Day 6 |
Apr 30, 2012

Deserta Grande and Porto Santo, Madeira, Portugal 

By Hans-Peter Reinthaler, Biologist

Co-ordinates: 33°03´N, 16°18´W
Weather: sunny slightly overcast

It was around sunrise when the Silver Explorer dropped her anchor in front of the west coast of Isla Deserta Grande. It is a nature reserve where visitors need special permission to land and visit the island. The reason for this strict management of this reserve is that it has a breeding population of one of the rarest mammals in the world: the Mediterranean Monk Seal. The conditions for Zodiac disembarkation seemed good in the morning, but after the Scout boat checked the landing site and the swell at the side gate of the ship, it was decided not to go on with our operations this morning. Instead we did a ship cruise around the island looking out for seabirds and of course, maybe with luck to see the Monk Seal. With seabirds we were lucky and could observe flocks of Cory Shearwaters. Unfortunately with the seal we were not so lucky and our sightings were equal to zero.

After the ship had completed her tour around the islands, the Captain set course to the afternoon destination: Porto Santo – an island just 40 nautical miles north of Deserta Grande.

In the meantime my colleague Gordon Corrigan and I had lectures in The Theatre. Gordon was talking about the life in the Navy of Nelson and I was presenting some facts regarding the biodiversity on our planet.

At 1 pm the Silver Explorer reached the pier of Porto Santo. On the island, two tours were offered to our guests. One was a bus tour around the island and the other was a hiking tour exploring the inland. I was assigned to the hiking tour and really was happy about that, knowing that there will be opportunities to show and do some interpretations of the botany and nature in general to our guests.

The tour started with a 15-minute bus ride to our starting point. The first section of the walk went up a slight incline but already here one could get an image of the vegetation of the island. Dry on the lower elevations and wetter with pine forests on the top of the surrounding hills. Although dry conditions, some flowers were blooming along the way: Bermuda Buttercup, Viper’s bugloss and Crystalline Iceplant. After the group reached a pass the path flattened out and we went on through a pine forest, planted originally to protect the soil from erosion. The guests and I enjoyed some beautiful viewpoints along the hike over the island. Looking down from the hill over the barren brownish slopes to the dark blue sea was very scenic and worth to stop and take pictures. After about two hours hike and a last incline, the group reached the highest point on the hike. A stunning view down to the little village of Porto Santo and the fabulous 9 km long sandy beach was the reward for the effort to get up to the top.

A short hike down brought us back again to the bus and from there we drove into the center of the village visiting the museum of Christopher Columbus. Afterwards, guests had the opportunity to enjoy some free time in the village and explore this nice little town on their own.

Despite that the day started off as not very successful, by the end it turned out a gorgeous expedition experience thanks to a nice tiny little island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Back on the ship again, our guests enjoyed a delightful dinner sailing away from the beautiful island of Porto Santo.