Connect communities to conservation – US Fish & Wildlife/NOAA

The richness in biodiversity, both terrestrial and marine, is characteristic of our region. Hence, conservation of our mangrove coastlines, seagrasses, coral reefs, and fishes are essential to sustaining our ecosystems. The US Fish & Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries are federal agencies that aim to conserve and provide services to Puerto Rico’s natural reserves and local communities. On August 26, 2010, UPR Sea Grant spoke with representatives of these agencies on the research and information needed for improving marine and coastal management and conservation in Puerto Rico.

In general, most participants agreed that more emphasis should be given to characterizing reserves that are economically and socially important to local communities and developing passive recreational activities that encourage conservation. The group also emphasized the need to assess critical areas that may suffer from climate change and how to deal with the impacts. The need for education and outreach efforts was also expressed and we (UPR-Sea Grant) encouraged the group to maintain communication with us for future activities with the local schools and community.  NOAA Fisheries stressed need to unite Sea Grant efforts with other NOAA efforts through the Coral Reef Conservation Program, for instance, that examined coral reef ecosystem conservation and mapping and monitoring priorities in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.

Regarding short- and long-term research, the participants suggested various projects:

  • Inventory and habitat mapping (landscape ecology) on endangered species and those being considered for potential listing (terrestrial and marine) to provide better measures for protection.
  • Ecosystem restoration projects – consistent and in-depth monitoring of habitats and their ability to adapt to changes in the environment with focuses on the impact of sediment processes. Providing nesting areas for certain animals (e.g., birds), etc.
  • Studies on strategic conservation planning and its effectiveness.
  • Accurate and up-to-date quantitative modeling of sediment transport by rivers to nearshore marine habitats.
  • Accurate and up-to-date modeling of habitats.
  • Studies on impacts of sea level rise on the hypersaline lagoons of Cabo Rojo and coastal lagoons.
  • Assessments on what is the best approach to change the perceptions and attitudes of local communities regarding environmental conservation and integrating sociologists and psychologists in developing the most effective strategy for educating about conservation.
  • Identifying local species that will be highly impacted by climate change (e.g., turtle nesting beaches). Assessments on whether acquiring more lands for mitigation purposes is necessary in order to deal with these changes.
  • Compilation of historical data from local lagoons, particularly to determine changes in habitat due to coastal erosion and to identify important species in the area – these data would help to make better decisions in prevention/prediction and will make us more aware of the changes that need to be addressed

For more details, please download our full report here.

Notwithstanding, obstacles that delay research and assessments that could improve marine and coastal management are constantly encountered. Here are some listed by this particular group:

  • Lack of studies that are applicable to management
  • Scientific data needs to be translated into layman’s terms in order to transmit the information effectively to policy makers and general public
  • Availability of information to the local community and more emphasis on educating the community and making them more aware of conserving our natural resources.
  • Lack of law enforcement and enforcement by local agencies
  • Lack of unity (particularly with funds) among organization/institutions/agencies to continuously educate the community about conservation of natural resources

More information:

US Fish & Wildlife Service – Caribbean Islands

NOAA Fisheries Service – Southeast Regional Office

Video – US Fish & Wildlife Service: Wildlife without Borders – Connecting People & Nature in the Americas

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