The island of Cozumel off the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is the largest of the islands in the Mesoamerican Reef system. The Mesoamerican Reef is the largest in the Atlantic Ocean, and it stretches about 450 miles southward from the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula to the coast of Honduras. Cozumel’s white-sand beaches slope down into the transparent waters that surround the island’s spectacular coral reefs. The interior of the island is relatively undeveloped, making it a refuge for endemic (found nowhere else) and endangered species of birds and other animals.
This image of the island was captured by the Landsat satellite on April 17, 2001. The major resort area, San Miguel, makes a white spot on the western coastline, and several roads can be seen crisscrossing the interior. Among Cozumel’s many natural treasures is the Punta Sur National Park at the southern tip of the island. The large park encompasses marine and terrestrial protected areas, including lagoons with crystal clear water and mangrove forests.
On July 17, 2005, Hurricane Emily plowed across Cozumel as a Category 4 storm. Although the storm caused significant damage to roofs, roads, and power lines, so far no deaths have been reported on the island.
Named Isla de Aves in Spanish, (meaning “Island of the Birds”) Aves Island lies west of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. It provides a nesting site to green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and, of course, birds. Because the abundant bird droppings, known as guano, could be used in fertilizer and gunpowder, guano miners worked on the island until they depleted the supply. Since its discovery by Europeans, likely in the late 16th century, Aves Island was subsequently claimed by several European nations. The island is currently claimed by Venezuela, although disputes about ownership of the island, and the surrounding exclusive economic zone in the Caribbean, continue today.