Nearby the southern coastline of Puerto Rico, we had the chance to explore a hidden ecotreasure: the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. This natural reserve lies in around 2,800 acre of land in the Municipalities of Salinas and Guayama. The Reserve comprises the Aguirre Unit, the Mar Negro wetland area, and some islets of Cayos Caribe, among other areas. According to the Puerto Rico Natural and Environmental Resources Department, the Jobos Bay is the second largest estuary in Puerto Rico.
We were very excited to finally visit this protected area administered by the Puerto Rico Natural and Environmental Resources Department in accordance with a collaborative agreement with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Ernesto Olivares, who is in charge of the Educational Program of this natural reserve, clearly showed his respect for nature as well as his pride and satisfaction to be part of the teamwork responsible for the preservation and conservation of this ecotreasure.
In 1981, this natural reserve was designated as one of the sites of NOAA’s National Estuarine Research Reserve System, as stated by Ernesto. He emphasized that the Reserve serves as a natural field laboratory. Besides conducting regular investigations, such as water quality monitoring and identification of sediment growth or vegetation migration, the Reserve’s staff also implements educational programs targeted towards students and teachers.
In addition, the Reserve’s staff provides interpretive guide training opportunities to locals who reside in communities nearby. In collaboration with a community-based non-profit organization known as the Jobos Bay Eco Development Initiative, the Reserve’s Interpretive Guides Program aims to foster the creation of micro-businesses dedicated to provide environmental interpretation tours in the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Currently, the Reserve’s staff provides guided environmental interpretation and hiking tours. In addition, travelers and locals may engage in other recreational activities such as mountain biking, kayaking, snorkeling or paddling on a paddleboard.
We decided to hike and listen to Ernesto’s environmental interpretation of the flora and fauna in the forest area in the Aguirre Unit, Municipality of Salinas. As we headed towards the Salt Flat Trail (Vereda Salitral), we were welcomed by American kestrels (“Falcones Comunes” in Spanish) and a Red-tailed Hawk (“Guaraguao Colirrojo” in Spanish) that flew over us. As the American kestrels stood on posts and the hawk flew towards its nest, they seemed to be guardians of the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Lots of butterflies joined the welcome ceremony.
While we immersed in nature, Ernesto mentioned that the Aguirre Unit comprises a dry forest, salt flats and mangroves and wetlands, among other areas. As we hiked in the dry forest, we admired button mangrove and beautiful cotton flowers. We were lucky to watch the Troupial bird (“Turpial” in Spanish) and listened to the Northern Mockingbird (“Ruiseñor” in Spanish), Greater Antillean Grackle (“Mozambique” in Spanish) and the Yellow-shouldered Blackbird (“Mariquita” in Spanish), as identified by Ernesto.
As we were ready to walk across a salt flat, Ernesto suggested to walk nearby the salt flat’s border because sometimes the Antillean Nighthawk (“Querequequé” in Spanish) nests on the salt flat. He explained that this bird puts small rocks nearby its eggs in order to camouflage these.
Around the salt flat, Ernesto pointed out two succulent plants: Shoreline seapurslane (“Sesuvium portulacastrum”) and the Saltwort (“Batis baritima”). Beautiful scenery caught our attention: an abundance of cheerful butterflies flying over both succulent plants. We felt joy and peace as we stared at the butterflies’ show. We named this spot as “The Butterflies’ Playground”.
Following, we encountered very different ecosystems. We saw delicate black mangrove flowers and white mangroves right before walking in a moist black mangrove forest. In this forest, we saw very tall black mangrove trees cohabitating with royal palms. We crossed over another salt flat, and looked at salt crystals pointed out by Ernesto. Then, we reached the wetland area next to the Jobos Bay and saw an abundancy of red mangroves.
Ernesto guided us to a spot where we admired a terrific sightseeing view of the Jobos Bay, the Pozuelo Peninsula, Cayos Caribe and Cayos Barca. This was definitely a great place to take pictures. The tour guide said that you may see the Antillean manatee in the bay. He explained that Jobos Bay has been known as the body of water with the highest population of Antillean manatees in Puerto Rico.
While admiring Jobos Bay, we also saw the remaining of a crane of the former Aguirre Sugar Mill. Ernesto explained that some of the lands of the Aguirre Sugar Mill are currently part of the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Besides harvesting sugar cane, the Aguirre Sugar Cane Mill imported sugar cane and refined sugar that was later sold to a sugar company established in the U.S, as stated by Ernesto. To learn more about the Aguirre Sugar Cane Mill area, we suggest to read the “delve” sub-section.
For those interested in a guided hiking tour in the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, you may contact the Reserve’s Visitors Center at 787-853-4617. Guided hiking tours are available for groups of 10+ persons, subject to prior reservation. School groups may also take advantage of the hiking and environmental interpretation tours. For those interested to hike on their own in the Reserve, it is suggested to previously contact the Reserve’s staff. Visitors may also enjoy the photography exhibition area in the Visitors Center. Reserve’s opening hours: Monday- Saturday, 7:30 am- 3:30 pm.