Thursday, February 4, 2016

CONSERVATION PORTRAIT OF VIEQUES

The Caribbean is a Biodiversity Hot Spot, designated because of the richness of its land & marine environments, and the fact that so much of it has been lost; thus making it an endangered environment. So says the International Island Conservation & The Critical Ecosystems

Partnership Fund among others. We are rightly proud of Vieques’ amazing bio bay, but there is much more to our rich environment worth noting. Endemic species are those plants & animal that are unique to a geographic area or zone, and are not found elsewhere. The Caribbean has about 8,000 of these endemic species, of which the archipelago of Puerto Rico has 250+ endemic species.

Conservation of these remaining endemics as part of our natural resources is critical to the protection & enhancement of our environment. One of the problems in protecting our natural areas is that the Caribbean only has 13% of its lands set aside for conservation. While in Puerto Rico, we only have even less: 8.7 % of lands set aside for conservation. So Vieques with almost 20,000 acres has a very large portion of Puerto Rico’s conservation land; And is the second largest conservation area in Puerto Rico, only preceded by El Yunque.

Vieques’ ecological importancia is also based on the fact that it is a land bridge between the Greater & Lesser Antilles chain of islands & Consequently hosts flora & fauna from both geográfico areas. Vieques is deemed extremely important for conservation by the international Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund, the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources’ Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy, and the USFWS, as well as many NGOs.

A biologist would describe Vieques as hosting both subtropical dry and subtropical moist life zones. In these dual habitats, our Isla Nena hosts more than 950 land plant species. Our bird life notably diverse and large – include 190-plus species. In the past 10 years, 70-plus species have been added to the list of birds who make Vieques their home. See birds on the VCHT’s 7:30 a.m. Bird Walk, Thursdaya, February 11th & 25th. Reservations & fee required for this 2 hour tour.

After birds….lizards, geckos, our 4 kinds of endangered or threatened sea turtles, and other reptiles and amphibians make up the 2nd largest group of vertebrates—about 30 species total—on Vieques. Bats are the only native mammals left in Vieques and the rest of Puerto Rico. The Isla Grande has a total of 13 species, yet despite its much smaller size, Vieques has a total of 9 species, 2 of which were discovered by USFWS researchers just in 2008.

What are those swarms of white butterflies along the road? They are Vieque’s most common butterfly, the Great Southern White (scientific name is Ascia Monuste). Normally butterflies are most present in larger numbers in Vieques during the fall & winter. This is both because there is reproduction going on among the resident butterflies and an increase due to migration along the Caribbean. This year the rains have been steady and the vegetation has been green since September, which has offered ideal conditions for the butterflies. Because of the drought, last year we did not see a lot of butterflies, so the plethora of Great Southern White Butterflies seen roadside are a delight. 

Biology interfaced with tourism most dramatically when the bio bay went dark last year. Then tighter controls were enforced to ensure more protection of the Bio Bay by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, known as DNER. Nature-based & wild-life dependent tourism activities are now led by about 30 commercial outfitters with permits. While some tour costs have been driven up, the illegal tours seem to be gone, as well as activities that contributed to the dimming of the Dino-flag-a-lates (as commonly called), otherwise Scientifically named Pyrodinium Bahamense.

The plan is for more public tierra to become available for public use as clean-up proceeds on the unexploded ordinance that remain from decades of live bombing by the U.S. Navy. A segment focused on the clean-up is in will run on a coming show to address this important issue in more depth. Una of the new public areas opened last year es el Puerto Ferro Light House, trail and playa, which can be reached by turning right just after you enter the gate to the Wildlife Refuge. I hear the water is rough so use extreme caution if you get in.

Ultimately, mas land open to public use will create mas business opportunities, and hopefully that will lead to more mentoring & job training of local youth to participate in the tourism economy, as discussed earlier in this show by Mark Martin.

Conservation education can also help our local youth be oriented to participate in the tourism economy. And esta is happening due to a diversity of players: from nonprofits like VCHT & TICATOVE pero also Parque Ecologico Costero La Ceiba de Vieques, Para La Naturalleza & Isla Nena Composta, as well as the Puerto Rican DNER and many others. We can collectively find hope, Esperanza en Espanol, for el futuro of our natural resources in programs like Manta out of the VCHT, the 60 annual youth programs by the Wildlife Refuge; and the work of the certified humane educator, Adora Nagron, who does outreach to the 1500 kids in our Isla Nena Escuelas; & is funded by Juntos and the Rotary Club. Nature tourism seems posed to grow here, and continue to being a job creator for locals. Lo natural areas de Vieques are the main reasons people come to our beautiful island. So, let’s keep it that way.

 # # #
AIRING TRHOUGHOUT FEBRUARY 2016 ON Pacifica Affiliate, Radio Vieques 90.1 FM

No comments: