Floreana: a virtual tour | Battle at the end of eden (multimedia)

  • Floreana Island, Galápagos

    A virtual tour

  • Floreana is located at the southern edge of the Galápagos, about a two-hour boat ride due south of Santa Cruz, the archipelago's most populous island. 

    Map creator: Eric Gaba; Translator: NordNordWest; Source: Wikipedia Commons

  • Ninety-seven percent of Floreana's land is a nature preserve, owned by the Galápagos National Park. The island's 150 residents own the remaining 3% and live in Puerto Velasco Ibarra, Floreana's only town.

  • When I visited, Floreana had no pier. A few feet from shore, I transfered from the boat I was on to a smaller water taxi, capable of pulling up alongside the concrete slab that stood in for a dock. Residents were in the process of building a pier.

  • Entering Puerto Velasco Ibarra, Floreana's only town

  • Floreana's church

  • Up the road, a sign points to Floreana's elementary school. Floreana's roads are unpaved. There are, at most, eight cars on the island.

  • Escuela Amazonas is attended by the kids of Floreana's 38 families. At age 12, the kids leave the island to attend high schools on Santa Cruz or San Cristóbal.

  • A student's drawing reflects efforts by scientists from the Charles Darwin Research Station to help kids on Floreana develop an appreciation and respect for the island's wildlife and environment.

  • A multi-purpose space for community performances

  • This mural lines one wall of the open-air performance space

  • Several billboards, like this one, which hangs in the performance space, can be found around town. Designed by scientists at the Charles Darwin Research Station, the signs aim to foment a sense among residents that they are intimately connected to Floreana's land and wildlife, and that this connection can serve as a source of pride.

  • A billboard on the side of a home celebrates biodiversity

  • Floreana only has a few restaurants, which are essentially set up on the front lawn of owners' homes. This restaurant, run by the family of Floreana's president, features another pro-biodiversity billboard by Charles Darwin Research Station scientists.

  • A finch solicits food from diners at a restaurant run by one of the archipelago's most famous dynasties, the Cruz family.

  • There was no menu. You just walk up to the kitchen window of the house and ask if they'll make you a meal. The food was amazing. Lunch consisted of yucca soup, fried banana chips, and this shrimp-and-rice dish. For dinner: a creamy pea soup, deep-fried yucca root, and salted fish with rice, broccoli, carrots, and green beans.

  • In one of the island's three trucks, I accompanied Floreana's president, Max Freire Salgado, on a tour of the agricultural region located in the fertile, humid highlands. Except for rice and a few other crops, residents grow almost all their own food.

  • As we ascended, the black lava rocks and dry vegetation of the coast morphed into lush and verdant scenery and the temperature cooled.

  • Freire Salgado leads the way with his black lab, Negro, through farmland owned by his 100-year-old grandmother.

  • In the rich soil at Floreana's high altitudes, residents grow pineapple, yucca, oranges, lemons, guavas, bananas, carrots, onions, corn, peas, and coffee (pictured here).

  • Freire Salgado holds great pride in the bounty that Floreana's residents are able to provide for themselves. At one point, standing amid a field of crops, he spread his arms wide and said, "This is our good life."

  • Freire Salgado emerges from a cluster of trees with a handful of limas, a hybrid fruit, half lemon, half orange, that tastes like a sweet lemon.

  • In 2009, the Galápagos National Park eradicated Floreana's feral goats, sheep, and pigs. The free-roaming livestock had overgrazed opuntia cactus, the mockingbird's preferred habitat. "This is a huge difference," said Ruiz Ballesteros, an anthropologist who studies Floreana culture. Before it was like "a paradise, the possibility of hunting animals for free and now you have to breed them." Cows, pigs and donkeys are now kept in enclosures.

  • Freire Salgado's dog, Negro, came along for the ride.

  • As Floreana flirts with modernization, there exist fascinating contrasts between old and new ways of life. Residents live off the land as subsistence farmers ...

  • But they all have Facebook accounts.

  • Some residents burn trash in their backyards ...

  • But the island has more sophisticated recycling infrastructure than most any interstate rest stop in the United States.

  • The view from my hotel—a private beach by virtue of Floreana's extremely low population density. Both Freire Salgado and the anthropologist Ruiz Ballesteros say that residents most value the serenity and simplicity of their lifestyle ...

  • Yet they desire the economic prosperity and entrepreneurial opportunities that restoring the island's native ecosystem could bring in the form of increased tourism.

  • One morning, as residents built Floreana's new pier, a boat-load of recently arrived tourists (background, right) surrounded two marine iguanas that were sunning themselves on black lava boulders. As the cameras clicked away, the reptiles quickly escaped to the sea.

  • Read about the quest to save the Floreana mockingbird and other threatened island species across the globe in the The Atlantic's single, "Battle at the End of Eden."

When Charles Darwin visited the Galápagos in 1835, Floreana was the archipelago’s only inhabited island. Floreana’s endemic mockingbird helped to spur Darwin to his insights on natural selection and evolution. But the species has been extinct on Floreana for more than a century, driven from the island by invasive rats and feral cats to two tiny islets just off the coast. Island Conservation hopes to help Galápagos scientists reintroduce the critically endangered bird by eradicating Floreana’s rats and feral cats in 2014. But first, Floreana’s 150 residents must approve the project. Read the story of the quest to save this iconic bird and other threatened island species across the globe.

All photographs by Amanda R. Martinez and Rob McGinnis unless otherwise noted