Protected areas are essential for life

by: Omar Monzón Carmona, Conservation and Biodiversity Specialist

Protected and conserved areas are the best poetry written by human being and a sample of immense kindness, gratitude, and appreciation from the people towards life. For this and many other reasons, during October 12 to 18 we joined the celebration of the protected areas of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Protected [1] and conserved [2] areas (PCAs) are the world’s main instrument for nature conservation. This area-based conservation strategy focuses on protecting ecosystems, species, genetic diversity, unique geological features, and places considered sacred by local communities.

In turn, these spaces provide ecosystem services such as water supply, food production, and related health and welfare services through recreation. PCAs are a nature-based solution. They serve as mitigation and adaption measures to the climate crisis we face by storing and capturing carbon dioxide; as well as natural barriers to weather events and help with climate regulation.

According to the latest report from the World Database on Protected and Conserved Areas [3], managed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), protected and conserved areas cover 15.07% of the planet’s land area and 7.56% of its marine area. In Latin America and the Caribbean, there are some 9,767 protected and conserved areas in 52 countries, covering 24.1% of land areas and 17.32% of marine areas.

The Punta Guaniquilla Natural Reserve in Cabo Rojo, managed by Para la Naturaleza, serves as a refuge for endemic and migratory birds.

In Puerto Rico there are slightly more than 160 land protected areas (16%) and some 27 marine protected areas (27%). The islands of Puerto Rico has 90% of the protected areas under government authority and 10% under private governance, mostly led by Para la Naturaleza (90%) and supported by Casa Pueblo (4%), Tropic Ventures (2%) and Ciudadanos del Karso (1%). The areas under private protection complement and strengthen the network of protected areas in Puerto Rico.

At Para la Naturaleza, we passionately conserve a little more than 1.5% of the total surface area of Puerto Rico, with 64 protected areas, 7 designated nature reserves, 11 conservation easements, 1 scenic easement, 5 federally registered historic sites, and 3 historic preservation projects in progress and 1 in its early stages (Hacienda Margarita NPA).

The areas under private protection at Para la Naturaleza provide puerto rican community with an immense variety of benefits such as water production. The Ulpiano Casal Protected Area protects the source of the Grande de Loíza river, the Jorge Sotomayor del Toro Protected Area protects the source of the Turabo river that discharges its waters into the Carraízo reservoir, and the Marín Alto Protected Area provides water to the Patillas reservoir. Furthermore, our protected areas preserve the sound of silence, the darkness of the night in their skies, shelter the human culture in their landscape, and at the same time they capture 662,850 metric tons of carbon (calculation by our environmental interpreter partner, Jean Manuel Sandoval).

The coquí guajón is one of the amphibians found in one of our natural protected areas to the southeast of our islands.

The main objective of the protected areas is the long-term conservation of all nature. As part of this effort, in 2019 we counted nearly 420 invertebrates, 182 fish, 13 amphibians, 36 reptiles, 270 birds, 22 mammals and more than 1,400 plant species in the network of the protected areas at Para la Naturaleza.

From these areas we recognize that those other forms of life, which look different, move differently, and live at a different pace, deserve to be free. Notwithstanding, we know that we still have a long way to go, we value that we are part of a great immensity, and we emphasize that all these achievements are thanks to a great team of devoted women and men.


[1] According to the Action Team for the Conservation of Protected Areas, it defines a protected area in Puerto Rico as: “a clearly defined geographical space delimited by legal or other effective means for the long-term conservation of nature, biodiversity, ecosystem services, and cultural values.

[2] According to the IUCN, a conserved area is: “a geographically delimited area other than a protected area, which is managed in such a way as to achieve positive, long-term results for in situ conservation of biodiversity, with associated ecosystem functions and services and, where appropriate, cultural, spiritual, socioeconomic, and other locally relevant values.