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Discovery and colonial times.
Little is known on the activities done by man in Los Roques in times of discovery and European conquest. There is no doubt that previous to the discovery these islands had already been sighted by European navigators. However, it was not until 1589 when the then governor of the Venezuelan province ordered the formal take over of these islands on behalf of the colony. In the beaches of Los Roques and other Venezuelan islands, wood crosses were set up and mass was held. These acts could have been originated by the need to strengthen the defense of the Venezuelan coast form the constant incursions of filibusters (Pirates). However, apparently there were no effective follow up actions and they were merely political actions done by colonial authorities. As a matter of fact during colonial times, these islands never became part of the socioeconomic texture of the mainland province.
As a result of official neglect, Los Roques and other adjacent islands were visited by pearl searchers and pirates. The former did not find pearls in Los Roques and the latter did find a perfect refuge and ideal beaches for the overhauling of their ships. It is a paradox that we owe William Dampier, English buccaneer of the XVII century, the most interesting description of Los Roques, its landscape and its fauna.
During the XVI and until XVIII centuries salt was one of the most coveted resources in world markets and its exploitation in Venezuelan salt mines was strictly controlled by colonial authorities.
The salt mines in Cayo Sal, located in the southwest of Los Roques archipelago had been exploited from pre Hispanic times. However, it was not until the late XVIII century that colonial authorities set up a small customs house in this island to charge for the extraction rights of this resource.
In the western part of the island there are still dikes built of coral stones that crossed inside lagoons and made salt production easier. On the shores of one of these lagoons, great amounts of coral stones were found which turned out to be the foundations of a small wooden rectangular house. Behind the house a dump was found with a wide variety of waste food, fragments of Spanish ceramics, cutlery, pots and tools. It all seems to indicate that these are the remains of the above mentioned customs house and the extraction of salt during the latter part of the XVIII century.
Salt extraction dominated a great deal of the economic activity during of the islands in the later part of the XIX century. This industry was in charge of a Dutch man Cornelius Boye also a naturalist who welcomed many other naturalists and scientists to Los Roques such as Adolph Ernst. He has provided not only scientific information but also vivid details of life in Gran Roque.
The extensive exploitation of wood timber from the mangrove was another activity developed in Los Roques during the XIX century. Although there are not written accounts of this, but steam ships stopped by frequently in search of timber for the boilers of steam ships. This stop in Los Roques was convenient as timber was abundant and cheap and sometimes free of charge. Great amounts of mangrove trees disappeared in the chimneys of many steam ships.
Very little is known about other two other activities carried out here: limestone production and the burning of vegetable coal. Both activities according to testimony by very old inhabitants were done by people from the Dutch island of Curacao and under extremely difficult conditions. The work of men between under the hot sun and the heat of limestone ovens was terrible. Coal and limestone production was distributed in the nearby Dutch islands and in the Venezuelan mainland.
All men who wandered by Los Roques from Amerindians to those who burnt coal and limestone collected salt, Botuto, captured turtles, lobsters, iguanas and birds and used wood from the mangrove tree for burning and construction also developed, and improved fishing constantly during the years. As a result over the centuries man has affected the resources and the landscape of the archipelago. The islands shaped man, society and its beliefs.