My article about the Piñones community struggle, published in 1999
Fighting to Keep the Mangrove Forest
LOIZA, Jan 6 1999 (IPS) - Right off the eastern edge of the San Juan metropolitan area in the coastal town of Loíza, lies the Piñones mangrove forest. The Piñones coastline is known for its 12 kilometres of pristine beaches and quaint food stands that sell traditional Puerto Rican seafood.
But this could all change if some Puerto Rican developers armed with a plan to change the mangrove into concrete structures have their way, residents of this wetland say. That, they say, is hard to accept, given the importance of the mangrove.
The ecological value of Piñones has been exhaustively documented by universities as well as agencies of the Puerto Rico and United States governments. It controls floods, reduces erosion, attenuates the San Juan metro area’s searing urban heat, serves as a fish spawning area, and shelters a wide variety of species, such as the hawksbill (carey) and leatherback (tinglar) turtles.
Piñones is Puerto Rico’s largest mangrove forest and accounts for 22 percent of all of the island’s total mangrove area. It covers most of Loíza.
Puerto Ricans also hold Piñones dear because of its rich historical and cultural heritage.
But the environmental problems which Piñones has experienced go back decades. In the 1950s, millions of tons of sand were extracted from its beaches in order to fill its western edge and build there an international airport. Millions of tons more were extracted in order to make the concrete that fuelled Puerto Rico’s urban boom. The majestic sand dunes of Piñones were virtually wiped out, never to be seen again.
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