By Fiona Hurrell, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Measuring just 7.1 square miles, Ilha Fernando de Noronha lies within the state of Pernambucco off the coast of Natal, the biggest in a group of 21 islands. Although not exactly close to the State of Rio, Fernando de Noronha has long been a popular travel destination for both Carioca holiday-makers and foreign tourists alike, who head to its crystal clear waters and white sand shores to experience paradise.
For such a small island, its history forms an intricate tapestry filled with controversy. Early discovery in 1502 is attributed to the Portuguese who then proceeded to lose it to the British after an invasion in 1534. It was later held by the French for a while and then passed briefly into the hands of the Dutch before returning, once again, to the Portuguese.
In 1736 the island was taken over by the French East Indies company who, upon finding it deserted, renamed it Isle Dauphine until it was eventually relinquished to the Portuguese, who set about fortifying the island to avoid losing it a third time. Fernando de Noronha later went on to be liberated when Brazil was granted its independence in 1822.
Like many of Brazil’s small, surrounding islands, Fernando de Noronha is a protected zone on account of it being registered as a “UNESCO World Heritage Site.” As part of its protection strategy, tourists are obliged to pay a preservation fee on arrival which is just over R$33 per day and increases steadily the longer the stay.
The reason for these conservation methods is that the island is home to a number of endemic species which warrant stringent protection. It is especially appropriate given that it is the presence of these species that attracts so many visitors.
Two rare birds typical of Fernando de Noronha are the Noronha Elaenia and the Noronha Vireo, who share the land with two indigenous reptiles, the Amphisbanena and the Trachylepis Atlantica.
The sea is also abundant with a rich marine life that includes Spinner dolphins, sea tortoises and sting rays. Needless to say, the island is a scuba diver’s paradise, renowned for its good visibility and hearty supply of fish and plant life.
Equally inviting are the beaches, particularly those found on the protected side of the island which are ideal for swimming and snorkeling. Bathing on some of the beaches, however, is restricted to certain times of the day so as to not interfere with the activities of the dolphins that frequent the waters to feed.
As a result of the environmental strategy in place, construction work on the island is heavily regulated. Pousada owner Nanci Verrissimo is an avid supporter of the restrictions, stating: “There is so much ecology on the island that it needs to be protected, and seeing as we need tourists for our business, it is important to preserve it. After all, it is the beautiful environment that draws visitors to the island year after year.”
Fernando de Noronha can be reached either by boat or by plane, both of which depart daily from Natal and Recife. The year-round good temperatures mean that the tourist season on the island is ongoing, although it has a tendency to be damp during the rainy season from April to July. Surfers are advised to visit during December through February when the waves are at their best, while divers and snorkelers are better to wait until August when the water is clearer.