Fernando de Noronha is an archipelago located approximately 360 km from Natal (RN). Considered a state district of Pernambuco, the archipelago is formed by a main island (the only one inhabited) and 20 islets and cliffs. In order to protect this rich ecosystem, the National Marine Park of Fernando de Noronha was created in 1988. The park covers all the islets and about two-thirds of the main island.
I was in Fernando de Noronha at the end of February. It was very hot and the small village “Vila dos Remédios” was bustling because of a surfing championship. As soon as I arrived I left my bags in the hostel and ran to the visitor center of ICMBio. There I bought the ticket that allows you to enter the park. I also scheduled the trails I wanted to visit in the next days. Not all attractions in the park require scheduling, but some of the more interesting spots, such as the famous Atalaia pool, have a restricted number of visitors to avoid major environmental impacts.
After arriving in Fernando de Noronha, the first bird I saw was the Cattle Egret. They’re all over the place. This species is not native to the archipelago and was first spotted there in 1986. The bird adapted very well to the local conditions and today there is an overpopulation that threatens the ecosystem and causes concern at the airport (you can see egrets in the grass next to the airstrip).
Two other species of birds very easy to observe are the Noronha Vireo and the Noronha Elaenia. These birds are endemic, meaning that they can only be found in Fernando de Noronha and nowhere else on the planet! I could see both of them on the very first day as I walked through the urban area toward ICMBio. It was a joy because they were one of the main reasons for chosing this destination.
After scheduling the trails, I talked to an ICMBio employee who introduced me to the biologist Ariane Gouvêa. She works in the Aves de Noronha Project, which aims to arouse the interest of people (both locals and tourists) to the birds that inhabit the island. The project is recent (it was created in 2018) but has already made possible lectures, courses, birdwalks and activities for children. The small guide below is distributed for free by the project and is so beautiful! It was super helpful while I was birding around the island!
Most of the birds that appear in the guide folder are easy to find, you just need to pay attention during the touristics tours, when walking the trails or even while having a tan on the beaches. The Eared Dove was the easiest bird to photograph. It belongs to the subspecies Zenaida auriculata noronha. It’s not much different from the Eared Doves I always see in São Paulo, but it seemed a bit more colorful, with more vibrant colors.
Boobies are certainly the birds most noticed by tourists. I’ve seen a lot of people marveled at the fast and precise dives that boobies do for fishing, sometimes very close to the beach. On the ground they lose some of their grace and walk awkwardly, like ducks. In Noronha there are three species of boobies: the Brown Booby, the Red-footed Booby and the Masked Booby.
The White Tern is a species that I wanted very much to observe. In Brazil this bird can be found only in Noronha, Abrolhos, Trindade and Martim Vaz. Piece of cake, I saw several White Terns flying near the belvedere of the Dolphin Bay. Then I went down to Sancho beach (voted the most beautiful beach in the world by TripAdvisor in 2019) and I could see closely some White Terns while they were resting perched in the trees.
But the fauna of Noronha is not restricted to birds. In every corner you find a small and restless lizard, which even climbs up into trees. It is the Noronha Skink (known there as “Mabuia”), an endemic reptile of the archipelago. The Noronha Skink would have few predators to worry about, if not for the cats. It is estimated that today there are about 1,300 cats in Fernando de Noronha, many of them feral (that is, they live loose in nature, not depending on humans to survive). Their favorite prey is the Noronha Skink, but noronha cats also prey on bird nests.
Another easy-to-find animal in Noronha is the Rock Cavy (or “Mocó”). This friendly rodent is quite docile, allowing tourists to get very close (remembering that we should never touch or feed wild animals). But it is another species that is not native to the island. I did not find reliable sources to cite, but as far as I could discover the Rock Cavy was brought from the Caatinga (at Brazilian Northeast) to the island on purpouse, for consumption of its meat. In just a few decades its population has grown greatly.
The Rock Cavy, the domestic cat and the Tegu are considered invasive species in Noronha and researchers of the Tríade (Brazilian Institute for Conservation Medicine) study methods to control their populations.
As you can see, Noronha is a place that attracts many researchers. In addition to research projects on avifauna and control of invasive species, there are also many biologists and veterinarians studying the sea life. Spinner dolphins are famous inhabitants of Noronha waters, but the archipelago is also home to countless species of crustaceans, fish, rays, sharks and sea turtles. The TAMAR Project has one scientific base there, right next to ICMBio, offering many activities for visitors. Every evening the project offers a lecture on various subjects and twice a week tourists are invited to accompany a scientific capture of sea turtles. I could see one of these captures in the Sueste Bay and it was very exciting. In a few minutes the sea turtle (which can be a Green sea turtle or a Hawksbill sea turtle, both species live in the waters of the region) is removed from the water, measured, weighed and marked with a ring, if the animal is not marked yet. This research methodology is carried out since 1987 and thanks to this work today there is a great data set available on the biology of these turtles.
Speaking about the Sueste Bay, this was one of the beaches I liked the most. In addition to the opportunity to carry out a scientific capture of TAMAR, I also snorkelled there and could observe sea turtles and small sharks in their natural environment. In the late afternoon, after the beach was closed (some park attractions have restricted visitors time), I was waiting for the bus at the ICMBio information point. From there I was able to see a bunch of plovers that were making a last meal before nightfall.
Close to the Sueste Bay you will find the Xaréu’s pond, a great place to observe migratory birds and other birds that come to the island by chance. A Grey Heron had been spotted recently, so I visit to the pond every time I could in hope to find it. I didn’t get it, but I saw American Whimbrels, Black-bellied Plovers, and Squacco Herons . This heron is native to Africa, Europe and part of Asia, but has often been recorded in Fernando de Noronha.
Indeed, Fernando de Noronha is one of the places with greater diversity of seabirds in the Brazil. Unfortunately, it should be noted that the main island is only 17 km2 and houses approximately 2,600 residents. Even with much of this area protected by the marine park (recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Site), Noronha’s ecosystem is extremely fragile and has suffered many environmental impacts.