COS 104-1 - Progressive Ecology: Shifting the flow of conservation biology through involving communities in the Northeastern Ecological Corridor of Puerto Rico through research and its declaration of nature reserve

Thursday, August 11, 2011: 1:30 PM
Ballroom B, Austin Convention Center
Ricardo Rivera , Plant Biology and Conservation, Northwestern University
Ana Elisa Pérez-Quintero , Grupos Ambientales Interdisciplinarios Aliados,GAIA, University of Puerto Rico - Río Piedras and SEEDS, San Juan, PR
Diana K. Guzmán , Northeastern Ecological Corridor, Coalition
Lourdes B. Lastra-Díaz , Institute for Tropical Ecosystem Studies, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus, San Juan, PR
Sara B. Ocasio , Biology, University of Puerto Rico
Carmen Guerrero , Iniciativa para un Desarrollo Sustentable, Coalition Pro-Northeastern Ecological Corridor
Ramón Salazar , Grupos Ambientales Interdisciplinarios Aliados,GAIA, University of Puerto Rico - Río Piedras and SEEDS, San Juan, PR
Betsabé D. Castro-Escobar , Biology, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus, San Juan, PR
Beatriz Otero , Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Background/Question/Methods

Covering nearly 3,000 acres in the northeastern corner of Puerto Rico, the Northeast Ecological Corridor (NEC) represents a mosaic of ecosystems and has been recognized by Commonwealth, Federal and U.S. based conservation entities as one of island’s most valuable natural sites. In 2005 a Coalition was created to protect the NEC that involved fishermen, environmental organizations, artists and many other social actors. In this Coalition a Science Action Group (SAG) was formed to come up with new ways of incorporating science into decision making and activities related to the protection of the area. SAG conducted various census and Bioblitz(s) in the area and is now developing new methodologies and projects. The Coalition has documented more than 50 rare, threatened, endangered and native species in the Corridor, including the Snowy Plover, the Brown Pelican, and the West Indian Manatee. The Corridor’s location within the foothills of El Yunque National Forest has made it a target for developers, including two proposed mega resorts. The resorts would result in massive deforestation, the filling of wetlands, channelization of rivers, and the removal of coastal vegetation, significantly impacting the species that depend on the Corridor. 

Results/Conclusions

After ten years of struggle, on October 2007, the Northeastern Ecological Corridor (N.E.C) of Puerto Rico was declared a reserve. In spite of this extraordinary conservation story, the current Governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Hon. Luis Fortuño, eliminated the designation of the NEC as a nature reserve in its entirety last October 30, 2009 to make way for the construction of unsustainable residential-tourism projects. As a means of getting more people involved SAG conducted Interviews and Digital Storytelling in adjacent communities to assess Local Ecological Knowledge. Looking to understand historical/cultural background and usage by the community of the ecosystems in the NEC. Involving the community in the active acquisition of ecological knowledge better assures their connection with the area. The protection of the Northeast Ecological Corridor represents not only an opportunity to conserve the second most important Leatherback turtle nesting beach in U.S. jurisdiction, but it is also an opportunity to develop adjacent towns as gateway communities with small business and employment based on eco-tourism.  In addition, Puerto Rico is already suffering from an alarming lack of water; over 25,000 residents in this area alone face a 4-million-gallon daily deficit.

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