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UCLA Magazine Summer 2004
Of God and Blue-Footed Boobies
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Summer 2004
Of God and Blue-Footed Boobies
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Professor Steve Strand

Steve Strand, our official Bruin "host" and a member of the UCLA faculty, is crouching motionless behind a rock, pointing his camera at a male great frigate bird perched in a thicket of mangrove on Genovesa Island. The male has green, iridescent feathers on his back, and Strand is waiting for the sun to hit them at just the right angle before clicking the shutter.

Strand hears a familiar sound and looks up to see a Galápagos mockingbird, long-tailed with a sharp bill, and white, gray and brown markings. "Everybody talks about the finches on the Galápagos, but it is really the mockingbird that got Darwin excited," explains Strand, a marine biologist. "Every single island had a clearly different species of mockingbird, and the question was, why would the Creator put a different species on every island and just a single species in South America?"

"Everybody talks about the finches on the Galápagos, but it is really the mockingbird that got Darwin excited."
—Steve Strand

Tall and slender, with a warm manner and quick smile, Strand is a patient tutor who schools us in plant and animal life on the Galápagos. On top of being a knowledgeable scientist, Strand and his wife, Patti, a fellow marine biologist who teaches at El Segundo High School and who is accompanying us to the Galápagos, are inveterate travelers.

They met in 1984 at UCLA. Patti, a freckled, strawberry blonde, was taking a teacher-training course and Strand was one of the instructors. Before the year was out, they had exchanged vows on Strand's 45-foot sloop, Danzante I. In 1990, the husband and wife biologists took off from their teaching posts and set out on an epic voyage to the South Pacific. En route home to Los Angeles, they anchored off Floreana Island in the Galápagos. The next three months were spent in wetsuits and scuba gear submerged in the chilly waters, investigating the Harlequin wrasse, a fish with such varied colors that no two are alike.

While the Ecuadorian government has taken impressive steps to preserve the island ecosystems, fewer safeguards protect the marine world, ravaged in the 19th century by turtle-hunting whalers and buccaneers, and more recently by commercial fishing, oil spills and other environmental degradations. An ardent conservationist, Strand worries about the future of this imperiled underwater world.


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