else in the world. That's an amazing testament to what Mother Nature can do.
Question What is the fastest land animal in the Galapagos Islands? (Tiffany, Matt, Mohamed, and Jon, Middle School Students, NJ)
Answer Well guys, that's a tricky question. If you want to know what the fastest native land animal, then it would probably be the land iguana. They can move pretty fast when they want to. However, since a few of the islands have people living on them, those people over the years have introduced new species such as cattle, pigs, dogs, cats, rats, and even horses. We all know that horses are pretty fast, but they are not native to the islands.
Question What is being done to prevent people from inhabiting the Galapagos Islands? (Erika Hartwig, High School Student)
Answer Actually several things have been done just recently. There used to be no laws that restricted native Ecuadorians from moving out to the islands. Although, there hadn't really been much of a need for such a law because the islands make for pretty harsh living conditions with no fresh water at times and no electricity. But once tourism picked up, many people thought it might be a good opportunity to move out here and try to make a better living. So, not too long ago, the government put restrictions on living on the islands. There were people who were forced to leave the islands for one reason or another, and now the only way a person can come here to live is with signed authorization from the government based on work or family -- or they have to have a three-month tourist visa.
Question Is this not the time of your life? Have you been able to get up close and pet any of the animals or marine life? We miss you. See you for the holidays. (Chris and Natalie)
Answer Hi guys! I miss you all too. It has been so much fun. It's really very educational too. Yes I have been able to get up extremely close to the animals because they have no fear of humans. We aren't allowed to reach out and touch them, however, if they come up to you to investigate and you stay still, it's possible that they will reach out and touch you.

Just the other day I was on the most beautiful beach that had several female sea lions taking naps in the sun. Playing close by the adults were four sea lion pups that were maybe just a month old. They were the cutest things. I was laying in the sand near the surf with two other people, just watching them romp around with each other, and they kept getting closer and closer to us. So I stayed pretty still and just remained natural, and one little guy came right up to me to investigate. He sniffed around me, then got right up in my face and kissed my cheek. Don't worry -- I got plenty of pictures of them.
Question How have you liked the trip so far? Have you learned anything new about the land iguanas? (Laura Spanel, Middle School Student)
Answer Hi Laura. Yes, so far I have really enjoyed the trip. It has been very exciting, and very interesting. I have been learning all kinds of things. As far as the land iguanas are concerned, one thing I didn't know before coming out here was that primarily eat a particular kind of cactus. I didn't ever know the islands had cactus on them!
Question How many different types of animals have you seen? (Tina Esteves-Wolff, Middle School Student)
Answer Hi Tina. I have seen all kinds of animals. It has been so much fun. On land I've seen a variety of birds like finches and boobies. I've also seen different types of crabs and lizards. And of course I have seen both the land and marine iguanas. On the beaches and in the water I've seen quite a few sea lions and sea lion pups. When we went snorkeling yesterday we saw a variety of fish, two sea turtles, and an eagle ray. So I certainly am seeing a lot of things that I never would get to see at home in Texas.
Question Are you afraid of any of the animals that you might encounter during the trip in the Galapagos Islands? (Shannan Curtin, Middle School Student)
Answer Actually there really isn't much reason to be afraid. The animals here are protected, and because of that they seem to have no fear of us coming to visit them in their natural habitat. So they aren't very aggressive. You can get very close to them here, and they act like they don't even know it. So to answer that question I would have to say no. I haven't been afraid of anything while being here, and I don't anticipate being so.
Question What is the largest living animal in the Galapagos Islands? (Chelsea, Kalissa, Sarah, Elementary School Research Team)
Answer Out of all of the animals in the water and on land here in the Galapagos Islands, the largest of them all is the sperm whale.
Question Which island on your trip do you think will be the most interesting to visit, and why? (L. Hoyles, Middle School Teacher)
Answer That's a difficult question to answer. All the islands are so beautiful, and so amazing, that it's hard to say which one will be the best. And since I have never been to any of the islands ever before, I must admit that I'm looking forward to seeing each one just as much as the next. I think they will all be fantastic!
Question What is your favorite animal on the Galapagos Islands? (KaSandra Smith)
Answer The land animal I am most looking forward to seeing is the tortoise; the marine animal is the marine iguana!


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.