Earth Expeditions
Close up of a Galápagos tortoise
Marine iguana stares you down
Waves crash against volcanic-rock beach
Students trek into the unique Galápagos landscape
Two marine iguanas basking on rocks
Bright-red sally lightfoot crab clings to rock
Galápagos tortoise with fruit-smeared face
Galápagos finch
Tiny balls of sand deposited by crabs

Course Overview

Visit the realm of giant tortoises; study the forces of evolutionary, geologic, and social change; contribute to sustainable solutions for this astounding archipelago. 

The Galápagos Islands are a spectacular natural treasure and one of the best places on Earth to appreciate change. To biologists, a trip to the Galápagos is something of a pilgrimage to sacred evolutionary ground, for it is here in 1835 that Charles Darwin witnessed how giant tortoises, finches, and other taxa each varied from island to island across the archipelago, observations that, among many others, shaped Darwin’s ideas on evolution. Darwin upturned the prevailing view of life by pointing out--with an uncommon amount of evidence, logic, and persistence—that individuals within the same species vary from one another, that some of these differences are inherited, and that from the differential success of these inherited variations, over time, emerge new races and species.

The Galápagos islands are also the product of geologic change. A hotspot deep below the Pacific Ocean fuels the creation of new Galápagos islands, while the oldest islands, succumbing to the forces of erosion and subsidence as they move eastward on a tectonic plate, submerge and become underwater seamounts. This cycle of island birth and death changes the member set of islands within the Galápagos archipelago, and so alters the landscape for evolution. Some Galápagos species alive today may have evolutionary histories on islands that have long ago sunk beneath the waves.

However, the most powerful changes impacting the immediate future of the Galápagos are of human origin. People are an increasing source of habitat destruction, overexploitation, and introduced species, but they are also the source of heroic efforts to save the Galápagos, and the work of government agencies, researchers, NGOs, educators, and other informed citizens provide some measure of hope.

For this course, we will be working with Ecology Project International (EPI), who have been champions for inquiry-driven field science and sustainability for many years, and who have made tremendous progress working with the Galápagos National Parks Service and others on ecological education. This course is also offered in partnership with the Houston Zoo and furthers its continuing commitment to conservation in the Galápagos. As part of this collaboration, the Houston Zoo, EPI, and Miami University plan to support the work of Global Conservation Fellows from Ecuador in their master’s degree work with the Global Field Program.

Students in this course should be prepared to explore the forces of change in the Galápagos and contribute directly to sustainable solutions to current issues. Almost the entire course takes place on Isla Santa Cruz.  For students who wish to visit other islands after the course, we will provide recommendations of responsible eco-tour operators.

Course Themes

  • Conservation issues and solutions in Galápagos
  • The theory, study, and teaching of evolution
  • Island biogeography
  • Inquiry-driven learning
  • Participatory education
  • Community-based conservation

A typical Earth Expeditions day in Galápagos is likely to include:

  • Study at field conservation sites
  • Open inquiries
  • Interactions with Ecuadorian scientists, educators, and community members
  • Student-led discussions of key course topics
  • Journal writing

Planned Sites in Galápagos

Isla Santa Cruz

The second largest of the Galápagos islands, Santa Cruz’s ecosystems include lush, high-elevation forests with lumbering giant tortoises; arid scrubland with tree-sized opuntia cactus; the dark tubular habitats of the island’s lava tubes; rocky intertidal zones dotted with marine iguanas; and turquoise seascapes patrolled by pelican squads. Isla Santa Cruz is also home to the most sizable human population in Galápagos archipelago, making it the best place to study human impacts and conservation solutions.

Puerto Ayora

This tropical town lies on the southern shore of Isla Santa Cruz and is the island’s economic and cultural center. Puerto Ayora is a relaxed, open, and sunny place where you can encounter sea lions on the docks or be visited by some of “Darwin’s” finches while you eat breakfast at an outdoor café. Important locations in town include the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Galápagos headquarters of Ecology Project International.


Dragonfly Workshops Web-Based Learning Community

Upon acceptance into the program, students will join instructors and classmates in Dragonfly Workshops' collaborative Web community to complete pre-trip assignments. After returning home, students will continue to work in their Web-based community through early December to develop projects initiated in the field, discuss assignments, and exchange ideas. All students should expect to spend two to three hours a week contributing to their Web-Based Learning Community from their home or school computer. Navigating the Web platform is easy--it's designed for people with no prior computer experience. To learn more about this unique Web experience, visit

More Information

For more information on the admissions process, physical requirements, and more, please visit Admissions and/or FAQs.

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Course Details

Notes from the Field


Walking in Darwin's footsteps

Uriel Jurado and Kiersten Hurst

from El Chato Tortoise Reserve, Galápagos National Park, Isla Santa Cruz, Galápagos

Working alongside park rangers in El Chato Tortoise Reserve, AIP graduate students Uriel Jurado (San Diego Zoo Global) and Kiersten Hurst (Woodland Park Zoo) record vital statistics from a Galápagos tortoise. Researchers use the data to monitor the population within this region.

7 credits from Earth Expeditions courses can count toward the AIP master's degree.

Jurado is a high school science and AVID teacher in Anaheim, California, and Hurst is a wildlife care assistant at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Seattle, Washington.

Program Costs