CMRC's Sustainable Coasts Program facilitates an information exchange among coastal communities to increase knowledge and understanding of regional conservation and management practices. As part of this effort, the Sustainable Coasts Program will periodically explore the waterfronts and coastlines of regions outside the New York - New Jersey Harbor Bight. This most recent installation of Exploring Coasts & Waterfronts focuses on the coasts and conservation issues of Rincon, Puerto Rico. JB
Rincon, Puerto Rico is known as a tropical paradise to many, full of many coastal recreational activities that include swimming, diving, sunbathing, fishing, surfing, and beach combing, to name just a few. However, this beautiful natural coastline also faces several conservation and management challenges that continue to place pressures on the surrounding ecosystems and communities. The following article briefly explores the myriad of natural resources that exist in the region and discusses some of the conservation issues that continue to face the Rincon, Puerto Rico community.
Situated in the northwest corner of Puerto Rico, the Rincon region encompasses the towns of Rincon, Aquadilla, Aguada, Ramey, and Isabela. This area is known for warm year round temperatures, beautiful beaches, and welcoming people. With water and air temperatures in the eighties in mid-winter this area is known as a travel destination for many seeking a respite from the cold winter months in the United States and elsewhere. A mere four hour plane ride from New York will quickly transport one from the snowy cities of the north to the relatively empty beaches of Rincon.
The recreational activities available in Rincon are extensive to say the least. With crystal clear tropical waters perfect for swimming, surfing, and diving and empty sand-lined beaches available for sunbathing, fishing, and beach-combing, Rincon is truly a paradise. A quick snorkeling adventure exposes an array of sealife that includes many tropical fish, several species of urchins (watch your feet!), extensive brain corals, and many forms of aquatic vegetation. The surfing is world class with great waves up and down the coast in both Rincon proper and up the coast between Aquadilla and Isabela. The wide open beaches provide ample opportunity for sunbathing, fishing, beach combing and many other sun-filled activities.
However, the rapidly developing eco-tourism industry and associated tourism has also placed great pressures on the regions infrastructure and environment, and today many conservation issues are in the forefront Rincon's future. One of the largest challenges the community is facing is development and its impacts to the coastal eco-system. The increased demand for both year-round and seasonal housing has contributed to habitat degradation in the coastal and upland zones and placed large stresses on the fragile infrastructure. One of the the largest infrastructure pressures the region has faced is wastewater management and the closely connected impacts to coastal water quality.
The region has faced these pressures in many ways so far and has put forth a good effort in making decisions at the community level to limit the impacts of development and enhance the draw of Rincon as an eco-tourism destination. At the federal level, Rincon (and all of Puerto Rico) is actually managed by Region 2 of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Interestingly, Region 2 is also the division of the EPA that covers the waters and coasts of New York and New jersey. With EPA funding and regulation, Puerto Rico has been able to reduce many potential environmental impacts to date. In addition, the Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales del Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico (Department of Natural Resources) works to protect the coasts and waters of Rincon.
However, the biggest strides have comes from local and regional environmental and community organizations seeking to protect Rincon's coastal natural resources and promote a sustainable eco-tourism economy. One such example is an effort by the local community, the Surfrider Foundation, and Environmental Defense to create a marine reserve in Rincon at Tres Palmas. This collaborative effort to protect some of the healthiest elkhorn coral and the surf that breaks over them, established the Reserva Marina Tres Palmas in January 2004. This marine reserve, the first on the mainland of Puerto Rico, was established through a community-driven effort to protect Rincon's coastal and ocean resources and develop an economic driver for sustainable community development. The project has made great strides in conserving the coastal marine resources of the area while informing locals and tourists alike about the value of this ecosystem and dangers of overdevelopment and improper recreational use.
Rincon, Puerto Rico is very simply a tropical paradise with great natural resources both in and out of the water. The pressures of development and limited infrastructure will continue to affect this region as long as tourists and local Puerto Ricans are attracted to the area. Hopefully though, with the help of conservation and management strategies implemented collaboratively by the different agencies and organizations that focus on the region, Rincon, Puerto Rico will continue to offer a diverse range of recreational activities and economic opportunities for many, many years to come.
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