Saturday, May 29, 2010

Still in Puerto Rico: the natural treasures of Guanica and its mangrove forests

Photos and text by Sally Kneidel, PhD

This is the fifth and last post about a birdwatching and hiking trip to Puerto Rico in March of 2010.

In search of a great beach...and tropical nature
After we left the town of Jayuya in the central mountains of Puerto Rico, we drove to El Bosque Estatal de Guanica, a 10,000-acre subtropical forest on the s.w. coast. We took a short hike on the southern side of the reserve, which is dry scrub forest with sun-bleached rocky soil and stunted, twisted trees. The dry forest gets only 35 inches of rain/year, compared to 15 feet of rain/yr in Puerto Rico's mountainous rain forests. 

The dry forest of Guanica
The dry forest of Guanica has been declared a United Nations Biosphere Reserve, with the highest bird diversity on the island - twice as many bird species as El Yunque rain forest. Guanica's birds include the Mangrove Cuckoo, Antillean Mango, Puerto Rican Tody, Greater Antillean Grackle, Puerto Rican Flycatcher, Puerto Rican Vireo, and lots more. The dry forest also has hundreds of interesting dry-adapted plant species, including cacti and spiny bushes and trees.   
A Pearly-eyed Thrasher in a short, stunted tree of Guanica's dry forest.

Mongooses and non-native mammals in Puerto Rico
The only mammal we saw on the hike was a mongoose. Mongooses from India were introduced to Puerto Rico to control rats, which were also introduced and are abundant. Rats are a big problem for sugar plantations on Puerto Rico, as well as native wildlife.  But rats are nocturnal and mongooses are active only during the day, so the effort failed (like most introductions of nonnative species). Now mongooses are out of control, with no natural predators on the island.  The  mongooses not only prey on native species, such as Puerto Rican parrot nestlings, but are major carriers of rabies.

Other introduced mammals in Puerto Rico include a population of rhesus macaques. The macaques cause problems for native birds by preying on their eggs. A population of free-ranging squirrel monkeys was also introduced when a research station was vandalized in the 1970s.

Alan's research base in the town of Playa Santa
After our short hike (very hot), we left El Bosque Estatal de Guanica for the small coastal town of Playa Santa, where my son Alan was living and working with a bird research team.

Alan, Ken, Matt, and Sadie in Alan's house in Playa Santa

After a quick tour of the house where the whole research team lives and plans their data-collecting forays, we went to the beach of Playa Santa. 

The best beach yet: Playa Santa
Playa Santa is a truly exquisite beach. The beach is forested in places (below).

Most of the trees on the beach had dark-brown termite tunnels running up their trunks and their largest branches (photo below).
There were picnic tables under a few of the trees, where we parked our stuff.
Matt, Ken, Alan, and Sadie

Mangroves grow in the shallow tidal waters of Playa Santa

The mangroves in Playa Santa's intertidal zone

Mangroves are trees that grow only in intertidal zones.  There are around 70 species of mangroves around the world.  With their roots partially submerged and partially in the air, mangrove trees provide habitat and food for hundreds of thousands of animal species, from birds to monkeys to crustaceans. The nooks and crannies of the submerged roots make excellent nurseries for vulnerable fish hatchlings.  At one time, most coastlines of the tropical world supported mangrove forests. With their intricate root systems, these forests encourage the deposition of sediment by slowing the flow of water; they also protect coastlines from erosion, storm surge, and tsunamis.  But in the past few decades, 35% of the world's mangrove forests have been destroyed. For information about protecting mangroves, see the website of the Mangrove Action Project.
The spatially-heterogeneous roots of these mangroves (at Playa Santa) provide unique habitat for wildlife.

The water at Playa Santa was turquoise and so shallow that we could wade out a hundred feet from shore. There were no waves at all.
 Matt, Alan, Ken, and Sadie wading

Intertidal life
While my family waded farther out, I looked for creatures in the foot-deep water.
I saw this Little Blue Heron foraging for fish, and saw her catch one.

I saw this thing, about 5 inches across.  I have no idea what this was, but it looked alive.

The thing above looked like the lining of a burrow, secreted by a marine worm. A lot of marine worms that burrow in abrasive sand secrete soft linings to their burrows. This lining (or "casing") might have worked its way to the surface, if the worm had died. I don't know!  I'm just guessing. If any of you readers know what it is, tell me!

This little mushroom-like thing was interesting, on the ocean floor in about 10 inches of water. I feel like I should know what it is, being a biologist. But I don't. Do you?  It was 2 or 3 inches tall. The stuff around it was seaweed of various species.

We found several sea cucumbers in the intertidal zone. They are echinoderms, related to sea stars (starfish) and sea urchins and sand dollars. They were all alive, and amazing.  I'd never seen one alive before. 
A sea cucumber in Playa Santa's intertidal zone.

Ken holding a sea cucumber

A bigger living sea cucumber, in my own hand

Sea cucumbers are not very active and are almost completely limp out of water. But most species can move slowly across the ocean floor on tiny "tube feet," scavenging for planktonand dead organic matter. In some parts of the world, they're extremely abundant. In China and s.e. Asia, sea cucumbers are popular as human food.

Leaving Playa Santa for San Juan.....and Roberto Clemente
So that was Playa Santa.We left in late afternoon, dropped Alan off at his home, and the rest of us drove back to San Juan to fly home.  In San Juan we stopped by the park that honors the famous baseball player for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Roberto Clemente. Clemente grew up in Puerto Rico.  He died in a plane crash on a humanitarian trip to provide supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua, in 1972. Ken has always been a huge fan of Roberto Clemente.
Ken with one of his heroes
Puerto Rico overall
I loved Puerto Rico because it was new, it was tropical, and I was with my family - we would have had fun anywhere. Do I recommend it as a travel destination?  I do, if you want a tropical island with both mountains and beaches.  It was easy to get to, easy to book, easy to navigate because most of the residents speak English, and many of them speak it very well.  Calls from the U.S. are not international, and P.R. uses U.S. dollars. Yet, it still feels like Latin America or the Caribbean because Spanish is the first language, and the culture is not the same as the continental U.S. For me, the culture was very different from home - the music, styles of dress, the food. That was great, I don't want to go somewhere just like home. So Puerto Rico was easy and comfortable, but different enough to feel that we weren't "in Kansas anymore."

We saw a lot of great birds in Puerto Rico. But if wildlife is your first priority, I'm not sure Puerto Rico would be my first recommendation.. The only native mammals living there now are bats. Islands in general have less wildlife than mainlands - at least that's true for smaller islands.

I guess I'm spoiled by the prolific wildlife of Costa Rica: white-faced capuchins, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, native squirrel monkeys, sloths, ant-eaters, coatimundis, agoutis, tayras, red-eyed tree frogs, poison-dart frogs, and some of the world's most impressive venomous vipers. If you're looking for spectacular tropical wildlife not far from the U.S., Costa Rica will provide more.

Just depends on what you're after.

Anyway, we had a great time in Puerto Rico.  If you're going, I do recommend all the places we stayed, which I've mentioned in my Puerto Rican posts listed below. In San Juan, we spent 2 nights at Coral by the Sea hotel, which was right on the beach, comfy and clean, an easy walk from restaurants, cheaper than its competitors, and 5 minutes from the airport. Its contact number is 787.791.6868.

Tropical nature! For me, there's nothing better.

My previous posts about our March 2010 trip to Puerto Rico:

Old San Juan: Steep, tropical, colorful

Exploring the tropical rainforest in Puerto Rico: El Yunque Caribbean National Forest

Puerto Rican beach pleasures, and the Jayuya Uprising

In Puerto Rico: Jayuya and the Toro Negro State Forest

See also Alan Kneidel's posts about Puerto Rico at

Keywords: Puerto Rico wildlife marine life mangroves introduced mammals rhesus macaques tropical islands Costa Rica

Monday, May 24, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill 2010: Drilling for Dollars, Not Oil

by Ken Kneidel, PhD

We’re discovering a lot of money, not a lot of oil
The oil under the Gulf is not being extracted to extend our ability to live in an oil-driven economy, nor to provide energy independence from the Middle East. BP is drilling in the Gulf solely because the corporation can make a lot of money in doing so. In terms of the world’s supply, the volume of oil in BP’s spewing oil field in the Gulf of Mexico is a piddling amount, roughly 3 billion barrels. That might seem like a lot, but currently the world is using 31 billion barrels of oil per year. Dividing 31 by 3 tells us that at our current rate of usage, the oil in this particular oil pocket could supply the world for just of a year…35 days. When converted to dollars, however, this small volume of oil becomes an enormous pile of change for BP. With crude oil currently selling at $70 a barrel, the value of the field (if all were extracted) would be $210 billion dollars. Simply put, this oil is being drilled for monetary profit; all other rationales lag far behind.

Our oil reserves are waning
Secondly, the fact that BP is drilling in such a hard-to-access location tells us that the supply of oil on this planet is running dangerously low. We’ve already depleted all the easy-to-reach pockets of oil. BP’s well lies under one mile of ocean and 30,000 feet of the Earth’s crust. The list of other recent “major” discoveries is similar – trivial amounts in difficult places. Chevron announced in 2006 the discovery of a similar field in the Gulf (3 to 15 billion barrels, six miles under the ocean surface – a 35 to 177 day world supply). The “new” oil fields under melting Arctic ice have been estimated to contain roughly 90 billion barrels (a 2.9 year world supply). According to the website, we have 15,536 days until we run out of oil, consuming at our current rate. That’s 42.6 years. James Howard Kunstler, in this book, The Long Emergency, calculates a 37-year supply. I’ve found internet sites with dates all over the place; the U.S. Department of Energy gives an estimate of 100 years. But for those who latch on to the 100-year date as a means for supporting lack of concern, remember that these estimates are based on current world usage rates. With development in India and China increasing (the two are selling 1.2 million new cars per month), all of the dates could shrink significantly. Also, don’t forget to factor in population growth, which many omit in their calculations. How do we cut the absolute amount of oil that we consume with the world’s population of 6.8 billion projected to swell to 9 billion in 50 years? In addition, it’s not just oil that’s in short supply According to the US Geological Survey, our reserves of lead, tin, copper, iron, and bauxite are projected to last 17, 19, 25, 54, and 68 years respectively.

 Future environmental catastrophes 
are certain
If we are unwilling to curb our energy usage (the total consumption has held steady over the past 10 years), environmental disasters like this will occur again. We can blame the spill on lack of oversight or short-cuts in safety technology. And maybe the US will enact changes to make drilling safer in years down the road, but look at other locations on Earth. In a recent NY Times editorial, Lisa Margonelli stated that a coastal spill as large as that of Exxon-Valdez has occurred every year since 1969 in environmentally-lax Nigeria, which supplies the US 10% of its oil.Will action be taken by the corporate world, or the government of Nigeria, to put an end to these environmental disasters? Do Americans care about ecosystems off the coast of Nigeria? The non-human organisms on our planet interact without regard to political boundaries. In our desperation, we continue to look at the oil fields in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Its 10 billion barrels offers the world a 118 day supply, and for the US just 1.3 years at our current usage rate of 7.6 million barrels a year. How long before we drill that too?

The consequences are severe for everyone
We are destined to suffer dramatically from dragging our feet in weaning ourselves from dependence on oil. I’m reminded of the story where the farmer, when setting out to town by riding his donkey, begins by belting the donkey on the head with a two-by-four. When asked by a bystander why he hit the donkey so brutally before even starting his journey, he replied “Well, first I have to get his attention!” This Gulf oil spill is a similar wake-up call. It’s urgent that we come to our senses and address larger issues that lie ahead over the next 100 years. Just consider the economic and social implications of running out of oil as our primary energy supply. Without jet fuel, what would happen if air transport came to a halt in just a few decades? Can anyone envision an airplane fueled by solar power, a fuel-cell, a windmill, or natural gas? What about our diesel-powered rail and trucking systems? How can we collect and distribute the food we grow on huge corporate farms, or the cotton we grow, or the polyester we manufacture for clothing? How will we get people to work without gasoline? How will we build the windmills or the solar power cells without the plastics produced from oil? How will we support the 2.5 billion people worldwide who live in cities? Over 3.4 billion people live within 120 miles of coastlines. If sea levels rise just a meter, there will be refugees from cities well beyond New Orleans. Add Miami, New York, Tokyo, Mumbai, Shanghai, and Jakarta for a start.

Why “crying wolf” is the right thing to do
I’m afraid that by now many readers are steaming, some writing this off as insane left-wing liberal tree-hugging alarmism. But the BP oil spill is a wake-up call that we all must take seriously. In his book Collapse, Jared Diamond addresses the wisdom of being conservative when setting criteria for raising environmental alarm. Let me borrow from him and illustrate with the smoke alarm in my kitchen. I note, often with irritation, that it sometimes goes off with the slightest hint of fire – a piece of over-cooked toast will get it wailing, sometimes just turning on a cook-top burner that has an oily smudge on it will trigger the alarm. The piercing whistle is annoying when it goes off, but after I settle down and realize that all is well, my rational self notes that I want my smoke alarm to work that way. If the alarm goes off when my house is already on fire, it would do me no good, my loved ones and valuable possessions could be gone. Similarly, we need to put our environmental warning systems on a low setting. We can turn our backs on the BP oil spill and write it off as a mistake in technology. But I implore you to look at the big picture. Ignoring warnings like this carries us ever closer to the point where our wake-up call will come too late. We’ve been hit between the eyes with a two-by-four. Time to stop the arguing and denial, and take serious steps toward preparing for the inevitable day when the oil is gone. We need to take what oil’s left and direct it towards supporting a massive investment in the manufacture and research of sustainable energy sources. The enormity of what’s at stake demands our immediate attention.

Key words: BP oil spill remaining oil James Howard Kunstler The Long Emergency Jared Diamond Collapse how much oil is left Lisa Margonelli

Monday, May 10, 2010

We're importing oil from poor countries with far more spills

A just-hatched sea turtle making its way to the water. Photo courtesy of

This post now on

After my post a few days ago about the oil spill and its consequences to wildlife, I got a few interesting messages from friends and acquaintances.

My friend Sonia, the director of a land conservancy in the Southwest U.S., sent me this note on Facebook:

"This whole situation is just heartbreaking...and infuriating. A FB friend is sharing photos from a friend of hers who found three dead sea turtles in coastal AL yesterday. She said she has lived there 16 years and never found one dead - then three in a day."

Jane, another close friend in my hometown of Charlotte, sent me this message via FB:

"I have been listening all day to ramifications of the spill. The only solution is to get to the root cause: too much demand for gasoline. I feel very guilty as one who uses petroleum as much as anyone."

Jane hit the nail on the head - we all should be concerned about our persistent and unyielding consumption. During the past decade, even with all the publicity about climate change and carbon footprints and our country's disproportionate consumption of oil, the United States has not reduced its consumption of oil at all; it's roughly the same as it was in 2000.

The brilliant Lisa Margonelli changed my thinking

I heard Lisa Margonelli on NPR last week, in a startling (to me) discussion of our oil consumption. She really enlightened me on one subject. Like most environmentalists, I've always been firmly opposed to offshore drilling, especially off the coast of my state (NC), but also opposed to drilling in the Arctic or the Gulf or any place where drilling might threaten already-stressed and declining wildlife populations.

But Lisa Margonelli had a different perspective on that, in her May 1 Op-Ed piece in the NY Times and her remarks on NPR. Lisa directs the Energy Productivity Initiative at the New America Foundation. Her book, Oil On the Brain: Petroleum's Long, Strange Trip to Your Tank, describes the culture and economy of the oil-supply chain.

As Lisa pointed out, none of us want oil wells on our own coastline. She guesses that the likely outcome of the recent BP spill will be a moratorium on offshore drilling. Yay! We'd all like to see birds and sea turtles win out for a change over big oil corporations. Lisa says that, emotionally, she would enjoy the moratorium too.

But....the problem is that the U.S. is not reducing its overall oil consumption. Therefore, the oil that isn't produced domestically must be imported. Lisa had some interesting info about the ramifications of importing oil. It doesn't come from rich countries like Saudi Arabia, which is what I guess we all thought. No, it comes from places that are so poor they have no environmental safeguards and no financial resources to enforce laws or to clean up spills. Places like Kazakhstan, Angola and Nigeria.

Said Lisa, "Kazakhstan, for one, had no comprehensive environmental laws until 2007, and Nigeria has suffered spills equivalent to that of the Exxon Valdez every year since 1969. As of last year, Nigeria had 2,000 active spills."


Reminds me of the other environmentally-exploitive products we import, like beef from the Amazon and palm-oil from Indonesia.

What's to be done?

The internet is full of proposals for solutions, most of them sensible.

Said John Fitzpatrick , PhD, Director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, whom I respect enormously: " We must never again forget the fundamental lessons of this disaster. The unthinkable is possible, and must be planned for in advance. As we assess risks versus rewards, as we fully audit the true costs of energy exploration and extraction, we need to incorporate and properly mitigate the enormous risks and costs of disasters like [this oil spill]."

Yes that sounds good. If we're going to drill offshore, or anywhere, we need to be ready to plug the spew quickly when the machinery fails.

More importantly, we need to reduce our oil consumption! As my friend Jane said...we're all responsible for the consequences of oil drilling. We're all responsible for the dead sea turtles Sonia's friend sees washing up on the Alabama shore. We're all responsible for the unimaginable oil mess in Nigeria.

Can Obama help us reduce our oil consumption? Who is going to lead us on this? Will we maintain our addiction to oil until we finally run out in about 43 years? I wish it was 3 years and not 43, because I frankly can't imagine that Americans will stop the gluttony until the the last drop is gone.


John W. Fitzpatrick, PhD, Director of Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. "How bad is the oil spill? Ask the pelicans. " May 4, 2010.

Lisa Margonelli. "A spill of our own." New York Times. Op-Ed Page. May 1, 2010.

Shashank Bengali. "Gulf spill's lesson: The era of 'easy oil' is over." The Charlotte Observer. May 9, 2010.

Some of my previous posts on the oil spill and other coastal environmental issues: 
Oil spill 2010: Danger to wildlife considered "terrifying"

10% of Louisiana underwater by 2100, says recent study

North Carolina's vital coastal breeding grounds vulnerable to rising seas

Copenhagen data confirm: 10% of Florida underwater by end of the century

10,000 pythons breeding in Florida, says new USGS report

More info:
American Bird Conservancy

Key words:

Lisa Margonelli importing oil sea turtles reducing consumption oil spill Nigeria Kazakhstan Angola foreign spills Louisiana Alabama

Monday, May 03, 2010

Oil Spill 2010: Danger to Wildlife Considered "Terrifying"

Louisiana marsh, photo from USGS

This post is now on Google News. Also on which is partnered with Newstex, TOPIX, EIN McClatchy-Tribune News Service and other media outlets.

On Thursday April 29, the slick from the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico covered about 1,150 miles. By the end of the next day, the size of the oil slick had more than tripled to 3,850 miles. Said Hans Graber of the University of Miami, this rapid rate of expansion suggests that the oil is now spurting from the ocean floor much more quickly than it was.

The broken oil well that's spewing more than 200,000 gallons per day is a mile underwater, making efforts to shut it off extremely difficult. Crews are using at least 6 remotely operated vehicles to try to stem the flow, but so far have been unsuccessful. It may be weeks or even months before the gush is stopped.

Long term consequences to coastal ecosystems and fish

What are the long term repercussions of such an unprecedented volume of oil hitting our Gulf Coast, and perhaps the coasts of Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina as well? The Gulf spill is at the top of "the Loop Current," a part of the Gulf Stream that sends water around Florida and as far north as Cape Hatteras, NC.

Many people are focused on the impact to the fishing industry, which will indeed be hit hard. "Louisiana, after Alaska, is the second-largest seafood producing state," said Dr. Ralph Portier of Louisana State University. The wetlands of the Mississippi Delta are essential to much of that sea life. Many oceanic fish lay their eggs in protected estuaries and marshes, where the hatchlings are safer from predators and food may be more accessible. Crabs, shrimp, and oysters are also completely dependent on coastal wetlands. "Every crevice, creek, bayou, bay, where water flows in and out of coastal grasses - that's the habitat for all these coastal nurseries. If we lose it or it's impacted, we have a real long-term effect," said Dr. Portier of LSU.

Marsh grasses are naturally resilient, but the coastal ecosystem of Louisiana has already experienced a number of serious insults. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the hurricanes of 2005 turned about 217 square miles of marsh into water. If nature had been left alone, that marshland would be replenished by sediment flowing down the Mississippi River. But levees holding back the Mississippi River prevent the natural deposition of sediment. The marshes are chopped up by navigation channels and pipeline canals, too, which allow saltwater into freshwater marshes, slowly killing the marshes.

"Hanging by a fingernail"

"The trouble with our marshes is they're already stressed, they're already hanging by a fingernail," said Dr. Denise Reed of the University of New Orleans.

And yet it now seems possible that the influx of oil from the still-gushing well in the Gulf could deliver the killing blow to the whole coastal ecosystem. The volume of oil that now seems likely to wash up on the Louisiana coast could overwhelm the coastal grasses' ability to recover. If the roots die, the plants die and the ground underneath turns to mud and disappears into the sea within a year, said Dr. Irving Mendelssohn of Louisiana State University.

Even if the volume of oil does not increase dramatically, it is still likely to move through channels into the saltwater marshes. Then, even a minor tropical storm could send it farther inland to the freshwater marshes, which are more fragile and almost impossible to clean, said Mendelssohn.

Especially valued fish likely to be heavily impacted include the Atlantic tarpon and the overfished Atlantic bluefin tuna.

What about other wildlife?

The Gulf has four species of sea turtles and all of them are endangered. Turtles and marine mammals don't try to avoid oil slicks, said Jackie Savitz of the conservation group Oceana. Consequently they wind up eating the oil; it also blocks their airways.

Not only coastal birds, but migratory songbirds will feel the effects

Of course, thousands of shore birds and marsh birds breed in the coastal marshes of the Gulf Coast. That includes species such as white ibises, anhingas, purple gallinules, common gallinules, pied-billed grebes, wood ducks, king rails, clapper rails, black-necked stilts, killdeer, Louisana herons, black-crowned and yellow-crowned night herons, green herons, little blue herons, snowy egrets, great egrets, black skimmers, American coots, mottled ducks, and so on. But it's not just the shore birds and marsh birds that will be impacted by a heavy or steady influx of oil on the coast. Millions of North American songbirds migrate in spring from their wintering grounds in southern Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula to the Gulf shores, before flying on to their breeding grounds in the eastern U.S. and Canada. This phenomenon is called by birders the "Gulf Express." It includes tiny ruby-throated hummingbirds, many species of warblers, kingbirds, thrushes, orioles, cuckoos, and more - at least 55 species in all. The flight covers 500 or 600 miles of open water for birds that may weigh no more than two 25-cent coins. Even in good years, many of them don't make it. It all depends on good weather, physical conditioning, and luck. Thousands of birdwatchers converge on the Gulf coast and its barrier islands to witness the migratory spectacle each spring.

"If anything goes sour, the birds die"

In a very good year, the birds may arrive at the coast with enough energy to fly past the marshes, landing in forests 30 miles inland. But if the weather is unsettled, or the winds are from the north, the birds pile up along the coast. They're hungry, thirsty, and tired. As author and birder Scott Weidensaul said about this migration, "If anything goes sour, the birds die."

As of right now, many of the birds have already made the spring crossing, but not all. For those who haven't yet, this may be a spring when something "goes sour". And what about next fall, when they do the flight in reverse? And next spring - what if the marshes are all coated in oil, or the coastal grasses are all dead? Many of these bird species are already in serious trouble from habitat loss in Latin America and in the U.S.

Prospects are "terrifying"

None of us know right now the true long-term impacts of the rapidly expanding mass of toxic goo that's floating in the Gulf of Mexico. I'm not sure anyone has even calculated yet the potential damage to coastal estuaries and marshes of the Southeastern states. But as NY Times writers Leslie Kaufman and Campbell Robertson said, the prospects for coastal land, livelihoods, and wildlife are "terrifying everyone."


Leslie Kaufman and Campbell Robertson. "Spill puts wetlands in peril." NY Times. Reprinted in Charlotte Observer. May 2, 2010.

Kirsten Valle. "Some fear oil from Gulf spill could reach N.C." Charlotte Observer. May 1, 2010.

Renee Schoof and Karen Nelson. "Oil spill is endangering a vast array of wildlife." Charlotte Observer. April 30, 2010.

Cain Burdeau and Holbrook Mohr. "Document: BP didn't plan for a major spill." Charlotte Observer. May 1, 2010.

Scott Weidensaul. Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds. North Point Press. New York. 1999.  Key words: Gulf oil spill BP oil spill fisheries coastal ecosystems shore birds migratory birds sea turtles

Some of my previous posts on coastal environmental issues:

10% of Louisiana underwater by 2100, says recent study

North Carolina's vital coastal breeding grounds vulnerable to rising seas

Copenhagen data confirm: 10% of Florida underwater by end of the century

10,000 pythons breeding in Florida, says new USGS report 

Key words: Gulf oil spill BP oil spill fisheries coastal ecosystems shore birds migratory birds sea turtles

Saturday, May 01, 2010

In Puerto Rico: Jayuya and the Toro Negro State Forest

Photos and text by Sally Kneidel, PhD

Driving from the coast to the town of Jayuya in La Cordillera Central is not easy. Although the mountain roads of Puerto Rico are paved, most are extremely narrow and curvy.

On our drive from Playa Lucia, we arrived in Jayuya after dark, and tooled around the town looking for something to eat. Although the town has several restaurants, they were all closed. Open only on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  We were forced to resort to the grocery store and a pizza kiosk on wheels.

But dinner was fun anyway. We made pina coladas and ate the tasty pizza on the balcony of our hotel, Posada Jayuya (787.828.7250; calls from the U.S. to Puerto Rico are not international calls).

La Piedra Escrita, an ancient Taino site
The next day, we went first to La Piedra Escrita on the outskirts of Jayuya. La Piedra Escrita is one of Puerto Rico's most honored remainders of the indigenous Taino culture.  It's a boulder 32 ft high and 13 ft wide, in the middle of a river - Rio Saliente.
La Piedra Escrita

On the rock are 52 petroglyphs carved by indigenous groups between 600 and 1200 A.D. The boulder creates a natural pool in the river.  Alan and Matt jumped off the boulder and swam.

 The long  boardwalk down to La Piedra Escrita in el Rio Saliente

Sadie and Matt groovin' on the boardwalk.

Toro Negro State Forest
The next day we took off for a major hike in El Bosque Estatal de Toro Negro (Toro Negro State Forest ), one of the highest and most extensive forests on the island, in the Central Mountains (La Cordillera Central). We drove about an hour south of Jayuya to get there, along La Ruta Panamerica. When we arrived, we took a simple map from the ranger station but it wasn't a lot of help.

 Matt and Sadie hiking (above)

The first part of the hike was fantastic - we walked along Quebrada Dona Juana (a mountain stream).

Sadie and Matt in the stream

Following the trail along the stream, we came to great swimming hole along a little trail called Charco La Confesora, and the guys had to stop to jump in. Matt was very pleased.

As was Alan (below). 
Alan takes to the swimming hole,
above and below.
After the swim, we followed Trail 5 uphill for hours, immersed in a thick tropical jungle of banana trees, sierra palms, tree ferns, flamboyan trees, and elephant ears, on a muddy, steep, and scantily-marked trail. Visibility was minimal through the dense foliage. Toro Negro Forest is the real thing.

Finally, we realized we'd missed our turn onto Trail 9. And we seemed to be lost. Dismay began to set in. Having a fresh head cold, I was already exhausted.

The wildlife
We saw lots of birds: Black-throated Blue Warblers, Northern Parulas, Green Mangos, Cape May Warblers, Belted Kingfishers, and more. And several other interesting creatures along the this lizard Alan photographed. Was it a dwarf gecko? Not sure.
the lizard Alan found in Toro Negro
I spotted the eggs of a Coqui Frog, in the photo below.  They'd been deposited on a leaf on the ground

Alan found a giant predatory centipede, Scolopendra. (Photo of Puerto Rican Scolopendra species by Alan Kneidel)

Would we ever get out?
Just after we decided we really were lost, we stumbled upon a paved road! We walked downhill on the road for about 5 miles, and found the spot where we'd left our car.

Our forest hike had been beautiful, if somewhat daunting.

Jayuya again
Back we went to Jayuya, once again to find no restaurants open. We ate pizza on the balcony of the hotel again, and then took a swim in the hotel pool, decorated with this mermaid, below.

Jayuya was a friendly place after all
Except for the restaurant factor, Jayuya was a friendly enough place. No one was rude or hostile except for a couple of older folks who had been around during the 1950 Jayuya Uprising against the U.S.  Most folks were warm and helpful.

On to dry forest and mangroves ....Alan's research home
The next morning we took off for our last stop - Alan's hometown of Playa Santa in the dry forest, with its coastal mangroves  - and what turned out to be the most beautiful beach of all.

My previous posts about this trip to Puerto Rico:

Old San Juan: steep, tropical, colorful

Exploring the tropical rainforest in Puerto Rico: El Yunque Caribbean National Forest

Puerto Rican beach pleasures, and the Jayuya Uprising

Alan's blogs:

Helpful resource:
Suzanne Van Atten. Puerto Rico. Moon Handbooks. 2nd Edition, 2009.

Key words: Puerto Rico Jayuya Toro Negro Ruta Panamerica Posada Jayuya Kneidel