Day 7: Marine Ecology with CRES
On Friday, we volunteered with CRES, Inc. / Coalición Restauración de Ecosistemas Santurcinos, an organization in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan that is dedicated to protecting the sand dunes of Santurce and restoring the marine ecosystem by picking up beach trash and planting native plants along the beach and in the public forest that borders it.
The organization was founded by Juan David Murcia Eslava, a marine biologist graduate of the UPR in Humacao, and Yvette M. Nuñez Sepúlveda, an Anthropology and History graduate of the UPR in Rio Piedras. As we worked, they told us the story of how they had first been interested in saving the coral reef, but no one had believed them that there was a vibrant coral reef located near a densely populated city. Through their efforts to collect and analyze specimens, they were later able to get more scientists and government officials to realize the unique value of the coastal ecosystem of Santurce which is a peninsula with 3.33 miles (5.63km) squared of beaches and 5.57 miles (8.96km) squared of aquatic area. However, this recognition would not help preserve the coral unless something was done to stop the upland pollution that was running into the ocean following storms.
As a result, Juan and Yvette began working to collect trash and create more green space in the city to beautify it and motivate people to care for the area. They came to an agreement with the owner of an abandoned plant nursery to turn the lot into an agroecological garden where they could grow native plants that would provide food and medicine to the community and provide structure to the land. They also began to fight for the land, successfully resisting an attempt by a developer to fraudulently seize control of a public greenspace and create a luxury hotel/condominium at the water’s edge. The developer eventually went to jail, but the damage he caused is still evident in the tall metal columns sticking up on the shore and an enormous pile of sand at the edge of the forest. CRES is now working hard to provide permanent protection to the area by buying land where they can and increasing public appreciation for greenspace where they can’t.
On Friday, they taught us how to create in-ground compost beds, transplant trees, and fill tires with crushed rock, plastic bottles, and trash to create a stable base for a rain water collection cistern. Then they took us to their forest where a volunteer named Maria served us a delicious traditional meal called sancocho. The sancocho was a wonderful root vegetable soup filled with carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and “yautia” which is kind of like taro. One pot also had chicken. Maria was really nice and gave all the girls in the group a pair of silver turtle earrings!