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A Remembrance—A Journey through Inland Waterways in the San Juan Bay Estuary

An Ecotouristic Navigation
Publication of Discovery: March 31, 2021
Issue: March, 2021

[Editor’s Note: In this issue, we render tribute to the magazine’s first publication by republishing it as we are celebrating ecotreasures magazine’s fifth anniversary. We are very happy and grateful for having been able to share our experiences, findings, and learnings during our journey so far.

Enjoy the remembrance as we go back through time and relive our experience at San Juan Bay Estuary in the island of Puerto Rico.]

“A Journey through Inland Waterways in the San Juan Bay Estuary”, article published in February 2016 ecotreasures ® issue:

A boat tour along the side of the San Juan Bay Estuary, comprising the Corozos Lagoon, San José Lagoon, Suárez Channel and Torrecilla Lagoon, gave us the opportunity to navigate on bodies of water through the Municipalities of San Juan, Carolina and Loíza, located on the north side of Puerto Rico.

The boat tour guided by Melba Ayala, founder and owner of Excursiones Eco, on these bodies of water is something to discover.

Right before starting the tour, Ms. Ayala informed us the safety rules to follow during the journey and highlighted the importance of not touching the mangrove trees and branches along the way in order to conserve the environment.

Ms. Ayala, a former resident of one of the communities nearby the tour location, not only interpreted the fauna and flora discovered as we navigated, but also shared a little bit about the history related to some of the areas visited. Also, we had the chance to learn and experience how this tour supports some of the local businesses around the tour location.

Let’s first talk about what is an estuary. An estuary is a coastal area where the fresh water from rivers or streams meets salt water from the ocean. At the side of the San Juan Bay Estuary that we navigated, the salt water flowing from “Boca de Cangrejos” inlet meets freshwater waterways, as explained by Ms. Ayala.

The first body of water that was navigated was the Corozos Lagoon, where the boat takes off from the dock of the fishing village Laguneros, Inc. in Cantera Peninsula, San Juan.

Around two minutes later, we were already navigating the San José Lagoon, where the Guachinanga and Guachinanguita islets, two limestone mogotes, are located, as stated by Ms. Ayala. Tarpon, common snook and sardines are among the fishes that may be found in the San José Lagoon, as informed by Ms. Ayala.

One of the highlights of navigating the San José Lagoon was crossing underneath the Teodoro Moscoso Bridge, a 1.4-mile long bridge that connects the Municipalities of Carolina and San Juan (“Teodoro Moscoso Bridge", San Juan, Puerto Rico”, www.transportation.gov). Navigating underneath this bridge resulted in a one-of-a-kind feeling of adventure and excitement. You just have to live this experience to sense that feeling. Definitely, it is something worth exploring.

As we left behind the San José Lagoon, we navigated through my favorite body of water found during this journey: the Suárez Channel, which connects the San José Lagoon and Torrecilla Lagoon. As informed by Ms. Ayala, the Suárez Channel is an artificial waterway created by the Spaniards during the 19th century. She explained that this channel was used for transportation of goods from the east side of Puerto Rico towards the San Juan area as a measure to protect the cargo from pirate attacks, considering that the channel is an inland waterway. Some of the goods that were transported at that time were gold, food and wood.

Even though the Suárez Channel is an artificial channel, it harbors a very beautiful ecosystem. As we navigated this channel, we were surrounded by white mangroves (Laguncularia racemosa) and red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle), as pointed out by Ms. Ayala.

We were lucky to watch a diversity of birds such as the Great Egret (known as “Garza Real” in P.R.) (Ardea alba), the Snowy Egret (known as “Garza Blanca” in P.R.) (Egretta thula), the Tricolored Heron (known as “Garza Pechiblanca” in P.R.) (Egretta tricolor) and the Yellow-crowned Night Heron (known as “Yaboa Común” in P.R.) (Nyctanassa violacea), which common names were identified by Ms. Ayala while we admired this mangrove ecosystem.

Then we navigated on waterways that serve as “backyards” of Vistamar Marina residences. At this area, we were able to admire a diversity of luxury houses.

Afterwards, we traveled to Torrecillas Lagoon, arriving at the Municipality of Loíza. At this lagoon, there is a fresh water mouth where, if lucky, you might see manatees, as stated by Ms. Ayala.

Once we stopped at Puerto Andín dock, Ms. Ayala fostered us to visit a small restaurant named Puerto Andín, located right in front of the dock and nearby the Torrecilla Baja neighborhood. Puerto Andín offers red snapper and fried plantain slices known as “tostones”, a local dish part of Puerto Rican traditional cuisine. The restaurant also offers seafood and beef tacos, and “arepas” made of fried dough, among others.

Besides fostering visitors to eat at Puerto Andín restaurant, Excursiones Eco, a community microenterprise, also supports economic development of local businesses by subcontracting fishermen from the fishing village Laguneros, Inc. to provide the boat ride service that is an essential part of the tour. Even though Ms. Ayala serves as tour guide, Excursiones Eco also subcontracts tour guides who reside in neighborhoods close to the San Juan Bay Estuary.

The founder of Excursiones Eco, Ms. Ayala, also works at the Visitors Center of the San Juan Bay Estuary, where she offers environmental interpretation of the ecosystem found in such estuary. Besides the bodies of water we navigated in the Municipalities of San Juan, Carolina and Loíza, the San Juan Bay Estuary comprises bodies of water found in the Municipalities of Toa Baja, Cataño, Bayamón, Guaynabo and Trujillo Alto.

Among other environmental conservation and protection practices, Ms. Ayala collaborates from time to time with scientists for investigations about water pollutants, if any, in the San Juan Bay Estuary. Further, Ms. Ayala has provided support to businesses located nearby the Caño Martín Peña, another body of water part of the San Juan Bay Estuary. She has also promoted the environmental restoration of the Caño Martín Peña for the benefit of the communities within.

Excursiones Eco’s boat tour on part of the San Juan Bay Estuary lasts around one and a half hour. For reservations, you may contact Ms. Ayala by phone or email. T.: 787-565-0089. E.: reserve@excursioneseco.com or excursioneseco@yahoo.com. For tour fees, browse www.excursioneseco.com .

******

UPDATED INFORMATION: For the most current information about the guided tour, contact Excursiones Eco at 787-565-0089.

Visitors need to follow the required protocol in view of COVID-19 pandemic (e.g.: wearing a mask, washing hands, social distancing) while exploring natural areas. In general, people in Puerto Rico are required to keep a minimum of 6 feet between people who are not from the same family unit. However, currently people visiting any Puerto Rico beach are required to keep a minimum of 10 feet between people who are not from the same family unit whether they are at the sand or body of water.

tour provider: Excursiones Eco
book here
where the crew ate: Si No Corro Me Pizza
photograph by: N. Michelle Rodríguez and Melba Ayala

Note: This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all details with the pertinent businesses before planning your trip. Please be cautious. The company behind this publication assumes no responsibility for your safety when participating in the activities mentioned in this article. You are responsible for confirming whether you are capable of participating in any of these activities or tours, regardless of the effort level or any other information provided in this website.

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José Miguel Ferrer Tanco, San Juan, P.R.: “The experience resulting from this tour was very interesting. Melba has the capacity of transporting you back in time to the history behind the Suárez Channel. She enables you to see the majesty of the lagoons and the mangroves. The biodiversity of the flora and fauna are impressive. Melba demonstrated a lot of knowledge about the ecosystem, catching our attention.” (translation ours).

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