Caja de Muertos is located 8.4 km south of the Puerto Rican mainland and is part of the Playa barrio of Ponce, Puerto Rico, municipality.
Geography and climate
The island measures 2.75 km long northeast-southwest, and up to 860 meters wide (560 meters on the average). It has an area of 1.54 km². Close by are Morrillito Key (180 m off the southwest point, 0.04 km²) and Berbería Key (6.2 km to the northeast, 0.30 km²), both part of the Caja de Muertos Natural Reserve. Berbería Key belongs to Rio Canas Abajo barrio of Juana Diaz municipality.
The climate is dry and the island supports dry forest. A still-functioning lighthouse, Caja de Muertos Light, established in 1887 and automated in 1945, sits atop the highest hill on the island.
there is no consensus on how the island got its name, one story given by Kurt Pitzer and Tara Stevens is that of a Portuguese pirate, Jose Almeida. A former merchant sailor, Almeida fell in love with a Basque lady in Curaçao, married her in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands and took her pirating with him around the Caribbean. On the first raid, however she was killed by a stray bullet. Distraught, Almeida had her embalmed and placed in a glass box inside a copper coffin. He buried her in a cave in a deserted island near Ponce. He would come every month to gaze over her preserved body and leave half of his treasure in her grave. Almeida, however, was caught in the Puerto Rico mainland, tried, and executed in El Morro in 1832. Many years later, a Spanish engineer discovered the glass and copper coffin, and identifying the cay on a map gave it its present name. The treasure found, if any, was kept secret.
Another possibility is that the island got its name because it resembles someone lying down when seen from the main island. Caja de Muertos can be translated into English as "Coffin" or "Dead Man's Chest".
Other than the aforementioned meaning of the name, it has also been suggested by A. W. Van Buren of Yale University that the island's name may be related to the sea shanty "Dead man's chest", probably first written by Robert Louis Stevenson for his novel Treasure Island.
The official version of the origin of the name, as given by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources, and under whose care the island is currently entrusted, is as follows: "Its name is attributed to the 18th century French writer Jean Baptist Labat who called it Coffre A’morr (Caja de Muertos), making reference to the fact that when the island is seen from certain places in southern Puerto Rico, it gives the impression of seeing a dead person laying on a plateau."
The island was designated as a nature reserve in 1980 after a meeting was held in Puerto Rico by the Puerto Rico Planning Board wherein they considered the recommendation set forth by the Coastal Management Zone Program to turn the island into a protected wilderness area. The island has remained a protected area ever since. The protection is mainly due to its heavy turtle traffic which is an endangered species.