Saturday, April 10, 2021

FEMA: $2.2 Million Awarded for Recovery of Natural Reserves

By on February 24, 2021

Obligations will be used to repair structures in nature reserves, refuges, protected areas or recreational sites in 7 towns

SAN JUAN — “After hurricanes Irma and María, trees, endemic birds and other forms of wildlife lost their habitats, or their populations dwindled in various protected areas in Puerto Rico,” the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) explained regarding its granting of more than $2.2 million to the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DRNA by its Spanish initials) and the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust, known as Para la Naturaleza, to help the recovery of the different structures in these “ecologically valuable” areas.

These federal funds will be used to repair various structures in nine areas catalogued as nature reserves, refuges, protected areas or recreational sites in seven municipalities. “They are home to local fauna and flora, some of which are endemic or protected, bodies of water and even particular geological features,” FEMA said in a media release Wednesday.

“The island’s recovery encompasses aspects of infrastructure reconstruction and includes works to help renew our natural resources. These are part of the heritage for future generations to enjoy,” José Baquero Tirado, the federal disaster recovery coordinator for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, is quoted as saying in the release, which adds the following details:

One of the places that has been awarded funds is the Efraín Archilla Diez Nature Reserve in Humacao, for about $285,000. Here the most affected areas were the floating docks, pavilions, aquatic and terrestrial trails, and the loss of wildlife, flora and fauna, among others. The reserve, which before María received 12,000 visitors a year, is home to endemic species such as the leatherback sea turtle, the hawksbill sea turtle, the brown pelican, the Puerto Rican boa and the “palancú” crab. It also has six lagoons that help control the flow of water during heavy rainfall events, making it an important water retention center, according to data provided by Dr. Carlos Toledo Hernández, a FEMA environmental specialist with a doctorate in biology.

On the other hand, according to the reserve’s management officer, Luis Encarnación Santiago, this space is a main point for local and international tourism and directly benefits various businesses in the town of Punta Santiago. “The floating docks, located in Laguna Santa Teresa and Lagunas Palma, are used for recreational fishing, aquatic bird watching, recreation and education,” said Encarnación. “They are also used for bird watching and to educate visiting school groups.”

For the DRNA, the federal funds represent support for its plans. In this regard, DRNA Secretary Rafael Machargo Maldonado said that since he took office in March 2020, this has been his priority. “We hope to soon reestablish each of the reserves, natural areas and forests under the jurisdiction of the DRNA, for the enjoyment of all our visitors and thus help promote the economic development of the regions where they are located, through green tourism,” he added.

Likewise, Cayo Ratones will benefit from an obligation of just over $650,000, as well as the Iris Alameda Wildlife Refuge with about $544,000, both located in Cabo Rojo and administered by the DRNA. Cayo Ratones, a small one-acre island a quarter mile offshore used for recreational purposes, will use the funds for repairs to the boat dock, covered pavilions and barbecue facilities. The Iris Alameda Refuge, which includes the Boquerón State Forest and has space for amateur and recreational fishing, will repair its docks, solar-powered fishing stations and bird-watching station.

Another area that has an allocation of just over $700,000 is the Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve, one of the island’s main tourist attractions. Under the administration of Para la Naturaleza, this reserve is home to the Fajardo Lighthouse, the second oldest of Puerto Rico’s lighthouse system and one of the three bodies of water on the island-and one of the few in the world-where bioluminescent microorganisms live. Also in Laguna Grande grows turtle grass that serves as a fish hatchery, an important resource for the local economy. The funds will be used to rebuild the lighthouse, visitor’s pavilion and observation platform, among others.

Similarly, $17,000 was allocated to the Medio Mundo y Daguao Nature Reserve. This protected area between Ceiba and Naguabo contains the second largest mangrove forest on the island and is home to 26 species catalogued as rare, vulnerable or endangered, including the Puerto Rican yellow-shouldered blackbird and several species of turtles. The funds will be used to replace the facility’s contents and roof components.

Thanking FEMA for the allocation of funds, the executive director of the Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience of Puerto Rico, or COR3, engineer Manuel A. Laboy Rivera, emphasized the importance of moving forward with the development of these and other projects that protect the environment. “Our commitment is to continue joining efforts with the DNRA to guarantee the execution of projects for the recovery of nature reserves, refuges and protected areas, among others,” said Laboy.

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