In the last few years, hurricanes and cold-front systems have damaged coastal habitats, coastal infrastructure and exacerbated existing severe erosion of the coast of Puerto Rico. Many mangrove forests on the north coast of Puerto Rico were devastated by recent storms resulting in breaching and near total destruction. The communities behind these forests lost their natural protection and were severely damaged by winds and flooding resulting from storm surges. The damage to these forests has led to the loss of key ecosystem services, including food provision, storm protection, land accretion, and recreation. The lack of recovery of these forests has compromised the ability of these communities to combat sea-level rise and future storm events. It is vital, for both the forest and the communities, for a quick restoration of these functions.
With the support of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, BirdsCaribbean, and Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), the University of Puerto Rico at Aguadilla’s Center for Coastal Restoration and Conservation, known locally as Vida Marina UPR, started the restoration of four valuable mangrove forests in the Northwest region of Puerto Rico. These forests were destroyed after the two storms – Hurricanes Irma and Maria – hit the island in 2017, a “double whammy.” Critical infrastructure was left at the mercy of future storms, future hurricanes, and in danger of future destruction.
However, thanks to funding provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Coastal Resilience Grant, our center is now able to help in the recovery of these remarkable ecosystems—bulwarks against the impact of climate change. We are planting mangroves beginning summer of 2021, but we already taking a look at the current conditions of our restoration sites, preparing for our work, and coordinating future activities that will integrate local communities into the restoration process.
The restoration of these mangroves will reinstate the primary line of defense against storm surges for local communities, that increasingly threaten their livelihood and economies. Main access to roads and sanitary infrastructure, essential for those living on the coast, will be protected. The restored mangroves will also provide habitat for many species that, when carefully managed, will be sustainably harvested for local consumption or sale.
Also, thanks to the aid of UW-Madison’s Latino Earth Partnership’s training, we will get communities involved. Citizens on the ground will take “ownership” of the project, and the work will create a sense of stewardship that will result in stronger and more resilient coastal communities. The training will help create community groups that are empowered to identify and respond to threats to their homes and their livelihoods – swiftly and effectively.