2005 and 2006
The effort to protect the Isla Verde Reef began by swimming in the reef with my partner Annette Tolentino and observing the number of species, their diversity and also their threats. We decided to buy a submersible camera and start documenting what we saw, order a folder with those photos and classify them by species. I shared these photos with Professor Álida and Edgardo Ortiz, who advised me and advised me on the books I had to buy to identify the species with their scientific names.
Visit to the Municipality of Carolina in Isla Verde to learn about the initiative. Loose sheets were worked with the different photos we were taking in the summer. The first Power Point presentation was designed “Submarine Gardens of the Green Island”. This presentation was sent to the San Juan Bay Estuary Program (PEBSJ), along with the folder of photos, maps and the area to be protected. Javier Laureano invited me to a meeting at the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DRNA), to present to Ernesto Díaz and a group from the Department the photos he had taken. This was the first time that we brought the idea to the DNRA thanks to Javier Laureano.
Another year of taking photos and updating the Power Point presentation. We designed the first brochure about the Isla Verde Reef and the idea of protecting it. We came into contact with the VIDAS group in Vega Baja, Coralations in Culebra and GUARDAMAR in Puerta de Tierra. Due to the efforts of the neighbor Rafael Palacios and the attention of Ernesto Díaz, 5 buoys of the “Manatí Area” were placed in order for the Jet skis to reduce speed (5 miles). First lesson, “We are not alone in this conservation effort, there are others involved and we can advise ourselves. We apply the symbiotic relationship that we observe in the reefs”. That year swimming we found a pot placed in the middle of the Reef. In the summer it was the stranding of the "Chacha", a yacht that scraped and impacted part of the corals. We have fully documented this accident thanks to Ricardo de Soto. In November, the first swells in the area, documented in recent time, affect the coast. The waves covered the islet and destroyed its vegetation. On May 22 of that year, the proposal for the designation of the Marine Reserve was brought to Governor Anibal Acevedo Vilá. We never received a response from that management. That year we also went to the Public Works Department to request and acquire historical photos of the area in order to understand its history.
This is the most important year of the reef protection process. We acquired the kayaks and started the year visiting, photographing and studying the Isla Verde key. On May 15, we founded Álida Ortíz, Annette Tolentino, Carlos Félix, Samuel Suleimán, Robert Matos and Paco López the Committee for the Designation of the Arrecife de la Isla Verde Marine Reserve. Arrecifes Pro Ciudad Inc. was incorporated before the Department of State in order to found a non-profit legal entity.
A Jet Skis dealer located his business above the Reef. We started the removal process for this business, which took 5 months of intense work.
We did the first night dives. We were invited to the Coral Reef Task Force meeting held at the Caribe Hilton Hotel and an informational poster was presented. This was the first activity in the world of corals that we attended where the “NGO’s”, Academia, Government, state and federal entities live. The first research work is done with the students and members of the Marine Environment Society Chapter taking data using the RECON system.
On November 11, the first meeting with the community, users, neighbors, Municipal and State entities as well as members of the Academy is organized. The meeting took place at the Hotel La Playa and was a success. The conservation idea was presented, covered by the press, and was well received. We began the process of collecting signatures by endorsing the Marine Reserve. We received the information of an archaeological investigation carried out by Jesús Vega in his Master's thesis and photos of the archaeological finds in the Cayo de la Isla Verde. In addition Jesús Vega presents us with a historical angle of the unknown area for us and fundamental to know the place. We wrote a letter to the Mayor of Carolina Hon. José Aponte Dalmau with the purpose of making the project known. This allowed us to attend the first activities of the Municipality of Carolina invited by Mirgrelis Ramos where we showed the Reef and its inhabitants by placing a table with a monitor and the presentation in Power Point, "Submarine Garden of the Green Island", they were spoken to to those interested about this resource and we collected signatures. An article about the Carolinenses Reef is published in Viva Carolina, La Revista. An article about the reef and the proposal to convert it into a Marine Reserve was also published in the weekly La Regata.
This year we will remember him as the one of the Arrecife de la Isla Verde Marine Reserve "Presents itself to Society". We wrote with graphics the first Informative Bulletin of the Isla Verde Reef about the activities carried out in 2009, the t-shirt for children and adults was designed. The Gmail account of Arrecife de Isla Verde was registered with 100 people in the directory. We attended a meeting in Isabela where we observed the shouting opposition of commercial fishermen to the proposal of a Marine Reserve in the area.
We were invited to the Submerged Grounds Planning and Management Symposium organized by the DRNA's Coastal Zone Management Program to make a presentation on the Isla Verde Reef and our protection proposal and turn it into a Marine Reserve. We consider this activity the most important and the one that makes known within the DNRA that the citizen's commitment is serious and determined. 14 folders were distributed to collect signatures in different centers and entities. We identified “surfing” activities, environmental events, as ideal opportunities to collect endorsement signatures that at the same time allowed us to present the conservation idea. We presented the idea to the Hotel and Tourism Association and to the San Juan Bay Estuary Program to receive the input of our proposal.
Participation in the Eco fair - Botanical Garden of Caguas where we collected signatures, explained the conservation effort and gave us the opportunity to show the underwater photos and the concept of conservation before the audience. We attended the Tinglar Festival in Luquillo where the Arrecife t-shirts were sold, signatures were collected and the video of the hawksbill swimming in Isla Verde was exhibited, among others, and also the presentation in PPT.
We were invited to training workshops organized by the DNRA on training for the design and evaluation of protected areas and a second workshop on presentations to communities. Thanks to these training workshops, presentations that we made in 2010, we realized that this effort needed graphic and educational material that will facilitate us to teach the importance of protecting the Reef and from there the idea of making the Coloring Book “Los Residents of the Isla Verde Reef”. The idea was presented to the Nominating Committee.
We organized the 2010 report and sent it by email to 250 people and organizations. That year began with the creation of the coloring book and its realization was a contribution by Arrecifes Pro Ciudad to the designation process of the Marine Reserve. With the advice of Robert Matos, we chose the most representative species of the Reef, giving a characterization of the Urban Reef to this educational and informative material. Funding for the printing of the 10,000 copies was provided by the San Juan Bay Estuary Program. This book has the dual purpose of publicizing the reef and raising funds for the expenses of the Marine Reserve. It turned out to be a great tool for educational workshops and talks. We hold workshops with schools near our area and attend summer camps with the project, “Painting the Green Island Reef”. Exhibition at the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico on the works made by girls and boys inspired by the species of the Reef. We organized the 2010 report and sent it by email to 250 people and organizations. That year began with the creation of the coloring book and its realization was a contribution by Arrecifes Pro Ciudad to the designation process of the Marine Reserve. With the advice of Robert Matos, we chose the most representative species of the Reef, giving a characterization of the Urban Reef to this educational and informative material. Funding for the printing of the 10,000 copies was provided by the San Juan Bay Estuary Program. This book has the dual purpose of publicizing the reef and raising funds for the expenses of the Marine Reserve. It turned out to be a great tool for educational workshops and talks. We hold workshops with schools near our area and attend summer camps with the project, “Painting the Green Island Reef”. Exhibition at the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico on the works made by girls and boys inspired by the species of the Reef.
In the Academy aspect, Gloribel Cruz carried out his Master's thesis at UMET on the Isla Verde Reef, making it the first study of this natural resource and as part of the research process, two focus groups were held, the first with residents and the second with merchants in the area. Iván Montilla began his Master's thesis on the impact of sediment on corals, placing four stations with sediment traps and transects in their surroundings analyzing the coral cover.
Jose Toledo. One of the most relevant findings of this year was the appearance of a neonate of Carey Eretmochelys imbricata, on the shore, among the sargassum in the area known as “la playita” Isla Verde Oeste.
At the beginning of 2011, the Committee for the Designation held the first meeting with the task of identifying in the legislature allies that would present the bill for the designation of the Marine Reserve. The DNER, specifically Cristina Cabrera, coordinated the visit to Representative Elyzabeth Casado and we were accompanied by friends from the Department and the presentation was very positively received. We received that year the written endorsement of the San Juan Bay Estuary Program.
As part of the training process, we were invited by the DNER to the Training Workshop for Environmental Educators: Needs and changes in the Coastal Zone and we were also able to make a presentation at the Second Coral Reef Discussion held at the Convention Center. We gave a talk on the beach for volunteers from the San Juan Bay Estuary Program.
We placed the first camera on the Green Island Reef that is broadcasting 24/7 over the Internet, free and thanks to A.J. Castro at ComoEstaEso.com.
Swimming in the reef, we meet Marena for the first time, one of the manatees who turn around these waters seeking refuge when the sea gets rough and feeding on the seagrass meadows found in this place. Finding Marena, evidenced by photos and videos, made a huge difference and caught the attention of the media. Benito Pinto, our friend at La Regatta, put Marena on the cover of that week. The attraction for manatees in our idiosyncrasy is remarkable and it is that together with bats they are the only native mammals that have survived human impact after 500 years.
On November 2, 2011, Representative Elyzabeth Casado presented House Bill # 3721 "to designate the Isla Verde Reef area as a Marine Reserve." This project refers to the Commission for Natural Resources, Environment and Energy. The year 2011 ends with a push never felt in this effort and although we were aware that 2012 would be very difficult for the designation because it is an election year, the Appointment Committee concentrated all the efforts in which the Project 3721 process was not stopped and that it could be advanced as much as possible for the beginning of the year 2012.
This was the year of the Arrecife de la Isla Verde Marine Reserve and we stated this in the New Year's card that we sent to the friends of the Arrecife. The 2011 Activity Report was prepared and circulated for the designation of the Marine Reserve. On January 31, the Eye View was held on Isla Verde beach, in front of the Arrecife, presided over by Representative Eric Correa with the assistance of Representative Elyzabeth Casado and the friends of the Arrecife, neighbors and users who attended this historic event. In this view it was possible to observe the area that was proposed to be protected and the possible conflicts that this measure could lead to, mainly with the fishermen who use this resource in summer and the already established Jet Skis concessionaires.
We observe the characteristics of the beach, the structures built on the beach, the enormous difference in profile on the shore where we have the reef in front and where it ends (between Pine Grove and Playa Dorada). In that eye view, the agenda to be followed on Project 3721 was presented, highlighting the Public Hearing to which users, governmental and non-governmental institutions, hotels and concessionaires would be cited. This activity was covered by the press (Primera Hora) and the information reached a large audience.
The beginning of 2012 came with a lot of activity and urgency. The Committee met in January and prepared for hearings to be held on February 2, in the House of Representatives. At the Hearing, presentations were presented from the San Juan Bay Estuary Program, Tourism Company, Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, Professor Álida Ortiz presented her written presentation by the Academy and by the community we presented Beaches for All and Arrecifes Pro Ciudad and Committee for Designation of Marine Reserve. Dealers also attended this hearing, the Municipality of Carolina had its representation in Mirgrelis Ramos and the Association of Hotels and Tourism was also represented.
All the written submissions were favorable to Project 3721 and the Commission Representatives present there also endorsed the measure.
The DNRA objected to two points of the Project 1- about the four-month time given to the DNRA for the preparation of the Management Plan and 2- having to identify the $ 100,000 that the law dictates. These two points were taken into account. With the first, the 4 months were maintained and with the money, the Chamber identified the origin of the money to assign it to the DNRA.
The money would be used for four main purposes: 1- Management Plan 2- Placement and materials for the buoys with spare parts 3- Information signs 4- Education about the resource. The House approved 3721 unanimously in April of that year and went to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources for study and voting. At this time we received the extraordinary help of Jorge Fernández Porto who advised us to carry out a lobbying reporting on Project 3721. The Senate approves it on June 10 and there begins a long time of waiting until finally the Governor signs it. Luis Fortuño on September 26.
On the 28th of that month, the formal designation activity of the first Arrecife de la Isla Verde Urban Marine Reserve was carried out at the Hotel La Playa with the presence of the Representative Elyzabeth Casado, the Secretary of DNRA Daniel Galán Kerkado, the Director of the Luis Rivera Marín Tourism Company; the Director of the San Juan Bay Estuary Program, Javier Laureano. While all this process was taking place, during the year various activities were carried out. First Congress of Protected Natural Areas of Puerto Rico organized by The Nature Conservancy, the First Tortuguero Encounter held on February 25 at the DRNA. We participated in a Workshop held in Fajardo on MPAs, organized by the DRNA and directed by Professor Dr. Álida Ortíz. Presentation at the Salvador Brau School in Carolina.
The Sierra Club invited us to present the project at the School of Architecture, UPR-Rio Piedras. CESAM Student Chapter of the Marine Environment Society, visits the Green Island Reef, a talk was held on the beach and then we went swimming in the Reef.
The San Juan Bay Estuary Program organized a field visit to the Beach so that the volunteers could see the place. “Pinta el Arrecife” and sign supporting the Marine Reserve at the Tinglar - Luquillo Festival.
We participated in television programs such as “Aventura Científica” by María Falcón and in “Puertorriqueñísimo”, interviews on Channel 11 with Susan Soltero. The Islaverde Reef Channel was registered on You Tube and underwater videos of species that inhabit this reef were published for a greater dissemination of this resource.
A camera was installed recording live images 24/7 in - ComoEstaEso.com, a service that friend Alberto J Castro offered us helping the Reef in its access, security and local and international exposure of the Green Island Reef.
Certainly 2012 was the year of the Reef due to the designation of the Reserve, for having had less rain than the previous two years and a noticeable increase in public recognition. So we will remember.
The New Years card was sent and the “2012 Summary” PPT presentation was prepared. In January, the annual report was circulated to 450 individuals and organizations. CSA Group was selected by the DNRA to carry out the work of the Reserve Management Plan. Robert Matos took the initiative to communicate with CSA Group to coordinate a meeting with representatives of the DRNA, Clarimar Díaz, Robert Matos and Paco López representing the Pro Ciudad Management and Arrecifes Board with the purpose of informing CSA Group of the history of the community effort in the designation, the importance of their participation in the Management Plan process, the contribution of information and the establishment of a work plan. On March 1, the first meeting of the Marine Reserve Management Board was held with the people who had participated from the Appointment Committee - Álida Ortiz, Annette Tolentino, Carlos Félix, Robert Matos, Samuel Suleimán and Paco López. For the formation of the Board it was agreed to expand it with two more members and these are Alberto Pérez, owner of the Hotel La Playa and the lawyer Gino Negretti.
The following is decided between the DRNA and Arrecifes Pro Ciudad: The Agreement has already been approved by the Board and Robert Matos offered to deliver it to Edgardo González, Administrator of the Department and later a digital version is delivered to the legal division. This agreement will be part of the Collaborative Management Plan.
On April 4, the Management Board meets with Secretary Carmen Guerrero and her assistants. At that meeting, a draft of the Collaborative Agreement is presented to the Secretary, a draft of the Administrative Order of NO FISHING in which the Management Plan is finished, the buoys and the signs are placed. In addition, the status of the Management Plan that CSA Group hired by the DNRA in December 2012 is working on is discussed. The Board obtains from that meeting the commitment of the Secretary to work together to accelerate the process of protection of the Reef and the area of the Marine Reserve.
On May 2, Paco López presents to the Board the informative and educational sign for the Reserve based on the one currently used by the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve in Rincón. This sign is designed in Spanish and English and observing the aerial image of the accesses to the Reserve, we consider that there should be five signs to be installed: 1- South east end of the Reserve (adjacent to Balneario de Carolina) 2- Access Calle Horizontes, 3 - Access Calle Violeta, 4- Access Calle Dalia, 5- Southwest end of the Reserve (Access Calle Gardenia). This sign is submitted to the Department for approval.
On May 28, a meeting was held at the Hotel La Playa "What about the Marine Reserve?" Where residents, merchants, concessionaires, users of the Isla Verde beaches, the press, representatives of government agencies, representatives of the Municipality of Carolina, teachers and students of environmental sciences and representatives of Non-Governmental Organizations were invited. At that meeting, an overview of the work that was being carried out was presented, the negotiations with the DNRA, the informative-educational sign that would be installed at the entrances and the Management Plan explained by María Coronado, representative of CSA Group. Marine Reserve Management Plan - The Management Board after once again requesting a writing that we will include, the community, and those of us who have worked all these years to achieve the protection of this place. By order of the Secretary, Carmen Guerrero, we received the drafts of the first six chapters. We analyze them and we are waiting for the DNRA to call an INCLUSIVE meeting where all the parties involved can contribute and attend to our observations on the management plan. In June the CSA Group contract expired without having the Management Plan work completed. In December the new contract was signed with CSA Group for the continuation and conclusion of the Management Plan.
In the months of July and August, we were calculating the buoys on the boat of Kenny Pastor, a concessionaire from Isla Verde, who did us a great favor since the DRNA did not have a boat available at that time. Under the direction of Robert Matos, we marked the coordinates, the photos of the sea floor were taken in each place where the buoys with Helix anchor will be placed. Nilda Jiménez from the DRNA presented these documents to the USACE for the federal buoy placement permits.
The requisition of the necessary buoys and materials has already been made. This purchase is made with the money assigned by the Legislature to the DRNA ($ 100,000.) For these tasks and equipment.
2013 has been a very rare year in the maritime aspect. Summer came late started in August and continued until mid-October. It was not a year of many dives and at no time did we observe the clear waters. A lot of current that in this place translates into rolled sediment, so videos and good photos were taken but not like in previous years.
In June we received a visit from the Leatherback that nested on the beach located exactly in the middle of the Marine Reserve. This nesting was very important for the involvement of the residents of the area and allowed us to celebrate the first "Chat on the Beach" on August 2, which was attended by users, neighbors, student organizations and groups of citizens who protect the environment. Power Points from the Marine Reserve and Biologist Carlos Diez on Sea Turtles were presented. This activity marked a crucial moment for this area because the names of many people willing to collaborate in the effort to protect our beaches, the reefs and the species that inhabit it were collected.
On August 20 we received the strongest blow that we have suffered so far in this place since we started the works. We have always been aware of some fishermen in this reef that alters the concept of species hatchery that is specified by Law 274 of September 26, 2012. With this urgent request we went to the Management Board on April 4 before the Secretary requesting an Order Administrative of NO FISHING. The strategy was as follows: 1- At the end of the Management Plan, we requested the NO FISHING Order, 2- We convened a meeting with the state and municipal entities, the community and established the Surveillance Protocol with the collaboration of all and everybody. But that was not thanks to an outdated concept from the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources that if we don't do it, no one does it. A mentality of the 1970s that now, to the misfortune of those officials who are too jealous of their functions ... and their pockets, is over, that no longer exists because the government is bankrupt and they need our help.
The argument to deny us the request for the NO FISHING Order was that the DNRA Vigilance Corps did not have a suitable place to exercise surveillance over the Isla Verde Reef and therefore as the DNRA cannot assign a person to guard 24 / 7, fishing can not be prohibited. The massacre of August 20 at the Green Island Reef - 91 lobsters, 32 parrotfish, 8 coral crabs, of the lobsters, 7 had roe. This Seizure was due to the intervention of the neighbor Hermín Negrón and the Municipal Police who carried out the arrest and seizure.
The least we expected the next day was a press conference by the Secretary signing the NO FISHING Order. That never happened. As of December 2, 2013 we are still waiting for the Order to start protecting these threatened species.
Boca de Cangrejos Dredging - In June we received information that the Cangrejo Yacht Club had requested permission to dredge the entrance to Cangrejos. As we know, this entrance opened artificially for the year 1951 when the construction of the International Airport began. The Board understands that the dredging has to be done but on June 19 Arrecifes Pro Ciudad and the Management Board requested the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intervened in this matter since we had information that at the state level the petitioners for dredging had all the permits to carry out the dredging without any mitigation plan or sediment containment. Until the month of December in which this report is written, we do not know what has happened in USACOE with that request and we are awaiting information.
The Sanitary Sewers and the AAA - From the beginning of this feat we have pointed out as one of the threats to this reef, the sanitary sewers that overflow, the sanitary waters go down the gutter towards the register of storm sewers and these discharge directly into the sea. This affects the health of bathers and that of the reef component. To analyze this situation, we met on September 17 with Biologist Pedro Gonzalez, Alberto Pérez and Hector Cepeda from AAA and we went through all the sewers, opening them and observing the degree of obstruction they have due to the fats and oils that are thrown down the sinks of apartments and homes in the area. The AAA uncovered the sanitary sewer lines in Urb. Biascoechea, but to prevent this from happening again, we are scheduling a meeting with the community, the Board of Directors of Condominiums in the area to offer a service that the Edelcar company is willing to provide us that consists of in installation of containers of fats and oils in the condominiums and they collect it free of cost. This could help us enormously in cleaning our waters.
Watchers of the Reef - On October 28 we held a meeting at the Hotel La Playa to organize a body of volunteers, Watchers of the Reef and in a large meeting we signed up 22 volunteers with the purpose of being ready when the Secretary of the DNRA sign the NO FISHING Order to have the Reef Watchers already formed and present the Isla Verde Reef Surveillance Protocol among the volunteers, the Rangers Corps, State and Municipal Police. We have already written a Protocol proposal and sent it to the DNRA to counter the argument that the Order cannot be removed because there is not enough surveillance by the DNRA.
Educational Work - This year 2013 in which this document is signed has been very intense in terms of educational work. In order to address two main issues that threaten our coral reefs, water quality and lionfish as an invasive species. For this purpose, the DRNA hired the services of Paco López to make animated messages on these issues. From February to September we were developing the animations, “Chef Volitans and the Lion Fish” and “Cleaning the Water with the Pelican Chana”. These two works of 90 seconds each are circulating on the Islaverde Arrecife channel on YouTube. With this material, educational comics workshops, interactive workshops with animated objects, plays, poster workshops, musical creation and chats after the animation can be developed as a starting point. The creation of t-shirts promotes the cause and generates funds for self-management.
Activities - We started the year with the Tortugueros Groups Encounter. We participated in two coral farms forums held at the DRNA. We have given talks in schools in the Isla Verde area, in the Montessori Las Casitas de Mayagüez, Meeting with the Community - "What's going on with the Marine Reserve" on May 28, participation in a radio station to announce the activities, Meeting with the Community - “Reef Watchers” 25 volunteers signed up for this activity to serve as Reef Watchers, training workshops sponsored by the DNRA such as the Symposium on Threatened or Endangered Species, the sand workshop and the Contamination Workshop Lumínica en las Playas, we want to point out that with this workshop the collaborative relationship between the DNRA , the Municipality of Carolina and the Community began and on December 13, within the activities of the "Caribbean Landscaping Conservation Cooperative Annual Meeting", a presentation was made in English and visit the Isla Verde beach to publicize the place and the conservation efforts.
In the month of December a great work dynamic has been developed on the Marine Reserve, both the Department and the Management Board have been meeting and working on the design of the signs, the Collaborative Agreement, the NO FISHING Order and the educational plan for the Marine Reserve 2014. The Management Board recognizes and appreciates the completion of the work we requested at the April 4 meeting. We will continue to emphasize the importance of community participation in all the meetings and decisions made about this Arrecife de la Isla Verde Marine Reserve. We have been eight years and we are starting ...
On January 23, the Collaborative Agreement for the Arrecife de la Isla Verde Marine Reserve was signed between the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, the Autonomous Municipality of Carolina and Arrecifes Pro Ciudad Inc. Also Secretary Carmen Guerrero signed Administrative Order No. 2014 -01 "To decree a ban on fishing and collection of organisms in the Arrecife de la Isla Verde Marine Reserve." This is a great achievement for the Pro Ciudad Reserve and Arrecifes Management Board, which since April 2013 has requested both documents for the protection of the Marine Reserve.
In Pine Grove, Isla Verde Carolina February 12, 2014.