Puerto Rico’s Fight for Environmental Justice and Sustainability: A Traveler’s Guide
Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island nation known for its picturesque beaches, historic sites, and vivacious culture, has long been a popular tourist destination. However, over the past decade, the island has become a center for movements that defend the environment and promote sustainable development. The efforts of local activists, residents, and government officials to address the impacts of climate change and pollution on the island have given rise to a new era of environmental justice and sustainability.
In this travel article, we explore Puerto Rico’s fight for environmental justice and sustainability and highlight some of the top tourist attractions that showcase the island’s commitment to protecting its natural resources.
Puerto Rico’s Environmental Challenges
Like many island nations, Puerto Rico is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including sea-level rise, coral bleaching, and more frequent and intense hurricanes. The island’s reliance on fossil fuels, poor wastewater management, and insufficient waste disposal infrastructure have also contributed to air and water pollution, impacting the health and well-being of its residents.
In 2017, Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm, devastated Puerto Rico, disrupting the island’s electricity, water, transportation, and communication systems. The hurricane caused widespread damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure, and led to the loss of thousands of lives.
The disaster brought to light the island’s long-standing environmental challenges and the urgent need to take action to address them. In the aftermath of the hurricane, many Puerto Ricans became vocal advocates for environmental justice and sustainability, working to rebuild their communities in a way that would avoid repeating past mistakes and create a more resilient future.
Fighting for Environmental Justice
Puerto Rico’s environmental justice movement seeks to address the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on low-income and minority communities. For example, many of the island’s landfills and waste management facilities are located in or near low-income neighborhoods, exposing residents to toxins and pollutants.
One of the most high-profile environmental justice campaigns in recent years has been the fight against the proposed AES Puerto Rico coal-fired power plant. The plant, which would have been located in the southern coastal town of Guayama, drew opposition from local residents, environmental groups, and even celebrities such as Ricky Martin and Residente.
The campaign to stop the plant ultimately succeeded in 2018, when the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority announced that it would not renew its contract with AES Puerto Rico, effectively ending the project.
Promoting Sustainable Development
In addition to addressing environmental justice concerns, Puerto Rico is also working to promote sustainable development through initiatives such as renewable energy and ecotourism.
The island has set a goal to generate 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050, and has already made significant progress toward that goal. In 2020, Puerto Rico became the first U.S. territory to pass a 100% renewable energy bill, which mandates the transition to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.
Ecotourism is also playing an important role in Puerto Rico’s sustainable development efforts. The island boasts a wealth of natural wonders, including El Yunque National Forest, one of the largest tropical rainforests in the United States, and the bioluminescent bay at Vieques Island, where microorganisms light up the water at night.
Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Puerto Rico’s Fight for Environmental Justice and Sustainability
1. El Yunque National Forest: Explore one of the largest tropical rainforests in the United States and learn about Puerto Rico’s efforts to protect its unique biodiversity.
2. Bioluminescent Bay at Vieques Island: Take a night tour of the bay to see the glowing microorganisms up close and learn about the importance of protecting this fragile ecosystem.
3. Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge: Witness the spectacular pink salt flats and observe the diverse birdlife that calls this refuge home.
4. Culebra Island: Visit one of the most pristine beaches in the world and learn about the efforts to protect this fragile ecosystem from overdevelopment.
5. Guánica Dry Forest Reserve: Take a hiking tour of this unique dry forest ecosystem and learn about the challenges of managing and conserving this endangered habitat.
6. Guajataca Forest Reserve: Explore this beautiful forest reserve and learn about the work being done to restore it after the impacts of Hurricane Maria.
7. Mosquito Bay at Vieques Island: Another bioluminescent bay on Vieques Island, Mosquito Bay is a must-see for eco-tourists and nature lovers.
8. Punta Tuna Lighthouse: Visit this historic lighthouse and take in the stunning views of the southeastern coast of Puerto Rico.
9. Puerto Rico Manatee Conservation Center: Learn about the efforts to protect the endangered West Indian manatee and see them up close at this conservation center.
10. San Juan Bay Estuary: Take a kayaking tour of the bay and learn about the impacts of human activity on this important natural resource.
Q: How can travelers support Puerto Rico’s environmental justice and sustainability efforts?
A: Travelers can support local businesses that prioritize sustainability and environmental stewardship, use public transportation or walk/bike instead of driving, and conservation efforts by being responsible for the environment by disposing of waste properly. Travelers can also learn about and support local environmental groups and initiatives that promote sustainable development and conservation.
Q: Is it safe to visit Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria?
A: Yes, the island has made significant progress in its recovery efforts since Hurricane Maria. Tourist destinations have reopened, and Puerto Rico is welcoming visitors with open arms. However, travelers should be aware of the environmental conditions before going on tour or visiting certain destinations.
Q: What is Puerto Rico’s renewable energy goal?
A: Puerto Rico has set a goal to generate 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050. The island made significant strides toward that goal in 2020, passing a 100% renewable energy bill that mandates the transition to renewable energy sources.
Puerto Rico’s fight for environmental justice and sustainability has become an inspiring story of resilience and hope. As travelers, we have the privilege and responsibility to support these efforts and learn from the island’s experiences. With its myriad of natural wonders and rich cultural heritage, Puerto Rico offers a unique and transformative travel experience that can inspire us all to work toward a more just and sustainable world.