By Andres Jiménez

Underwater Photos to Noel López 

I work as a Diving Instructor at Los Jardines de la Reina «The Gardens of the Queen» this is a chain of 250 virgin coral islands, set in a blue jade sea. Completely undeveloped, a natural water wilderness, stretching for over 75 miles, and at times some 20 miles wide, 60 miles off the mainland. Jardines de la Reina is a Natural Park. Access is restricted and limited. Commercial fishing has been banned from all but the outermost edges of the Park. The little town of Jucaro with its old fashioned wooden houses and 2000 inhabitants is the entrance point to this private world of water, fish and coral. The first time I visited this place, when I saw the town I never imagined the paradise that was waiting offshore.

Aside from a stunning variety of marine life, the coral islands are home to a fascinating collection of birds, mammals, reptiles and plants. Birds are ospreys, pelicans, frigate birds, spoonbills, and many different sorts of heron and egret. The only mammal is the ‘Jutia’ a tree loving animal the size of a squirrel, while reptiles are represented by a large population of iguanas, turtles and crocodiles. The flora is mainly coastal vegetation, different forms of Caribbean pine trees, sea grapes and the ever present mangroves.

This 75 mile long mangrove and coral island system certainly is one of the last virgin reefs known to man. Like so much of the Caribbean, the real beauty is below the surface. A chain of coral reefs, very close to the Southern shore of the archipelago, is made up of undisturbed and undamaged coral. Mangrove roots provide an incredible nursery area for smaller fish providing the reef with huge schools of baitfish. The quantity of food attracts many large predators, more than anywhere else in the Caribbean. It is possible to dive with more than 20 Caribbean reef sharks, Silky sharks, also Goliath, Nassau, black, tiger Groupers and other species every day.

Imagine a marine wilderness with vertical walls covered with brightly hued sponges, black corals hanging everywhere. In my own experience as I have been working in Jardines de la Reina for over 10 years, always makes me feel like I am a visitor, I always find new experiences, new emotions.