Culebra is an 11.6 square mile island located off of the northeast coast of Puerto Rico. It is home to 1,900 residents, beautiful coral reefs and a robust tourist economy. It is a somewhat harrowing yet stunning plane ride from the main island to this priority coral reef protection area. My first visit to Culebra was with my family in 2013 where we had a great time touring the island in our Jerry’s Jeep (“It’s not a heap, it’s a Jerry’s Jeep!”) and snorkeling off of the white sand beaches. We collectively, quite simply, fell in love with Culebra.
My second trip to Culebra in 2014 was entirely different. I was contracted by a local watershed organization– Protectores de Cuencas – to help track down sources of sewage contamination from the little restaurants where we ate and the residential areas that we admired during my earlier trip. While some places on Culebra are connected to a wastewater treatment facility, too many are not, and untreated sewage is being discharged into marine waters as a result. These waters, already stressed from global factors like climate change, are even more stressed from this overload of nutrients, bacteria and pathogens. Although I feel that I should be jaded enough to know better, I still find myself amazed that an economy so dependent on tourism, would not be doing everything possible to protect and safeguard its waters.
Queue Proctectores de Cuencas, a newly formed watershed organization in Puerto Rico is taking the territory by storm with their efforts. Along with many partners, the group wrote a watershed restoration plan for the island and is now hard at work with implementation. I am hopeful and thankful for grassroots efforts such as these as they truly are the driving force for saving the places we love.
Take-a-way: There is a lot to do but fortunately there are groups all around the world trying to bring us back into balance with nature.