World War II

World War II

From Oxford, Pete, and Graham Watkins. Galapagos: Both Sides of the Coin. Morgansville: Imagine Publishing, 2009. Print. Available for purchase in our online store.

US plane over North Seymor. Photo source:

The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 enhanced the strategic importance of the Galapagos Islands as a potential refueling station for trans-oceanic transport. In 1911, the US suggested a 99-year lease of the islands in return for US$15 million. Later, the US and Ecuador discussed the rental or purchase of San Cristóbal, or of the whole archipelago. With the advent of the Second World War, the strategic significance of Galapagos grew, and, in 1941, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and with concern about Japanese actions in East Asia, the US approached Ecuador with the idea of establishing a US airbase on Baltra Island to protect the Panama Canal. At the end of 1941, US forces arrived from the Panama Canal Zone.

In 1942, the US Sixth Air Force constructed the air base which was to have important long-term consequences for the islands. In 1943, this base was home to 2,474 US officers and men and 750 civilian laborers; as such, this was the largest colonization of the islands to that date. In 1941, the civilian population of the Galapagos Islands was 810 people. The arrival of so many people increased the demand for water, fish, and agricultural products, and threw a lifeline to the people eking out a livelihood on the islands. Base crews constructed a water pipeline from the highlands to Wreck Bay, in San Cristóbal, and used barges to transport water to Baltra Island. The availability of water in Wreck Bay made San Cristóbal more attractive to immigration and meant that people could move down to live in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. The greatest legacy was the construction of the first land-based airport in the islands—now modernized to serve as the main entry point for most travelers to the Galapagos Islands. The US closed the air base in 1946; residents dismantled the structures left behind, using the components to build many of the early houses in Puerto Ayora and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.


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