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Reforestation Gains Momentum in Puerto Rico as a Tool for Economic and Environmental Recovery

Reforestation Puerto Rico BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of Distrito Caribe de Conservación de Suelos y Agua.

The passage of Hurricane Maria has been difficult to describe by those who were witnesses and victims on the island of Puerto Rico. As is often the case in the worst of catastrophes, the sense of desolation and post-apocalyptic devastation can only be measured if it was experienced firsthand.

In addition to the destruction of infrastructure and the long-term economic and social consequences, many environmental and non-profit organizations have tried to highlight the destruction of fertile land and the landslides that took trees with them.

As Atlas Obscura explained, Hurricane Maria wiped out 80% of Puerto Rico’s agriculture within hours. For an island already dependent on imports for much of its food, this “compounded the agony of Maria’s impact.”

That reality was not overlooked by organizations like the Puerto Rican branch of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN PR) that began distributing seeds to help farmers who had lost everything.

After that, seven CYEN PR members went to the most affected areas of the island with emergency supplies, as well as trees and seeds of plants such as tomatoes and peppers.

“Our goal is to give people an opportunity to reconnect to the soil, to the ground, to learn about our local foods, to know that not everything needs to come from the supermarket,” Amira Odeh, one of the volunteers, told Atlas Obscura. But, she adds, “we know we’re going to get more drought, more storms. With food-producing plants in backyards across the island, we’re hoping that communities can get some resilience, even if it’s in a small way.”

Beyond the community impact, however, young people in Puerto Rico like Odeh have begun growing most of the plants themselves in their own backyards.

This new generation, especially those who lived through the hurricane, has joined forces to strengthen food security on the island, especially in the face of new threats from climate change.

Reforestation campaigns such as “Un árbol en tu vida” (‘A Tree in Your Life’) by the non-profit organization Distrito Caribe de Conservación de Suelos y Agua has mobilized volunteers and social media campaigns to invite communities to be part of their planting activities.

In its first activity in the town of Salinas last June, the organization planted more than 400 trees.

According to El Vocero, in just one month, the nonprofit organization achieved the goal of planting 5,000 native trees in Puerto Rico’s southern area.

“Our organization had identified the need to establish these reforestation projects, so we set a goal of planting 5,000 trees. Thanks to the collaboration of our volunteers, we were able to meet this goal earlier than we had planned. Trees offer multiple benefits. For example, they purify the air, reduce soil erosion, provide habitat for animals, provide shade, and help reduce the temperature,” said Marcos D. Saliceti.

“They can also prevent droughts because trees transpire water from the soil, converting it into rain, and they can prevent flooding because they allow water to infiltrate, store and move through the soil, feeding subway aquifers, rivers and streams,” he added.