PUBLISHED 22 April 2022
It was a real treat to hear Monty Halls deliver his informative talk, peppered with humour, personal stories and inspirational messages. Addressing the young members of the audience, he spoke about the power of their potential and how educating and galvanising young people is critical to change the world.
His two rules to live by, ‘98% of success in life is showing up’ (Woody Allen); and ‘know your moment’ spawned personal stories about his colourful career, and how he went from being a military man to marine biologist, author and broadcaster.
Aside from amusing anecdotes about his various expeditions and associated hairy moments, such as a giant squid trying to nibble his head, he brought to life the wonder of the Galapagos islands and the natural world - noting that only 5% of the deep sea and 20% of the world’s cave systems have been explored. He also debunked myths, explaining that we are 1.3 times more likely to be killed by a vending machine than a shark… which must have been a reassuring thought during the time he filmed with fifteen tiger sharks; or when one took a bite out of his inflatable boat…
As President of the Galapagos Conservation Trust, Monty gave us a fascinating insight into the geography, geology and life of both the 30,000 humans (populating only four of the islands) and animals (dominated by reptiles) who live there. The archipelago in Ecuador has mesmerised since its discovery by the Spanish in 1535, providing inspiration for Darwin’s Origin of the Species (1859) and becoming the first World Heritage Site in 1978. The thirteen islands have never been connected to a continent and therefore have provided a ’laboratory of the world’, assisting an understanding of evolution. Even more curiously, the islands are four million years old, but the animals living on them are ten million years old, owing to a rotating landscape curtesy of the volcanic hotspot on the island of Fernandina.
The Galapagos islands are a rich source of reptiles (referred to as ‘imps of darkness’ by Darwin) and fish not found elsewhere on earth, with the marine iguana - which can reduce the size of its skeleton by shrinking 25% in hard times; giant tortoises the size of a small car; a multitude of exquisite birds, including the Floreana Mocking Bird which informed Darwin’s theory of evolution; forty fish species that don’t exist anywhere else on earth; and a whale with skin twelve inches thick.
However, we also learnt about how invasive species (such as fire ants, pigs and rats) had disrupted the natural ecosystems by being brought inadvertently over on ships to the islands; the impact of fishing; how the tortoise population has been decimated owing to them being a delicious and portable food source for Victorian sailors; as well as the impact of plastic on the oceans.
Shon Downey, Head of Science noted, “The conservation successes on the Galapagos Islands and Western Australia were uplifting and provided a glimpse of what can be achieved when people work together to protect our wonderful natural world.”
Monty’s talk ended with an inspiring message for the audience and in particular, the students. He explained how the conservation work was being driven largely by energetic young scientists and local school children. His parting message, was a Māori saying, adopted by the Galapagos conservationists, ‘Be good ancestors and plant trees you’ll never see.’