Sandra Torres Guzmán (Primera Hora) brings attention to lawyer Roberto Rafols, aka Capitán Pelícano, who has transformed his connection with these seabirds into a tourism and educational experience for the protection of the species. Here are excerpts:
Whoever arrives at Aguadilla’s Rompeolas beach to take a yawl [yola: local, traditional wooden boat] tour with Roberto Rafols, known as Capitán Pelícano, cannot imagine the magnitude of the experience they are about to witness, accompanied by a professional lawyer transformed into an interpreter of nature.
This is how the “Adventures of Capitán Pelícano” begins. The “captain” welcomes his visitors with the history of the Aguadillan-made boat, or yola and, immediately, when he blows the conch shell, the first brown pelican responds to his call and stands on the humble boat that identifies the fishermen of the area.
“¡Top, top, top, top!” In this way, the picturesque 45-year-old captain communicates with the impressive greyish-brown seabird, characteristic for its long beak and a huge pouch on its neck, which he has baptized with different names, among them, Felipe, Hope, Princess and Peace.
“Good morning, Felipe, how are you?” says Rafols when greeting his feathered friend, while explaining that, “30 pelicans can arrive here. There are different tribes, further out you see Hope. This is how several families of pelicans arrive, each one with its name and its own personality.”
At the helm is Rafael Rivera Blondet, alias Captain Wood, who steers the ship through Aguada Bay until it reaches the first stop. It is an interesting rock formation from which the figure of a jaguar carved in stone stands out, surrounded by colossal trees, mainly the flamboyant [or flame tree].
“Here is the habitat of the pelican that is part of the family ‘brown pelicans’ [pelícano pardo]. They live in Central America, the Caribbean, and they even reach the United States. They lay from one to three eggs, but lately only one egg is being laid, and the reason is that the microplastics in the oceans are affecting the sardines,” he highlights.
“¡Top, top, top, top!” This is how Capitán Pelícano continues calling the members of this species, which is in danger of extinction in Puerto Rico. However, the connection with this man seems to grow stronger as time goes on.
“In that path of life, I grew up with a man who was called Harry ‘The Pelican Whisperer,’ who wanted to share with pelicans and began that relationship. We admired him, he was our teacher, but he died and left that legacy. At one point, I rescued a three-month-old pelican that was entangled in fishing line and who won over our hearts; he never left my side,” said Rafols, who grew up in the Crash Boat community.
However, his first pelican had arrived with a huge wound in his pouch and, in order to save it, he took it to the Manatee Conservation Center in Bayamón. But the bird got away. “I began with all my heart to make a public call and they began to share the video, and within six months, Felipe returned; he found his way back home. This is how this incredible connection with our pelicans was born. But everything has been over time, with the day to day, with love,” he highlighted when explaining the response of the pelicans when they hear his voice.
“They are hungry, but now everyone wants to come fishing. The new fishermen want to catch all the sardines, and they don’t share them with the pelicans, and that’s why they are starving. That’s why I don’t give them sardines, but rather I give them back,” he lamented when sharing fish with the pelicans who, as they arrived, ate and then stayed playing and watching their captain. [. . .]
“The brown pelican is in danger of extinction on our island because Hurricane María also affected the species and reduced it to 50%, and the developments surrounding its habitat have caused the species to decline. I am like a caretaker of the species and its habitat,” he insisted.
Why did he leave his legal profession to become an advocate for these birds?
“I used to be a lawyer. I graduated 20 years ago, and 13 years ago I decided that it was not my path in life. I thought about following my passion to see where life would take me, and I started to teach surfing. I was the first Puerto Rican to enter the classroom to teach surfing as a sport, and from there, life set me on the path of autistic children and I began to offer sea therapy,” he recounted.
“When my dad died, the only thing he left me as an inheritance was an Aguadillan yola. I started using it leisurely and took it out to sea. Little by little, I was doing this activity and the people who visited me fell in love with the idea and asked me why I didn’t start taking people out for rides and speaking about the history of my town,” he added. However, “I never thought that the pelicans were going to figure so prominently in my life.”
“Currently, we are proposing to create the Brown Pelican National Reserve [Reserva Nacional del Pelícano Pardo] in our bay and thus protect their habitat, where they nest. We also want the Crash Boat Marine Reserve to be declared in order to preserve the water, which is where they spend most of their time, because we are receiving a series of discharges full of contaminants in our bay,” he argued.
Capitán Pelícano offers several adventures of approximately three hours each, which will also take you to caves, beaches, and all the natural beauty of Aguadilla.
For full article (in Spanish), see https://www.primerahora.com/noticias/puerto-rico/notas/impresionantes-las-aventuras-del-capitan-pelicano/