Recent data reports by the Institute of Tropical Dasonomy/Forestry in 2017 indicate that Hurricane María caused the mortality of 30% of trees after passing through Puerto Rico. Other studies conducted by the University of California at Berkeley revealed that the atmospheric event caused severe damages and the destruction of 31 million trees in the archipelago.
After the passing of María, Para la Naturaleza established a comprehensive program for massive reforestation, Habitat, which aims to plant 750,000 native and endemic trees over a period of seven years. It has also developed initiatives in support of agroecological farmers and for the surrounding communities within the organization’s natural protected areas.
Just two years after Hurricane María, some 70,000 native and endemic trees have already been planted and maintained with the help of 7,500 volunteers, organizations, schools, municipalities, federal and state agencies.
An important part of the Habitat program is the maintenance of the trees planted to ensure their survival. Together with volunteers, the staff of Para la Naturaleza provides monthly maintenance to these plantings and replaces trees that have not survived. So far, 80% of the plantings have been successful.
The native species that are mostly planted are: capa, capá blanco, capá prieto, cedro, malagueta, péndula, cordias, uvas playeras y guaraguao.
These and other species grow in the 5 nurseries that the organization maintains within its visitor centers at Cañón de San Cristóbal in Barranquitas, Hacienda la Esperanza in Manatí, Hacienda Buena Vista in Ponce, Jardín Botánico in Río Piedras, and Cabezas de San Juan in Fajardo.
In addition to these nurseries, another 8 have been created in different public and private schools in collaboration with the community so that they are able to use them as orchards and harvest foods for their personal consumption and to sell occasionally at local markets.
There’s still a lot to do
Much help is needed to reach the goal of planting 750,000 trees. Therefore, the organization created the Ciudadanos Botánicos (Citizen Botanist) program where volunteers are trained by internal and external experts to work on the areas of tree identification, seed collection, reforestation, education, volunteer outreach and data entry.
There are 58 Citizen Botanists in different communities, including the island of Culebra and soon there will be one in Vieques.
The Citizen Botanists will lead the field outings with other volunteers to collect seeds. Others will lead groups during planting or nursery maintenance activities, while some will educate and recruit volunteers for Habitat program activities and support the organization’s staff to enter and monitor information in the database.
“Citizens and communities are a key component of the Habitat program. With the financial support of several foundation, we have identified 30 communities close to our Natural Protected Areas to establish 30 resilient centers outfitted with solar panels, batteries and water collection and purification systems, so that communities have a space to go in case of a future emergency or climatic event. Eleven of these centers are already in the hands of the communities and the others are near completion,” commented Fernando Lloveras San Miguel, President of Para la Naturaleza.
Various centers are located in Ceiba, Naguabo, San Juan, Maunabo, Vieques, Culebra, Barranquitas, Loíza and Guaynabo.
Another result that most impacted Puerto Rico after the passage of Hurricane María was the lack of food available for daily consumption, as Puerto Rico imports about 80% of its food. With this challenging reality, agroecological farming is essential for food security and to care for the soil and water resources.
The crops of local farmers were affected by the passing of hurricanes Irma and then María. Para la Naturaleza provided 25 grants to help farmers stabilize their farms and recover their losses associated with the disaster. Currently, Para la Naturaleza is working with foundations to be able to provide additional grants. As part of the boost to the agroecological sector, Para la Naturaleza plans to offer a series of workshops for farmers on agro-business, farm management, operations and finances.
“We need to unite as citizens to protect nature and support its revitalization. It is about the future of many vulnerable communities and life in many ecosystems. We must all contribute by demanding the collective changes that are necessary to deal with the climate crisis and adopting the behaviors that will allow the regeneration of the planet”, added Lloveras San Miguel.
For the next few years Para la Naturaleza will continue mass reforestation efforts to reach the target of 750,000 trees, as well as the recruitment of leaders and volunteers who want to join in the protection of the planet to foster an ecological culture in Puerto Rico.