Aves Island

Photo: Veronidae [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Veronidae [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons
You’re heading toward one of the most pristine snorkeling spots in the Caribbean. There won’t be any tour boats jockeying for position in the water, lines trying to squeeze through coral formations, or loud beach parties focused on rum cocktails instead of the underwater scenery. In fact, few people have even heard of Aves Island.

Aves Island (Bird Island) sits in the eastern Caribbean Sea. It’s more than 100 miles southwest of Montserrat (its closest neighbor) and 140 miles west of Dominica (which claims it). But the island, which is so small that the United Nations classifies it as a rock, is actually a dependency of Venezuela, 340 miles to the south. The island was first discovered in 1584 and, subsequently, claimed by everyone from England and Spain to Portugal and the Netherlands. Turtle and bird eggs were collected here in the 17th-19th centuries. Guano was mined for fertilizer later in the 19th century. But the land dispute didn’t erupt until the 1970s, when both Venezuela and Dominica vied for the ocean resources surrounding Aves Island.

This disputed island is tiny. It’s only 1,230 feet long by 160 feet at its widest point. The coral-covered sandbank is filled with low, scrubby vegetation in its center. A little bit of grass lines the northern end, where green sea turtles breed. The island is mostly just sand, reaching only 13 feet above sea level on a calm day, though. When a hurricane blows through the area, the island is completely submerged. No wonder the surrounding water is littered with shipwrecks.

It’s those shipwrecks, plus sandbars and corals, that you’re quickly approaching now. The little island looks like a speck on the horizon. You’re excited to see sea turtles, schools of neon-colored fish, and maybe a shark or two when you get into the water. You’re claiming Aves Island for the afternoon.

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