Charles Darwin Foundation History

To celebrate our 61st birthday on July 23, 2020, we are launching a new initiative to record and learn from our history!

This new blog about old times is entitled "History of the Charles Darwin Foundation". It will start with a couple of articles focusing on the creation of the Charles Darwin Foundation and its Research Station six decades ago and then, it will grow continuously as an increasing number of “old-timers” will contribute their stories, memories and experiences at the Darwin Station. All who consider themselves “old-timers” are invited to contribute!

This blog is being edited, and in part written, by Peter Kramer, Director of the Charles Darwin Research Station from 1970 to1973, in cooperation with our Communication Officers.

The modified fishing boat, Encentada. Photo: Lars Kabel

Gus Angermeyer ran a backpacker hotel in the town. The place consisted of two small houses with a couple of rooms, two gas burners, a tap, a toilet, and a cement shed in the garden where we slept on the floor. Gus received us, stocky, longhaired, burned brown from the sun, dressed only in a pair of cut-off shorts. An amiable man of around 60. We, three young Danish women and I, hoped there was room for all of us there. There were just two others, one, son of a diplomat, and hippie, had been on Galapagos for a long time and was a true animal lover. He fed the mice in the house and instructed us that we must never kill geckos and the enormous spiders that crawled around under the ceiling – they ate the harmful insects. The other was a German biology student.

I had never heard about Galapagos when I received a letter in February 1962 from a scientist who was looking for an assistant to accompany him to those islands to study Darwin’s Finches for a year. I got the letter in the morning, looked at an atlas during the day and called in the evening telling the man that I was on. I was 21, a biology student in his third semester without any academic degree.

Who were the people who joined forces in the nineteen fifties and created an organization with the aim to set up a research station on the Galapagos Islands? I was able to know some of them when I started working as a biologist and conservationist in the sixties and seventies. At the time, I did not really understand the great significance of what they had accomplished. Most of them were scientists, some specifically evolutionary scientists, some were leaders of important scientific institutions, and all of them had traveled and done work in the tropics. While some had never been on Galapagos, they all, of course, understood the role Galapagos had played in Darwin’s thinking.

Puerto Ayora (1966)

During the 15 years (1964 -1979) that I worked at the Station, I had the good fortune to be part of many expeditions. I visited every larger island and climbed the volcanoes of Isabela island.

The longest and perhaps most noteworthy excursion I undertook with Roger Perry in 1966.

We left Puerto Ayora with several other scientists on the Beagle II, then captained by Bernhard Schreyer. We were taken ashore at a small cove on the east side of Alcedo. From there it is an easy walk on hard-packed pumice just about all the way up to the rim. At that time there was an active geyser on the inner slopes of the caldera and the water was quite good if one boiled it for half an hour or so, to get rid of the sulfur taste and smell.

The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) was established in 1959, the year when the Galapagos National Park was also legally created. Both institutions were set up to protect the wildlife and conserve the ecosystems of Galapagos, - the National Park as a government institution enforcing conservation laws and rules, the CDF as an international organisation undertaking research and providing scientific expertise. The two institutions complement each other and both carry out education and training programs.

Raymond Lévêque: The first Darwin Station Director

It seems that our founders, in parallel to creating the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) legally in 1959, immediately arranged to hire a person to set up the Galapagos field research station, as recommended by Eibl, Bowman and Dorst. In contrast to all other individuals and groups that had previously proposed establishing a research station, CDF launched this project in partnership with an international organization that had the financial muscle and the credibility in Ecuador: UNESCO. I don’t know how UNESCO went about recruiting experts for international jobs at the time, but I suspect candidates were simply found using personal and professional networks of scientists and officials involved. I think the selection criteria were simple: they were looking for a scientist committed to conservation, who would be physically fit and personally independent.


The mission of the Charles Darwin Foundation and its Research Station is to tackle the greatest threats and challenges to Galapagos through scientific research and conservation action, in order to safeguard one of the world’s most important natural treasures.

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Av. Charles Darwin s/n, Puerto Ayora, Galápagos, Ecuador
(593) 5 2526-146 / 2527-013 Ext 101
Quito Office
Francisco Andrade Marín
E6-122 y Av. Eloy Alfaro
+593 (2) 2 231 174

The ‘Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands’, in French ‘Fondation Charles Darwin pour les îles Galapagos”, Association internationale sans but lucratif (AISBL), has its registered office at 54 Avenue Louise, 1050 Brussels, Belgium. Trade Registry # 0409.359.103

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