Years Collecting Around São Sebastião, São Paulo, Brazil
by Jose Coltro (December
Ilha de São
Sebastião is the largest island on the Brazilian coast.
It has a wonderful, well-preserved tropical rain forest, mountains
over 2,000 meters high, hundreds of small, very clear rivers
and fantastic waterfalls. The lee side of the island is occupied
by the small city of Ilhabela. About 10,000 people live there,
except in Brazil's summer, when 30,000 tourists invade the island.
No bridge exists; there's only a ferryboat system to transport
your car to the island. Few roads are in good condition, most
of them dirt roads, including the one that crosses the island.
Most people who live on Ilha de São Sebastião,
including tourists who have beach houses there, don't want to
change the quality of life on the island. It has good facilities
-- schools, hospital, supermarkets, shops, very good restaurants
and more. But everything is limited to protect the natural environment.
No large numbers of non-resident tourists are allowed to visit
the island and you won't see huge tourist buses there. It is
really a very nice place.
In 1982 Marcus
and I made our first shelling trip to Ilha de São Sebastião,
driving approximately 210 km from our home in São Paulo.
At that time the north part of the São Paulo (State)
coast was extremely wild and rather untraveled. On this first
trip we found few shells, but on the next trip, the São
Sebastião area became our best collecting source. This
time we stayed several days on the island; we did our first
snorkel on the lee or mainland side, near an islet called Ilha
das Cabras. It was a wonderful surprise: under the first rock
that we turned we found our first Cypraea zebra L., 1758. In
the same day we saw over 75 specimens! It was like a dream come
From then on
we visited São Sebastião every few weeks, always
with our friend Luiz Francisco Viscardi, whose motherinlaw
had a nice house on the island. At first we limited our expeditions
to the lee side. Then we crossed the island on a very primitive
25-mile road to Castelhanos Bay. The trip was really fantastic
-- the kind you keep in a special place in your memories --
through a gorgeous tropical forest, full of birds, orchids,
and wild animals, lovely small waterfalls and picturesque mountains.
Finally we reached the other side of São Sebastião:
A superb view! A very large beach edging a beautiful bay dotted
with many small islands, and no people around. The only unpleasant
aspect was a small bug, one we call "borrachudo,"
a larger cousin of Florida's most troublesome insect, the mosquito;
but with a good repellent we were able to enjoy the place.
A few years later
our base changed from Ilhabela to Luiz Francisco's new house
in the city of São Sebastião, on the mainland
across from the island. He bought a nice boat and we started
to explore the rest of Ilha de São Sebastião.
The north side has a few isolated beaches and excellent spots
to dive, like the nearby islands of Buzios and Vitoria. Using
the boat we began diving frequently and the shells started to
appear. We found some really nice Calliostoma depictum Dall,
1927 and another Calliostoma species (cf. C. bullisi Clench
and Turner, 1960). Species never found in southern Brazil were
here: Cypraea acicularis Gmelin, 1791; Conus regius Gmelin,
1791 and Bursa corrugata ponderosa (Reeve, 1844). New species
and subspecies were described from this area: Oliva circinata
tostesi Petuch, 1977 and Calliostoma viscardi Quinn, 1992.
In 1991 we started
to dredge around the island, trying many places until we found
the best spot, near Buzios Island -- its name means, fittingly,
"large snail." We dredged many species: the rare Trophon
pelseneeri E. A. Smith, 1915 and Typhis cleryi (Petit, 1842)
among them. (See Species List
of Shells from São Sebastião)
The island is
still a wonderful place to look for shells and adventures, too.
In spite of progress and the occupation of much of the mainland
coast with houses and condominiums, the island has most of its
coast unexplored -- 90% of the island is a State Park, preserved
just as it was 500 years ago! It is wonderful to have a paradise