First Impressions of Fernando de Noronha

I’ve just arrived in Fernando de Noronha for the start of my month-long expedition to study the impacts of introduced species on the flora and fauna on this small island off the north-east coast of Brazil.

The relatively large 120-seat commercial plane glided along the ex-US military runway before coming to a stop at the small terminal. From the air the island looked arid, as the dry season draws to a close, but the beaches and waters sparkled.

South-west coast of Fernando de Noronha, Brazil (Photo: James Russell)

Tourists to Fernando de Noronha must play a daily tourist tax, and this must be paid in advance for your intended length of stay. Although tourist taxes are not uncommon, the mode and level of taxation on Noronha is unique.

For one week the cost of staying on Noronha is US$120, for two weeks US$300, and for one month a staggering Us$1,500.

The tax is returned to the mainland state of Pernambuco but also provides a powerful tool for limiting the number of visitors and the length of their stay. Researchers are usually exempt from the tax, however the day before departing we learned that some of our team members, including myself, will have to pay the tourist tax for the entire duration of our stay due to a 90-day limit. As I line-up to pay my tax I am impressed by the slickness of this entry system to Noronha.

Soon thereafter, a video over the baggage carousel with a cartoon native mabuya lizard (Trachylepis atlantica) introduces me (and all other visitors) to conservation on the island.

Beach buggy transportation on Fernando de Noronha
Beach buggy transportation on Fernando de Noronha (Photo: James Russell)

Outside the terminal beach buggies are the standard form of transportation. Our bright green buggy takes us past World War II-era hangars converted to whatever is needed today: accommodation, shops, restaurants.

My first impression of the island is that its issues are much like those of any other inhabited tropical island, but as we watch the sunset from a rocky promenade, I see the peculiar introduced rock cavy (Kerodon rupestris), a rodent known in Brazil as mocó, darting around, and realize the island must have many surprises in store for me.

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Meet the Author
Conservation biologist Dr. James Russell works throughout the world on remote islands and other sites to provide conservation solutions by applying a combination of scientific methods. Follow James on National Geographic voices for regular updates on his own work or other exciting developments in island conservation.