Pirates and Flamingos!
Location: Anegada Island, BVI
by Wayne & Karen Brown
Today we are exploring Anegada Island in our 4-wheel drive truck. Today we will spend all our time out of the water. We are scouting for a good spot for snorkeling tomorrow. We do not have a boat to take us snorkeling, so we have to find a coral reef that we can drive to and then swim out from shore. We are looking for a reef that does not have strong currents, is not too shallow, too rough, or too far from shore. We are also looking for a colony of pink flamingos that hide in one of the large saltwater ponds here on Anegada.
Anegada is surrounded by coral reefs. (In fact, Anegada Island is an old coral reef that is now above water!) The reefs are what makes Anegada so dangerous to ships. Anegada is also hard to see because it is so flat. Your ship could run into a reef before you even knew that there was an island nearby. On the reefs around Anegada there are over 500 shipwrecks. Some people think that there is one billion dollars worth of treasure on these ships! Most of the ships are almost impossible to find. They are hundreds of years old and are now completely covered by coral reefs. We could be snorkeling over shipwrecks without even knowing it.
At Anegada Reef Hotel Lawrence told us that a lot of shipwrecks were wrecked on purpose. The ships were not sunk to make artificial reefs, like the wrecks we explored on Day 5. These ships were sunk so people living on Anegada could rob them. Anegada used to be the home of pirates and shipwrecked sailors. These people would use signal lights at night to confuse ship captains into thinking that they were in safe waters. If a ship wrecked on the reef everybody in town would row or run out to the ship. They were not going to rescue people, they were going to take everything they could carry off the ship for themselves! The pirates and ship wreckers are gone now. The few (200) people that live here now are mostly fishermen.
With only a few people living here there are very few cars on the island. As we drive around the island we don't see any cars on the road. The roads here (except from the airport and around town) are sand or soft dirt.
As we drive along can often see the waves breaking on the reefs just offshore. Most of the road is close to the white sand beaches that edge the island. We could try to drive on the beach, but Jerry (owner of J&L Jeep Rentals) warned us that the sand is very soft and even 4-wheel drive trucks can get stuck...and there are no tow trucks on the island if we get stuck. So, when we see a beach we want to explore we park our truck on the road and walk to it.
We stop at several beaches to check out possible places we can snorkel. It is surprising to us that on these beautiful soft white sand beaches we are the only people here. The water looks inviting and we are anxious to go snorkeling tomorrow. Through our binoculars we look out to where we can see the waves breaking on the coral reefs. Even though we know there are lots of shipwrecks around us we can't see any sticking out of the water. Finally, we find our first shipwreck! It is actually only a small row boat on the beach, buried in the sand. We wonder...did this row boat come from a nearby sunken shipwreck?
We have seen some possible snorkeling locations that look like they would be worth investigating tomorrow. Now we will try to find out where that colony of pink flamingos is hiding!
Lawrence told us that flamingos used to live on all the Virgin Islands. Flamingos have been gone from the Virgin Islands for over 100 years. People in the Virgin Islands used to eat flamingos. They also caught them for their feathers and to sell to anyone who wanted a flamingo for a pet. After a while there were no more flamingos left in the Virgin Islands. Fortunately some people wanted to see flamingos come back to the Virgin Islands.
On March 7, 1992, the Bermuda Natural History Museum and Zoo donated 18 flamingos to Anegada. The BVI National Parks made the area where the flamingos lived a protected bird sanctuary. The flamingos liked living in Anegada and made nests and had babies. In 1996, the original 18 flamingos had multiplied to 27. In 2000, there were 51 flamingos. In 2001, 55. And, the last count, on November, 2002, there were 57! The flamingos are now here to stay. It is hoped that in the future some of the flamingos can be moved to other islands and flamingos will once more be at home in the Virgin Islands.
Anegada has lots of lagoons, marshes, saltwater ponds and other places to hide. (Anegada is Spanish for "drowned island".) That is probably why pirates liked Anegada so much. They could hide from ships that were looking for them and from ships they were waiting to rob. There are no pirates hiding here now, just flamingos. They are pretty good at hiding because we have not seen any, yet!
At certain places we stop and climb up on the roof of the truck to look around. Because Anegada is so flat when we stand on top of the truck it is like being on the top of a mountain. We can see over the top of almost everything on the island!
Finally we seen a pink line in the distance on the other side of a large salt pond -- flamingos! We can see them in our binoculars, but we are not close enough to get a good picture of them. We find an old road the looks like it will take us closer to the flamingos. We start to drive down the road we see part of it is covered by water and it looks very soft. We get out to check the road and find out it is soft mud! We remember what Jerry said about no tow trucks on the island and decide to walk.
We are wearing sandals, but sandals (or even shoes) are not good for walking in this soft mud. The mud sucks the sandals right off our feet! We take off our sandals and walk barefoot into the mud. As the mud squishes between our toes we walk carefully across along the edge of the salt pond, toward the flamingos. We waded across a small river to a tiny island about 300 feet from the flamingos. This is as close as we can get. The water is too deep to wade across. Also, flamingos are usually scared of people and would fly away if we tried to get any closer.
The flamingos here are about 5 feet tall. These are Roseate flamingos. Roseates are the biggest of the 7 different species of flamingos. They get their pretty pink color from the tiny red brine shrimp that they eat.
Suddenly, without warning, the whole flock of flamingos takes-off and flies away to another lagoon! Even though we are far away from them maybe they got nervous with us watching them. Or, maybe, at this time of day (late afternoon) they leave their feeding area to return to their nesting area.
It is late afternoon and the sun is going down. Now it is time for us to return to our feeding and nesting area, Anegada Reef Hotel!
At dinner we are excited, as we make our plans to explore some of Anegada's reefs!
Join us tomorrow as we investigate the underwater coral reefs that are the final resting places for hundreds of shipwrecks.
Wayne & Karen