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Exhibit Features View Of Galapagos Islands

October 9, 2011
By LINDA COMINS Life Editor , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Stunning images of plants and animals populating the Galapagos Islands capture the impressions of Bethany College professors and students who visited the exotic locale earlier this year.

An art exhibit inspired by their cruise is on display in the college's Renner Art Gallery. The show, "Science Becomes Art: A Galapagos Islands Experience," is open to the public through Sunday, Oct. 16.

The show includes photography, video, paintings, drawings and memorabilia installations. Featured artists are Dr. John Burns, professor of biology; Kenn Morgan, professor of fine arts and a 1971 graduate of Bethany; 2011 graduates Sara Drews and Emily Roth; students Stephanie Jacobs, Josh Wentz and Dan Zinn; and Reinhard Jasper, a fellow traveler on the boat, of Paderborn, Germany.

Article Photos

As Burns noted, scientist Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands in 1835 and made observations of the geology and wildlife that contributed to his later formulation of the theory of natural selection. The islands are located in the Pacific Ocean, far from the coast of Ecuador.

Partially retracing Darwin's route, the Bethany College group observed first-hand the odd mix of plants and animals that have colonized the islands after being carried there by rafts of vegetation from rivers 600 miles to the east in South America, in the clay on the feet of migrating birds, or by oceanic currents.

Spectacular inhabitants of the Galapagos include large iguanas that forage in the sea for algae, penguins, flamingos, frigate birds and sea lions.

The boat Golondrina served as home for the group during the voyage through the archipelago. Most days, their activities included hiking over volcanic rocks to sea bird nesting sites and sea lion colonies, and swimming and snorkeling in unspoiled marine waters, inhabited by many species of colorful fish, sea lions and occasional sharks and stingrays. Of special interest to the collegiate participants were species endemic to the Galapagos, such as the marine and land iguanas; blue-footed, red-footed and masked boobies and Darwin's finches.

Morgan, who had traveled previously with Burns and students to Dominica, West Indies, acknowledged that he had only "vague visions" of Galapagos wildlife. Morgan accepted the invitation because, he said, on the earlier trip, "I learned then that being a visual artist among a group of young biologists creates an interesting contrast, regardless of the destination."

Reflecting on this year's trip, Morgan said, "The Galapagos Islands journey provided an outstanding opportunity for a group of budding 'biologists' to think about preserving the memories of what they experienced in pictures. They quickly agreed to my idea of sharing our trip with everyone at Bethany in a Renner Art Gallery exhibition.

"I believe this show may inspire others to be interested in helping preserve the fragile beauty of this amazing archipelago and hopefully some may even be inspired to add a trip to the Galapagos (now on the list of Natural World Heritage Sites in Danger) to their own wish lists," the art professor remarked.

Morgan commented, "It is a physically challenging, mentally exhausting, expensive yet extremely worthwhile destination. Quite simply, this experience changed my life - and for the better. I hope that this exhibit has captured some of the how and why that happened ... That's how 'science became art' at Bethany College in 2011."

Jacobs, a current Bethany student, echoed Morgan's sentiments, saying, "I went on this trip not knowing what I was really getting myself into but it was the most life-changing experience of my life.

"The people of the Galapagos who do not have nearly close to the resources we do are so environmentally conscious it makes our efforts here in the U.S. look like a joke," she commented. "They are so passionate about doing everything possible to preserve their fragile ecosystems that they feel no need to change their habits from ocean to land. I will never forget what it feels like to throw away my toilet paper in a trash can instead of flushing it. But I know that everything I threw away was recycled and did not pollute the islands and the ocean that has moved so much."

Another student, Wentz, remarked, "My Galapagos experience was beyond belief! I learned more than what one can sitting in a biology class hearing about natural selection and adaptations of different species to different climates and environments. It was an experience that I will never forget and I met people from Norway, Ecuador, France, Germany and Ireland that I would never have had to opportunity to meet otherwise! It was so great to see first-hand many of the things I had heard of before in my classes."

Fellow student Zinn reflected, "The trip to the Galapagos was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was so surreal that it feels like it didn't happen. When I think back on all the amazing times we had and all of the things we saw, I am amazed that it actually happened. All of the memories feel like dreams.

"I never imagined that I would ever get to see all the amazing animals that exist only in the Galapagos or that I would get to swim with sea turtles and sharks, or that I would be able to sit on the deck of a boat and watch the sun set on the equator. Every single moment was spectacular," Zinn added.

Reflecting on "the wonder and beauty of those islands," Bethany graduate Drews observed, "To express the wonder of the Galapagos in words would not do them justice. It is a place of awe and wonder. Walking on the pristine beaches, swimming in the warm turquoise water face-to-face with unique fauna ... these islands are a biologist's dream. There are few places left on earth that have the biological integrity of the Galapagos and that makes it critical that they are preserved and respected."

Roth, also a 2011graduate, said, "My trip to the Galapagos was one of, if not the best, experiences I have had thus far. I was given an opportunity of a lifetime."

In the Galapagos, Roth commented, "People of all kinds are united from around the world to share a passion for wildlife. It is the world and nature at its purest. I have the utmost admiration of the national park for the grand efforts of conservation for the islands.

"Every sound, sight and smell is a memory I will cherish. The ability to be surrounded by so many animals at such proximity is something I have never seen before. The Galapagos Islands are truly unique and contain a beauty that cannot be replaced," Roth remarked.

Burns, who organized the trip, said, "For a biologist, being in the Galapagos Islands is a special privilege. Here, we see the same kinds of plants and animals that Darwin saw, and even walk the same rocky paths as he did. His leap in understanding, 'The Theory of Natural Selection,' has endured for more than 150 years with little change, as our most complete explanation yet for how we and other living things evolved."

 
 

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