Dazzling coral reefs, breathtaking
cliffs and a multitude of caves make Mona Island the perfect
habitat and the best kept Caribbean refuge to more than a hundred
endangered species. Giant iguanas and sea turtles, red-footed
boobies and many other migrating birds will be your welcoming
hosts during a visit to this small island sandwiched between
Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Viewed from the air,
this bean-shaped island looks like a giant piece of green puzzle
placed over the dark blue ocean. Vertical cliffs rise from the
ocean as giant walls surrounding its coasts. Mona's uniqueness
among other Caribbean islands lies in its use as a natural reserve
for the conservation of sea turtles and the strict protection
program implemented to preserve its ecosystem. The island is
not inhabited except by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural
Resources (DNR) personnel -- resident biologist and rangers.
Ecotravelers, nature lovers, biologists and ecologists are most
FAUNA AND FLORA
Because of its hot, dry climate and its limestone
soil, Mona Island is a heaven for ecological conservation. The
Mona Iguana, certified as threatened by the Endangered Species
Act of 1973, is a four feet long reptile found only in the Mona
Island. They dig their nests in the dry soil between the dense
vegetation. Another family of the long Mona Iguana is the Geco
Oriundo. Unlike its native cousin, this tiny iguana only reaches
about an inch long. It is easily recognized by a dark spot over
its neck and can be found in the flatter southern areas. Another
interesting native is the Coqui de Mona, a close cousin of the
famous tiny frog encountered only in Puerto Rico. They might
be difficult to spot because of their size but the high pitch
concert they hold at night is unmistakable.
The North side is the refuge to dozens of different
species of migrating birds, the most common is the red-footed
booby. The cliffs and the rocky soil are ideal for nests making
Mona their favorite winter home. The waters surrounding the
island are the most hospitable habitat in the Caribbean for
over 270 species of fish and endangered sea turtles who have
found the peace and tranquillity needed for their reproduction.
The most famous ones are the Hawksbill and the Leatherback sea
Mona Island is 42 miles from the western coasts
of Puerto Rico. The island is about seven miles long and four
wide with an approximate area of 13,000 acres. Mona has more
than twenty miles of coast, 90% consist of abrupt cliffs of
over 200 feet high rising vertically from the ocean. The island
reminds of Saba with the difference that Mona is practically
flat top. The highest peak is about 300 feet above sea level.
Because of its size and topography, Mona is dry as opposed to
Puerto Rico. The island is classified as having a semi-arid,
subtropical climate. Temperature is between 80 to 90 all year
long. About 2% of Mona's surface is formed by caverns, penetrating
horizontally from 150 up to 800 feet inside the limestone soil.
The island is located close to the deepest ocean
trench of the Atlantic Ocean: the Puerto Rico Trench. Between
Mona and Puerto Rico, ocean depths reach over 3,000 feet. Ocean
depths close to Mona's cliffs are more than a hundred feet.
Coral reefs surround the South coast where a myriad of keys
protect more than five miles of white-sand beaches.
WHAT TO DO
Mona offers over 13,000 acres of unspoiled ecological
treasures. Camping is allowed only in the three beaches located
on the South and South West of the island. Trails join the three
beaches up to the eastern point of the island where the lighthouse
is located. During the day, you can go hiking, bird watching,
snorkeling or scuba. Activities can be coordinated with the
resident biologist if you want to learn about the ecosystem
of the island. It is required to visit the caverns with a guide.
Star gazing at night may be the most unforgettable
experience of a trip to Mona. Because of the darkness, the sky
offers at night myriad of bright stars, a spectacular experience
for the amateur astronomer equipped with a telescope. A sunset
viewed from Mona can also be a remarkable experience.
Mona is without any doubt the best snorkeling
site of the Caribbean because of its crystal clear waters, allowing
visibility as far as 150 feet under the sea. Playa Carmelita
is the best snorkeling site. Coral reefs surround the South
coast offering a palette of the brightest colors and the most
complete reef styles such as the brain-type, the common sea
fan, the finger coral, the fleshy and the stony corals. Colors
vary from intense dark violet to yellowish mustard. Dolphins
and humpback whales are also visible during the winter along
the Mona shores.
The hunting season starts from the beginning
of December to the end of April. During this period, hunters
can visit the island Monday through Thursday while other visitors
are accepted only on weekends. The Puerto Rico's Department
of Natural Resources -- known by its Spanish acronym DNR --
has implemented strict rules to allow hunting while continuing
to protect the environment and the security of all visitors.
For the complete regulations, visitors should contact the DNR.
Hunting is allowed to control the growing number
of pigs and goats, two unwelcome species that are the worst
enemies of the endangered iguanas and the sea turtles. Goats
destroy Iguana's nests and the pigs reach the sandy beaches
to eat the turtle eggs. Controlling their population is a major
concern for the protection of Mona's ecosystem.
Mona island is under the protection of Puerto
Rico's Department of Natural Resources since 1975. It is recognized
by Puerto Rico as a Natural Reserve and the DNR is doing a terrific
job in protecting this fragile source of ecological treasures.
A group of three to four rangers is always on the island along
with a resident biologist. They are rotated on a weekly basis.
Rules are very strict to maintain Mona as the
best ecological site of the Caribbean. No more than a hundred
visitors can be on the island at any time. The nesting areas
of the sea turtles are closed to the public at night. Visitors
have to bring their own food, drinking water and all camping
equipment. Open fires are not allowed. It is also the visitor's
responsibility to carry all solid waste back to Puerto Rico.
Showers and bathrooms are available at Playa Sardinera, one
of the three camping sites. Brochures provided by the DNR list
the rules to follow during a trip to the Mona Island. Upon arrival,
rangers offer an additional lecture to all visitors.
The island can only be accessed from Puerto
Rico. From the west coast towns of Mayaguez and Cabo Rojo, chartered
boats are available for the six hour trip. Because of the distance
and the wide range of activities available, it is recommended
to make plans for at least a few days. The waters are rough
in the Mona Passage, especially during the months of November
to March. Fishermen offering the sea transportation schedule
their trip at night when the ocean is calm. Small planes used
to land on a small grass field in the South coast of Mona.
Ecotravel is still a very ambiguous term due
to the diversity of sites and the wide range of activities classified
as having an ecological value. In addition, this booming sector
of tourism has a peculiar niche market sharing so many different
needs that it has become almost impossible to clearly define
ecotravel. However, there is no better place in the Caribbean
where ecotravel finds its most basic and indisputable meaning
than the Mona Island. It is one of the best ecological site
of the Caribbean, a must-see for ecotravelers and scientists
alike. Myrna Aponte, the supervisor in charge of the Conservation
Division of the Department of Natural Resources could not find
better words to describe Mona Island when she said " Mona is
the best kept natural reserve of the region; its ecological,
cultural and historical values are unsurpassed and it is not
an overstatement to name it the Galapagos
of the Caribbean."