By Isabella Futchi
If you’ve ever taken a biology course, you’ve heard of Charles Darwin and his trip to the Galapagos Islands.
Nine Youngstown State University students and three biological science professors travel to the Galapagos Islands on March 7-15 during spring break 2020 to study the islands’ ecosystem diversity and Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection.
Ian Renne, associate professor of ecology, said he’s been stimulating student interest in the Galapagos expedition for years and has finally recruited enough students to go.
“It is a trip I have been thinking about for quite some time. I have been there before and it’s going to be incredible to see so many interesting organisms,” Renne said.
According to UNESCO, the Galapagos have a large diversity of organisms due to their geographic location, and they have three ocean currents that make the islands some of the most nutrient-rich marine ecosystems in the world.
The Galapagos Islands are located about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador in South America.
Heather Lorimer, associate professor of biological sciences and professor of genetics, said she is elated about the practical application this experience will provide for students.
“I have been talking about this for many years. It is a premier example of evolution in action. Students who are going along get to see this natural laboratory that they never get to see. It is a great opportunity,” Lorimer said.
Darwin explored the islands in the early 1800s. It’s where he developed the theory of natural selection that led to his famous book “On the Origin of Species.”
One of the perks of the trip is the availability of educated tour guides to guide students and faculty through the islands, according to Renne.
The students will be able to snorkel with sea animals such as the flightless cormorant. It descended from a flying ancestor and lost its ability to fly due to generations of living on the islands.
The group will also witness organisms up close because they have little predator defense due to living on an isolated island.
Renne said the Ecuadorian government only allows 60,000-80,000 tourists to visit the Galapagos Islands each year to reduce the human impact on the islands, keeping pollution minimal and the ecosystems untouched.
“These islands one might think are very similar when they are actually quite different. Moving around from island to island is quite difficult,” Renne said.
Thomas Diggins, professor of biological sciences, said this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and that even though YSU is a local university, the institution can still give opportunities like any big university.
“YSU does an incredible job of providing these world experiences to students,” Diggins said.
“Sometimes when you go to places like YSU, you think, ‘Well, I am going local there won’t be much for me.’ But then you’re like, ‘Oh, my god. I can go to the Galapagos Islands. I thought you would have to go to a place like Ohio State for that opportunity,’” he added.
This trip costs $5,200 per person and there are still three spots available. If interested, contact Renne at [email protected]