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Guana Island comes alive

By Dan O’Connor

The short boat ride from Tortola’s Trellis Bay to Guana Island’s White Bay exposes a familiar view I’ve admired from Tortola’s north shore beaches countless times.

Around its eastern Monkey Point, Guna Island reveals its dramatic iguana rock head and its sugar-fine White Bay belly. But instead of enjoying the mystical island from afar for a fleeting moment, today I get to experience all its splendors for my personal enjoyment.

From the short dock that leads to White Bay, I’m greeted by assistant manager Andrea Starkey, who leads us to our golf cart buggies that act as our transport across the island’s few, quaint roadways. As we board the buggies, I look down into the bright blue water; a vast shoal of shining Caribbean herring look back at me. The waters are teeming with life. I’d soon find out that so is the rest of the island.

Andrea suggests a scenic introductory tour of the island to help me get acquainted with this starkly unique Virgin Island. We first traverse through the nine acres of flatland that lead to the orchard and past the salt pond to the North Shore. As a Tortola resident and regular visitor to the VI’s outer islands and cays, I’m still taken aback by the serene and unscathed ambiance as we navigate the smooth terrain.

From the island’s flats we travel a short, flora-canopied trail that opens in dramatic form to the island’s salt pond. In its foreground, ruins from an 18th century Quaker sugar mill stand as a reminder of Guana’s past and its inhabitants that likely first developed the island. To the mill’s side, a blooming flamboyant tree shades a romantic nook that overlooks the pond and its lurid flamingo inhabitants. Today, nine feathery friends wade in the warm and mineral-rich waters. While three are considered full-time residents of the pond, six have flown over from either Necker Island or Anegada. In the mid eighties, Guana’s current owners, Henry and Gloria Jarecki, worked hard to bring flamingos to Anegada, where they have since successfully mated and now call several BVI salt ponds home.

The Jareckis, who’ve owned Guna Island since 1975, have brought their environmental ethos to the islands and have made every effort to bring their idea of preservation to Guana. They’ve since declared the island a nature reserve and turn it over to a group of researchers for two months of the year—August and September—when they study its unique land and marine life. As a result, Guana boasts one of the largest catalogued ecosystems in the Caribbean. According to longtime Guana researcher Dr James “Skip” Lazell, who wrote the literal book on the island’s natural history (Island: Fact and Theory in Nature), “Guana has more flora and fauna than any island of its size yet studied in the Caribbean, and possibly the world.” As I explore the islands 850 budding, chirping and crawling acres, I can see how this could be true.


As we continue onto the Island’s rugged north shore, we stop by the recently refurbished Jost House. Before entering, we stop to feed the endangered red-legged tortoises, which are also on the verge of being successfully reintroduced to their new setting. The large and curious creatures wobble toward Andrea as she cautiously feeds them hibiscus blossoms—a favourite treat.