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ECUADOR is an Andean country situated in the northwest of the South American continent. It is bounded to the north by Colombia, east and south by Peru, and the west by the Pacific Ocean. It also includes the Galapagos Islands, located about 965 kilometers or 600 miles west of the mainland.
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The country contains over 30 active volcanoes. Running down the middle of Ecuador from north to south and rising inland from the coastal plain is the Sierra or Central Highlands, consisting of the Andes’ Western and Eastern Cordillera ranges. These are separated by a long, narrow valley forming a high plateau, and they contain vast, towering peaks, several of which exceed 4,876 meters or 16,000 feet in height and some which are active volcanoes. They include Mount Cotopaxi, which is at 5,895 meters or 19,340 feet is the highest active volcano on Earth, and Mount Chimborazo, which is an even more massive 6,310 meters 20,556 feet high.
The coastal area or the Costa consists of plains and is up to 160 kilometers or 100 miles wide. Lying to the east of the Andes and comprising about one-third of the total land area is the Oriente region. It is drained by rivers, which form some of the mighty Amazon headwaters. This region is covered by dense tropical rainforest and is well known for its biodiversity. The climate varies according to altitude from equatorial through warm temperate to mountain conditions.
Much of Ecuador’s coastal area has been cleared of forests to make way to cultivate bananas, sugar cane, coffee, cocoa beans, rice, manioc, and maize. In contrast to this, the highland areas adapted to grazing, dairying, and cereal growing. The fishing industry is important on the Pacific Coast and processed fish, such as tuna and shrimp, is one of its main exports. Ecuador is one of the world’s leading producers of balsa wood. Oil produced in the eastern region and crude oil is Ecuador’s most important export.
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The country’s mainland divides naturally into three regions: a coastal lowland, known as the Costa; a central mass made up of the Andean highlands, called the Sierra; and an interior lowland that forms part of the Amazon Basin, called the Eastern Region (Oriente). A fourth region is made up of the Galápagos Islands. Ecuador is geologically active, with many volcanic eruptions and frequent earthquakes. It is situated on the South American Tectonic Plate, with the Nazca Plate off the west.
Ocean, but the continental shelf of South America extends westward to the Galápagos Islands. The cold Peruvian Current moderates the climate of the Ecuador coast and the Galápagos Islands.
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Galápagos is an ancient Spanish word for “Tortoise.” The Galápagos Islands were discovered in 1535 by the Spanish navigator Tomás de Bertanga, who named the islands for the giant land tortoises found there. The islands became famous throughout the world after the 1835 visit by Charles Darwin on the HMS Beagle. Darwin gathered evidence on plant and wildlife species on the islands, which he later used to formulate his evolution theory based on natural selection. His revolutionary ideas were published in his book On the Origin of Species in 1859. Besides the tortoises, the Galápagos Islands are also home to various land and marine animals and dozens of unique birds, such as the flightless cormorant, which exists nowhere else in the world. About 90 percent of the islands are now set aside as protected wildlife reserves, some with limited access to biologists and other researchers.
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