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The Enigmatic Charm of Caño Tiburones in Arecibo

The area has been protected since 1988 and is one of the largest estuarine wetlands in Puerto Rico with a great biodiversity

May 23, 2024 - 11:00 PM

Caño Tiburones is popular with local visitors and tourists who seek water activities such as boating, kayaking, or swimming. (Suministrada)

Lee la historia en español aquí.

It seems that in the history of the Caño Tiburones Nature Reserve there has been just about everything but the feared sharks. According to experts, no scientific evidence proves this species’ existence in this impressive environmental treasure located between Arecibo and Barceloneta.

So, where does its name come from? According to Dr. Idelfonso Ruiz, a specialist in marine ecology, one possible explanation for the enigma is that fishermen from the community of Islote created the myth about the presence of this cartilaginous fish to keep other sea workers from fishing in the area.

“Ironically, it’s named after sharks, but, in reality, it hasn’t been proven that sharks were ever present there. The most plausible explanation is that the fishermen of the community of Islote created that rumor, and to this day, it’s called Caño Tiburones Nature Reserve, but no bones or scientific evidence has ever been found to back the name,” said Ruiz.

Nevertheless, the reserve is among the favorite places for both locals and tourists to visit and enjoy water activities, such as boating, kayaking, or simply swimming in its refreshing waters.

According to Ruiz, the area was designated “as a nature reserve in 1988 and, at that time, 3,695 acres were designated as such”.

“For decades, prior to being designated a nature reserve, it was agricultural land where sugar cane, rice, and pineapple were cultivated,” he recalled.

“The lands that are not floodable —if you look at a Google Earth photo, you’ll see that there’s water in the center, they’re floodable areas— but, on the periphery, you’ll see land that is currently used for agricultural purposes, mostly for replacement cows and beef cattle,” he explained.

He also pointed out that “in the wetland, there are two phenomena that you can observe in only a few areas of Puerto Rico, and they’re the famous cáncoras, which are springs where water emerges”.

“We have two types of water in this system. The northern part of the reserve will be influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. It’s exciting because underground water flows through veins and emerges in the northern part. In the southern part, the opposite will occur, as it’ll be influenced by water from the karst zone, which is fresh water, and this combination of both waters results in what is known today as Caño Tiburones,” he explained.

“When there are high tides, the water enters through channels in the eastern part of the reserve and mixes with the rest of the body of water. When that happens, it goes through a process that we call ecological succession. Then, larvae begin to enter, seawater fish begin to enter the area, including barracudas, jacks, tarpon, and snook,” he added, noting that the reserve belongs to the Land Authority.

Another unique characteristic of this reserve is that during the migration season, primarily between September and November, the birds use the stream as a stopover.

“We have noticed that those places that border the reserve, which are pockets of water that look like puddles, hold the greatest diversity of birds. As the water levels are currently very high if we take a tour of the area, fish-eating birds will predominate, and there are very few in that area, eagles, earwigs, and pelicans. In other words, it lost diversity,” warned the marine ecologist.

“Management practices have to be done in certain areas when the immigration season comes, from late September to November. Those are the highest peaks. We must find a way to lower the levels so as not to affect the system’s ecological function. By lowering the level, I mean that the optimum level is no more than 12 inches of water,” he emphasized, noting that these birds do not like levels higher than 12 inches, and they leave.

Ruiz highlighted that families and groups come to the area to enjoy the natural beauty of the reserve.

“They can take kayaks, boats or enjoy a day of swimming in the nature reserve. There are two tourist spots. One is the pier area, where people can launch their boats and kayaks. The other area is known as the zanja fría [cold trench], where people can go for a swim. It’s beautiful, it’s a freshwater spring,” he concluded.

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