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Image Caption: Galapagos Is
This photograph centers on the two westernmost Galapagos Islands--seahorse-shaped Isla Isabela and the smaller round Isla Fernandina to its west. All of the 19 islands are volcanic in origin, and the craters of several of the shield volcanoes are visible as circular features on each of the islands. The two islands shown in this picture contain the most active volcanoes of the Galapagos. Fernandina last erupted in January-February 1995, with red-hot lava pouring into the sea. After 20 years of inactivity, Cerro Azul on Isla Isabela, last erupted in September-October 1998. Cerro Azul is southwesternmost volcano is Isla Isabela. At 82 miles long, Isla Isabela is the largest of the islands, and comprises half of the land area of the archipelago. The islands are famous for their unique flora and fauna. Charles Darwin's observations of these species in 1835 contributed to the formation of his ideas on natural selection. Some of the most unique species include flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins, giant land tortoises, and Galapagos finches. The range of Galapagos penguins is restricted to these western islands where upwelling enriches the ocean productivity, and the adaptation of a typically Antarctic bird family to the equator is an ecological marvel. Giant land tortoises are thought to have the oldest lifespans of any animal on Earth, but have been driven near to extinction; during the most recent eruption of Cerro Azul, one tortoise was killed and many had to be relocated. The 13 species of Galapagos finches on the islands, although varied in form and lifestyle, are the descendants of an ancestor that happened to colonize this isolated archipelago. The human population of the entire archipelago is about 10,000.