A Day in the Life of a Marine Biologist's Dream Job at a Luxury Beach Resort in Puerto Rico
In Río Grande, Puerto Rico — near El Yunque rainforest and 40 minutes outside of San Juan — a luxury beach resort is implementing strict sustainability practices to protect its natural surroundings. The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort is one of just 21 resorts in the world that is a certified Gold Audubon International Sanctuary and the only resort in the Caribbean with this distinction.
Visitors can sense the sanctuary status instantly upon arrival as they wind through long pathways of lush greenery and hear the sounds of the wildlife living within. More than 65 percent of the resort is dedicated green space, wildlife preserves, and nature trails through marshes, lakes, a coconut plantation, freshwater swamps, mangroves, sandy beaches, coral reef, and secondary forests. At Bahia Beach you’re immersed in a level of nature that is transformative, and you’re reminded at every turn why our natural world is so valuable.
To stay committed and maintain its Audubon status, St. Regis has a dedicated, expert green team of two incredibly talented marine biologists, Marcela Cañón and Ashely Perez. The core team is responsible for adhering to the guidelines of Audubon by preserving and nurturing the natural environment. Their days are filled with observing and keeping tabs on wildlife habitats, checking water systems, and ensuring the landscaping is done with native plants. Cañón and Perez also train all of the resort employees to be ancillary members of the green team with lessons in recycling and managing food waste in the kitchens.
In collaboration with Bahía Beach Resort, Cañón created a non-profit foundation called Soul of Bahia that partners with public and private organizations to protect the environment and educate the public. The foundation works with schools to educate about the environment, hosts annual spring beach clean ups at the Herrera River, and helps local communities better prepare for storms with donations and educational support as well as assisting in post-storm recovery.
Guests and friends of Bahia Beach Resort can get involved with the eco-efforts through tours of the property’s green spaces, socializing with the rescued dogs and cats, and taking part in environmental educational experiences this holiday season.
Travel + Leisure was granted behind-the-scenes access to capture the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort’s Green Team in action. The core team maintains the natural environment throughout the resort property, from rescuing stray cats and dogs to helping sea turtles hatch and maintaining clean beaches and waterways. Despite the hard, tedious work of being a marine biologist, working in this environment to ensure the protection and longevity of the eco-systems at a five-star luxury resort is certainly a dream job.
From one of two resort lakes you'll catch a view of El Yunque rain forest off in the distance. El Yunque protects the resort from harsh winds and rain. There is a multi-organization effort, Soul of Bahia included, to increase the percentage of land concentration across the island to 33 percent by 2033. With an intense level of concentrated efforts over the past few years to preserve and protect natural areas, the island is currently 16 percent protected.
Marcela stops to pick a few sea grapes from a coccoloba uvifera tree. The juicy and bitter fruit grows naturally around the resort and in the Caribbean; the casual poolside restaurant on the property near Casa Grande is named after the local fruit.
You’ll find these beautiful, elegant Great Egrets around the resort, especially at the koi pond near the main house looking for some snacks.
Iguanas are not native to Puerto Rico, but they can be found all over the island. The iguanas near Bahía spend their time in the trees. Be sure to not get too close if you find yourself in a kayak beneath them.
On my kayak tour with Cañón, we came across this termite mound on a palm tree; she was ecstatic about its existence. While termites in your home might be a nightmare, termites in the natural environment are incredibly helpful to the breaking down of dead wood. Cañón works with Perez to test the water around the resort.
On the edge of the resort and the Río Espíritu Santo Natural Reserve is the mouth of the Río Espíritu Santo (the Holy Spirit River). This river was littered with large appliances and trash when Cañón started on the job, but with frequent beach clean ups, it’s turned out to be a peaceful clearing where sandpipers and pelicans nest. Mangrove trees are planted along the edge of the river to help prevent major flooding.
Along the shores of Río Espíritu Santo, migratory birds enjoy newly formed tide pools as sandpipers run along in the sand.
Duke and Dorian, both recently rescued strays, get fed for the day. Dorian wandered up after Hurricane Dorian passed through the island. Duke is up for adoption and will soon be transferred to a partner shelter in Las Vegas. Hurricane Maria destroyed the resort's dog shelter, but they will reopen a brand new shelter at the end of November.
Cañón walks with Duke through the banana and plantain trees in the farm area. The resort grows its own fruit and vegetables and will soon have a few chickens and beehives, abiding by sustainability practices. If offered any passion fruit during your stay, give it a try. You will not regret it.
Inside the flower of a banana tree where the fruit will grow.
From early May to mid September, the beaches of the resort are home and host to the nesting and hatching of leatherback sea turtles. It becomes important after the hatching period to check the nests for any lingering unhatched sea turtles. During my stay, Marcela found one buried under the weight of sand and became an emergency rescue to get the hatchling free.
The leatherback sea turtles hatch under the protection of marked nests along the beach and guests are welcome to view from a safe distance. The sex of sea turtles is determined by temperature — ones born earlier in the season during cooler temperatures tend to be male, and as it becomes warmer, more females hatch.