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16 January 1999

by Mark Oberle

I had not been to Desecheo Island, ( 13 miles west of Puerto Rico in the Mona Passage between PR and Hispaniola), since a scuba trip there in May 1977, so my family and some friends went to Desecheo Island National Wildlife Refuge on 1-16-99.  The island has been important for seabird nesting.  Below is a list of bird species we saw at the refuge in 2+ hours moored off the S. coast:

Magnificent Frigatebird   Fregata magnificens

Yes, just a single bird, despite beautiful clear weather with a smooth sea.  We navigated along most of the south coast, which is quite rocky, but saw no Oystercatchers or other shorebirds.  The island is surrounded by waters up to 3000' deep.  It is 715' high and has two valleys on the South coast, that give it a look like the Channel Islands off California.  The island vegetation was in pretty bad shape due to introduced goats and monkeys (the primates were introduced in a zoological equivalent of the Tuskegee experiment (the Public Health Service's observation of untreated syphilitics)).  The trees were apparently completely stripped of leaves when Hurricane Georges chruned over the island for 4 hours last Sept.  Many trees are leafing out again now, but the trunks were all snapped off.  A few monkeys still exist thanks to the animal rights crazies who have not permitted the last band to be removed.  The boat captain saw them recently.  He also had a Humpack Whale circle his boat Jan.  11.  But he said that both the whales and nesting boobies, which are usually near Desecheo in numbers in mid-Jan., have not shown up yet this year.  He also said that the whales have stayed farther offshore the last few years (he attributes it to harassment by tour boats).  We had great snorkeling as the boat moored just offshore the two valleys on the S coast.  We swam to the gravel beach in a narrow entranced anchorage (labeled Puerto de los Botes on one chart), but did not walk on the island much.  There is a weird abandoned stone building just W of the anchorage.

On the 45 minute boat ride back to Rincon harbor, we saw one Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) cross our bow about midway; closer to Puerto Rico we saw a few other birds:

Brown Pelican     Pelecanus occidentalis
Spotted Sandpiper    Tringa macularia
Royal Tern     Sterna maxima
Belted Kingfisher    Ceryle alcyon

Logistics: The boat to Desecheo listed in last year's pelagic issue of ABA's "Winging It" is not running this winter.  But there are two year-round dive shops near the lighthouse at Rincon, PR, that run boat trips to Desecheo as well as whale watching and fishing trips (for Marlin, Dolphin fish and tuna).  Contact me for details.  Years ago I took a boat out of Aguadilla, and there are probably boats running to Desecheo out of there still.

Underwater there was a bit of a current in places.  Pillar coral and some hard sponges impressed me as more common than at many other PR sites.  The coral is relatively deep because of the steep drop off of the sea bottom there.

My fish guide does not have a lot of species, but here is what we saw:

Trunkfish sp.
Yellow Jack
Yel. Goatfish
4 eyed butterflyfish
French Angelfish
Rock Beauty
Sgt Major
Yellowtailed damselfish
Various goby and wrasse sp.
Bluehead Wrasse
Spanish Hogfish
Spotlight parrotfish and several other sp.
Blue Tand
Black Durgon (the latter species of triggerfish was in unusually large numbers. Some people threw bread out for them.

Mark Oberle

"Permanent" address:         Oct-Apr.: M-11, Calle Estrella del Mar
1034 Fayetteville Ave SW                Urb. Dorado del Mar
Calabash, NC 28467                      Dorado, Puerto Rico 00646-2147                   res: 787-796-0784

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