Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Savage, Bizarre, Hellish and Beautiful:
National Geographic Channel Explores The Galapagos

Erupting Volcanoes, Giant Tortoises, Leaping Lizards, Breathtaking Views, Diving Birds and Rarely Filmed Sites and Creatures. Go Inside This Living Laboratory of Evolution.

“The natural history of this archipelago is very remarkable: it seems to be a little world within itself; the greater number of its inhabitants, both vegetable and animal, being found nowhere else.”

— Charles Darwin

Miles off the coast of South America emerge the peaks of enormous undersea volcanoes. Dynamic dots of land forever on the move, isolated from the rest of the world, they are a place where time has stood still. Savage, bizarre, unique and unforgiving, they are the unparalleled biological laboratory that first inspired Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution. These islands are the Galápagos.

On Sunday, March 18, 2007, at 8 p.m. ET/PT, the National Geographic Channel (NGC) takes you to these islands that changed the world in a stunning three-hour high-definition event. Almost three years in the making, culled from more than 300 hours of high-definition (HD) footage, Galápagos is the first in-depth, full-access film made in over 20 years about these 13 extraordinary islands and the wondrous array of wildlife that calls them home. This special also takes viewers back millions of years to the eruptions that created these islands and deep inside the geological conveyor belt that keeps them on the move today.

With incredible access to the islands, Galápagos features sites, creatures and events rarely caught on film. State-of-the-art underwater cinematography, breathtaking aerial footage and time-lapse photography show a pristine oasis thriving in our modern world. From land, sea and air, Galápagos features some of the most amazing creatures and some of the most magnificent vistas on the planet.

“There has not been a comprehensive film about the Galápagos in over 20 years,” said producer Patrick Morris. “We spent 18 months straight shooting in the Galápagos, with access to the most remote areas, rarely seen by visitors. The results are absolutely breathtaking.”

Ninety-five percent of the prehuman biodiversity of the Galápagos remains intact, and no other island ecosystem comes close to this pristine achievement. From the first documented visit in 1535 to Darwin’s historic 1835 expedition to the modern-day tourist invasion, Galápagos brings to life the history of these islands and highlights current efforts to preserve their natural balance.

Scale the majestic mountains to find some of the world’s most bizarre creatures living on the lava-coated crust. Follow blue-footed boobies that dive deep beneath the ocean from 80 feet in the air; primitive iguanas that roam high atop volcanic rock; giant tortoises weighing as much as 600 pounds scaling the landscape; short-eared owls on their hunt for seabirds; and “dragons” that slither on the shores from the sea. And observe the distinct types of finches that greeted Darwin years ago, each with a beak that has uniquely evolved from a common ancestor to enable the birds to thrive on different foods found on the main islands of the archipelago. Darwin’s monumental theory of evolution — developed from his observations on the Galápagos — revolutionized how mankind views its own origins and our relationship with the natural world around us.

Then leave the relative security of dry land to plunge below the waves for breathtaking footage of some of the over 500 species of fish and bizarre creatures, including transparent deep-ocean plankton floating through the sea, brought to these waters by several major currents churning beneath the surface. Also see the strange barnacle blennies (thought to have disappeared after the El Niño of 1998 -1999) in their home on the ocean floor, while hundreds of scalloped hammerhead sharks and penguins feast in these rich and abundant waters.

Each hour of the special examines the islands from a different perspective. In hour one, discover the unique geology of the islands and how they came to be formed. Then climb to the rim of the Sierra Negra volcano on the island of Isabela and look down into the mouth of a modern-day volcano. Cameras capture the first eruption in 25 years — from the very edge of the lava flow. “The feet of my tripod melted and my lens got damaged, but we kept safe and got the shots,” recounted cameraman Paul Stewart.

Stunning cinematography also takes viewers from the simmering summits to the bustling shores. Surf the waves with a 500-pound sea lion and marvel at the “beachmaster” protecting his access to females, and see the world’s only sea lizard that dives up to 30 feet under water in search of algae.

The second hour delves deeper into these islands and what makes them a vibrant crucible of life. Follow Darwin’s legendary exploration as he journeys from island to island observing how nature evolves and adapts to survive. From finches to mockingbirds, explore the living laboratory of evolution that inspired Darwin, offering him additional clues as he unraveled one of nature’s greatest riddles and arrived at his theory of natural selection. And see for yourself the variations in the islands’ most famous occupants, the tortoises, from those with dome-shaped shells found at higher elevations to those with saddle-shaped shells found at lower elevations.

The third hour highlights how these islands continue to be shaped by relentless forces of change. While life on the islands has proven both resilient and adaptable, recently, a threatening new force has emerged: humans. More than 100,000 visitors come to the Galápagos each year, and with them come non-native species and other intrusions that threaten the unblemished character of the islands. What can be done to curb these problems and protect this precisely balanced ecosystem? Today, it is our impact on Galápagos — and how we choose to manage it — that will determine the islands’ future.

Join the National Geographic Channel as it explores the challenging terrain and cruel climate of the exotic and unexpected Galápagos Islands. And discover how its inhabitants are proof of a masterful survival story, perpetually braving the harsh elements of this dangerous but marvelous land. As Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

Galápagos is produced by Wildvision for the National Geographic Channel. Series producer is Patrick Morris. Executive producer is Michael Gunton and producer is Andrew Murray. For the National Geographic Channel, executive producer is Ashley Hoppin; senior vice president of special programming is Michael Cascio and executive-in-charge of production is John Ford.

For more information, visit http://www.ngcgalapagos.com/.