- Flora and fauna of Guantánamo Bay
The flora and fauna of
Guantánamo Bayis diverse.
Trees and shrubs
In Cuba, of the
trees native to Guantánamo Bay, only the Cuban mahoganyis of significant size. A number of these trees still stand on the Navy base, although many have been cut for their wood.
Other native trees are relatively small and of no value as
timberalthough the lignum vitaeis cherished for the manufacture of small wooden articles. The most numerous of the small unidentified trees are characterized by multitudinous thin branches, scantily leaved. Except in sheltered areas the tips of the branches are bare and white, denuded by the trade windswhich lash the Base from January to April. Trees on hillsides adjacent to the sea have a permanent landward tilt to their tops.
beaches, sea grapetrees are numerous. These trees never grow to a great height. They have almost circular leaves and grape-like bunches of berries from which jelly can be made. Edging the inlets of the Bay and bordering the Guantánamo Riverfor several miles from its mouth are mangrove trees which, in places, form almost impenetrable " jungle".
Many trees native to
Cubaand other West Indian islands have been transplanted to the Base and have prospered by dint of generous watering. These include the stately and beautiful Royal Palm, coconut palms, and dinner palms. A small thatch palmnative to the Base adds a picturesque touch.
Cacti: The Royal Poinciana, named for M. de Poinciana, a former governor of the
French West Indieshas been widely planted. In May and June the bare branches of the tree become a mass of flame-colored blossoms. The Cubans call this tree Flamboyan (Flamboyant).
fruits thrive on the Base, particularly several varieties of mangoes. Esteemed by many, mangoes cause some individuals to break out in a painful rash which may require hospital care. Avocado, papaya, banana, orange, and grapefruittrees offer fruits to suit any taste. Sweet-sops (a kind of sugar apple), soursops, guavas, and pomegranates grow on the Base but are not as important to residents as the limes which also grow at Guantánamo and are so refreshing in cooling drinks.
shrubs which in their season paint the surroundings of the quarters in vivid colors include white and pink oleander, red poinsettia, several varieties of hibiscus, and bougainvilleain colors ranging from rich purple to deep crimson. A shrub with leaves almost as colorful as flowers is the croton, widely planted on the base in a variety of colors. Nightblooming jasmine, frangipani, and a species of gardeniagive the air a special fragrance. Following the rainy season a small ground vine covers the lawns with a primrose-like yellow flower which later forms a prickly seed.
The most prevalent forms of plant life on the Base are the many varieties of
cactiwhich flourish in all uncultivated areas.
The Base is rich in
birdlife. Along with the familiar mocking bird, sparrow, grackle, and mourning dovelive strange and beautiful Cuban birds. One of these is the Cuban Tody, a gorgeous jewel no bigger than one's thumb, with a bright green back, orange bill, and geranium-red throat above a white waistcoat. By contrast the Cuban Emeraldhummingbird which is common at Guantánamo seems a very drab fellow. The Cuban Grassquit, often misnamed wild canary, is abundant.
Other birds common to the Base include the
Western Red-Legged Thrush, Greater Antillean Oriole, Stolid Flycatcher, Belted Kingfisher, Cuban Woodpecker, and West Indian Red-Bellied Woodpecker. One bird nearly always evident is the Turkey Vulture. Others are the Cuban Blackbird, Red-winged Blackbird, and the Tawny-shouldered Blackbird; the American Redstart, the Palm Warblerand the Black and White Warbler.
Feathered oddities include the Cuban
Lizard Cuckoo, a big, awkward brown bird with a strange guttural voice, and the Smooth-billed Ani, a black bird with an extraordinary high-ridged bill.
The little Cuban
Pygmy Owl, which hunts by day as well as night, and the Barn Owlare also found on the Base. Another bird of prey is the Sparrow Hawk.
In addition to the
Mourning Dove, there are White-winged Doves and Turtle Doves in abundance. During June and July, White-crowned Pigeons flock to the mangrove islands in the Bay to nest and raise their young.
Brown Pelican, Anhinga, Magnificent Frigatebird, and several species of gulls and terns are common at Guantánamo Bay, seen elsewhere chiefly through the pages of " Birds of the West Indies,"by James Bond, a volume which is in great demand at the Base Library. Canadian Geeseare known to migrate there between December and February.
Other wildlife includes a small species of white-tail
deer, similar in size and appearance to the Florida deer, and a large tree-dwelling native rodentcalled the jutia(pronounced hoo-tee-ah). With brown fur, and about the size of an opossum, the jutia has the 'possum's long bare tail, but aside from that feature more nearly resembles the woodchuck. American residents refer to the jutia as "Banana Rats." The jutia is eaten and esteemed as a delicacy by many Cubans.
A species of boa constrictor, the Maja, reaches a length of ten feet or more and a number have been killed on the Base. The maja is non-poisonous, and apparently harmless to man, as are the other smaller snakes found on the Base. Cuba has no poisonous snakes. Bites from these boas are uncommon, but the same cannot be said of
mosquitoes and sand flies, which at certain seasons make outdoor life after sundown miserable.
It would seem reasonable to suppose that
fishingwould be good at Guantánamo Bay, the vast expanse of the Bay itself, the Guantánamo river, and the Caribbean Seaoffering unlimited opportunities for the angler.
fishingis not exceptional. One of the contributing factors to its mediocrity is the offshore shelf, which is so precipitous that the shallows and reefs so desirable for good fishing are notably absent.
Despite the adverse factors mentioned, there is a great variety of fish in local waters, and persistent anglers make many worthwhile catches.
Sea turtleMost common game fish include the Great Barracuda, Tarpon, Kingfish, Jack, Snook, and several kinds of Snappers and Groupers. Snappers weighing more than 80 pounds (36 kg) have been landed at the mouth of the Guantánamo River, a favorite spot for Snapper fishing. Wahoo, Cobia, Pompano, Arctic Bonito, Falso Albacore, and even a few Sailfishhave been caught in waters adjacent to the Base.
Several kinds of
Sharks, including the Hammerhead, frequent the Bay and adjacent waters, as do several species of rays. Smaller fish include the mangrove snapper, trigger fish, parrot fish, angel fish, bonefish, and many others. Langosta Porpoiseare common in the Bay, and Manatees ( sea cows) have been seen in the upper reaches of the river. Sea Turtles are often observed at the surface of the water not far from shore, and many are captured as they come ashore at night at the beaches to lay their eggs.
The "Langosta", a
spiny lobster, is abundant in the Bay, and fishing for langostas is a favorite sport. Alligators are sometimes sighted in the river and in the mangrove labyrinths of the upper Bay, but they are undoubtedly not so common now as in the days when they gave the town of Caimanera, Cubaits name.
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