Vieques, Puerto Rico and the Creatures of the Sea

So, do you remember when I told you I was going on vacation this winter? Well, I just got back from Vieques, off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, on the Big Trip. And it was incredible. I loved being able to escape from cold, snowy Wisconsin for some sun and fun in the tropics.

Anyway, I’ll have a few posts dedicated to recounting my many adventures of last week, but for now, I’ll start off with some of the awesome things I saw there primarily in the ocean. So, hold on to your hats, because the snorkeling on this island is pretty great, if you take the time to look.

I’ll begin with the sea creatures that are bigger, then touch on the smaller ones. So here goes: an idea of what you may see if you visit the wonderful island of Vieques:

Sea Creatures

Eagle Ray. We spotted this awesome creature in a few places on the island, but primarily we found them between Playa Esperanza and the nearby cay, Cayo Afuera. They’re so swift and majestic when they swim, with their wide bodies and long tails. Their spots only make the animal look cooler.

Source: FactZoo.com
Spotted Eagle Ray

Caribbean Reef Squid. This was the first time I’d seen a squid up close that I can remember. The version we saw at Green Beach was colorful wherever it wasn’t clear. There were about four swimming together, in the shallows, and we were able to follow them for some time. The ones we saw were less than a foot long, but en masse, very neat.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle. We spotted these turtles at Mosquito Pier on the north side of the island. The pier/bridge was begun by the U.S. Navy and was meant to reach from Vieques to the mainland of Puerto Rico, but was abandoned. So now it’s home to some great fish, coral, and other sea animals. The two turtles I saw swam about 15 feet below the surface (the water was about 30 feet deep, and I couldn’t see the bottom). They remained so chill and unfazed even when I drew nearer that they reminded me of the sea turtles in ‘Finding Nemo’.

Green Sea Turtle. I was so lucky to spot this guy. He, for some reason, was cruising solo in the shallow water on the downtown beach, Playa Esperanza, in the sea grass. He was covered in barnacles, and his shell was maybe 3 feet long. He let me (then others) follow him for about ten minutes, only about two feet away, while he explored the grassy bay area, before he settled on the sandy bottom, near the out-of-use pier at Esperanza.

Photo source: http://www.seaturtlenet.com/
Green Sea Turtle

Sea urchins (black and red). These need less description, but it’s worth mentioning they were everywhere. They were from two inches in diameter to maybe a foot and a half. You had to constantly avoid them in shallow water to avoid getting spines through your foot.

Starfish. These were most prevalent at Mosquito Pier. They were of varying sizes, but all bright red-orange, and stood out in contrast to the blue water. You had to avoid stepping on these entering and exiting the water too.

Lobster. Our group saw two lobster hanging out under the rocks at Mosquito Pier. I didn’t get to see them, but still– very neat.

Fish

The fish seen in the ocean by Vieques need less discussion, except a few. Some beautiful, but not so extraordinary fish included: Grunts, Sergeant Majors, Four-Eye Butterfly Fish, Yellow Tail Damsel Fish, Fairy Basslet (bright purple and yellow!), Stoplight Parrotfish, and Bluehead. Some fish meriting more description . . .

Lion Fish. These have recently become considered an invasive species, and many efforts to limit the population are underway. It’s also of note they’re very dangerous, thanks to their venomous fin rays, but somehow, still edible. But, having seen a few now, in the wild, it’s also worth mentioning they look super cool, with their striped bodies.

Porcupine Fish. These fish, similar to the puffer fish, have the biggest eyes and lips you’ll ever seen on a fish. The one we saw lurked in a rock cave but allowed us a quick glimpse. I must credit my science-major friend for locating this one. I hadn’t heard of them before.

Photo credit:  Michael Sheridan
Porcupine Fish

Trumpet Fish. These fish look like gars, but aren’t. One thing that makes them unique is they hang out and swim vertically sometimes, to try to blend in with coral or other objects. We spotted a few, two of which were floating by a ladder, trying to pretend to be part of it.

Trigger Fish. I hadn’t seen these before either, but they’re pretty cool. They’re very thin for their size and have a protruding snout. Usually they’re colorful, I’ve read, but the one I saw was a grey triggerfish, I’m pretty sure. It had sort of a neutral color, but blue spots covering its sides.

Barracuda. A few of our group spotted a few, though I didn’t. Still, these scary-looking fish are always of note. So here’s me noting them.

Indigo Hamlet. This fish isn’t too unique, but I’m noting it because it was the first I’d ever seen. They’re iridescent and blue and striped and beautiful. Honestly, it was probably the prettiest fish I’ve seen. Note the photo below:

Photo source: http://chemistry.csudh.edu
Blue Hamlet

Coral

I must admit I’m not much of an expert on coral. But some we saw included brain coral and fan coral in yellow and purple. We also saw some sea rod coral and some sea anemones (which aren’t coral, but still).

To conclude, I’ll let you in on which places we had the most luck snorkeling at. Best were, in my opinion, the reef off the edge of Cayo Afuera, Green Beach, Mosquito Pier, and Navío. So, if you are ever in the neighborhood, check out these spots. But don’t tell too many people! Part of the appeal of Vieques is it’s not been taken over by tourism. Let’s keep it that way.

P.s. Sorry for not having my own photos of these cool creatures. An underwater camera is at the top on my list of travel necessities that I don’t have, but want (read: need!) badly. So, maybe by the time my next trip rolls around!

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4 thoughts on “Vieques, Puerto Rico and the Creatures of the Sea

  1. On Nov. 18/2012 early in the evening (around 8PM) I spotted a lonely Eagle Ray swimming near and along the Dos Hermanos bridge in the Condado. Jose

  2. While visiting San Juan, I saw a bunch of fish that were swimming toward the beach, the looked like a wave cresting and I could even hear them cutting through the water. What were they and / or what was that all about?

    1. Although I wish I were a marine life expert, unfortunately I am not. I would guess that may have been flying fish though! I’ve seen them plenty of times and they all jump out of the water at once, and shimmer in the sunlight. I can see how that would look like a cresting wave.

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