Blue Community Program Coastal Sustainability Best Practices

Puerto Rico Blog Series: Before and After the Storm Part I

Topics:
Content Cover Image

Puerto Rico Blog Series: Before and After the Storm Part I

By: Dylan Horning

Other Blog Series Authors: Rhiannon Rosinski-Kennell, Jasmine Edwards, and Adriana Broome

 

Every resident of our planet Earth is feeling the consequences of climate change in one way or another. These consequences go beyond strictly environmental but rather touches all aspects of human life such as social implications, economic repercussions and political strife with a blanket of overall tension. The degree to which climate change impacts are felt can also vary widely; which might also contribute to the reason climate change is still up for debate, despite the 97 percent scientific consensus on the matter (DiMento & Doughman, 2014). The worlds economically privileged and infamous “1 percent” feel little direct impact, let alone care to notice it, where in stark contrast lye smaller poverty stricken nations such as Puerto Rico. In this blog series the vulnerability of small island nations to the adverse effects of climate change will be examined. The island territory of Puerto Rico will carry the blogs main focus, with the intent to bring awareness to the struggles that small island nations face every day.

Puerto Rico is a small tropical island nation located in the Caribbean Sea. This popular tourist destination is also known for its beautiful surrounding waters and mountainous highlands acting almost like a center piece the islands picturesque landscape. Like most beautiful things comes a cliché vulnerability which Puerto Rico is all too familiar with. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC reports that just within the 20th century the rate of previously predicted sea level rise due to melting ice caps has tripled. This is most nearly because of our global average temperatures increasing 0.8 degrees Celsius in the past three years. Come 2095 current estimates predict a sea level rise of 114 centimeters (Rahmstorf, 2010). Puerto Rico can face sea level rises even sooner, according to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study by 2060 the ocean will be up 57 centimeters (Coto, 2013). To some citizens these numbers seem small and insignificant. Small, yes, but most definitely not insignificant. These small numbers can still mean huge changes. The majority of the world will experience consequences far greater than just a “green Christmas”. For Puerto Rico, this sea level rise means saltwater intrusion to their already limited groundwater drinking supply. Even now the island nation is being forced to adapt to these consequences. Demaris Rosado- Alverado, a native Puerto Rican citizen who was born and raised in this changing nation was recently interviewed November 2017 concerning climate change and her personal experience living in an adapting island nation. Demaris states that the mountain “oasis water” is used as the main source of drinking water for native Puerto Rican’s opposed to ground water. Considering the majority of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure and residents are located coastally means they are being forced to obtain drinking water from a more concentrated source which can more easily lead to shortages. She continued to say that with this drinking water “there is no regulation on how to best use it and what has been observed is that 50% boil their water to sanitize it and 50% consume it straight from the source.” Without there being any kind of governmental support on clean water means susceptibility to waterborne illness.

In addition to the drinking water crisis, rising sea levels can also lead to direct vulnerability of flooding thus infrastructure erosion. The oceans ever increasing water levels does not mean infiltration of the sea tides necessarily, even though this is also very possible. What this means is that the water table is too high, in turn a simple rain has the potential to cause major flooding. When the ground water table is too high it leaves no appropriate room for precipitation to be absorbed back into the Earth. One can think of this situation almost like the island being an over saturated sponge. With Puerto Rico’s major population of citizens being coastal it leaves them facing a two-fold problem. From the coastal side there is risk of tidal flooding, whereas the inland mountain ranges leave the coastal city’s vulnerable to flooding from precipitation runoff. In July of 2013 Puerto Rico encountered a simple summer rainstorm which lead to major infrastructure damage, flooding, and the shutdown of major Airports and businesses. Carmen Guerrero, Puerto Rico’s secretary of the natural resources department said that “We saw how the metropolitan area became paralyzed…Our infrastructure could not handle that amount of water...Puerto Rico needs to take action now, because otherwise, we're going to be dealing with crises." (Coto, 2013)

Climate changes effect on Puerto Rico is not something new. This island nation seems to be in a state of constant recovery and adaptation. Sustainable climate change adaptation and mitigative practices are being ever forced onto this island nation. Demaris Rosado- Alverado say that climate change is not dealt with politically but very much spoken about socially. She goes on to say that “a lot of the baby boomers continuously talk about how hot it has become, higher and higher, recently at 105 degrees when before it wasn't.” Climate change consequences are something that Puerto Rican citizens deal with in their everyday lives. From saltwater intrusion and drinking water shortages to infrastructure impairment and flooding, Puerto Rico has an on running list of problems to adapt to and ultimately mitigate long-term solutions to.

So what is being done to make a more sustainable Puerto Rico and help this island nation adapt to both the figurative and literal rising tide? To start, there are initiatives to cultivate artificial reefs or “reef-balls” around the islands 800 miles of coastline. This process hopes to provide not only crucial habitat to Puerto Rico’s unique aquatic biota, but it will also act as a natural barrier to prote​ct the island nation’s infrastructure from coastline erosion (Coto, 2013). Due to the islands location it is highly susceptible to impactful hurricanes, as we most recently saw with hurricanes Irma and Maria. The artificial reef initiative could help in dampening the effects of a hurricane by protecting the delicate coast from storm surges.

(Figure 1: Un-cultivated “reef-balls” in Fajardo, Puerto Rico)

In terms of sustainable energy Puerto Rico is ahead of most U.S. states and territories, however, not because of progressive energy initiatives but instead out of simple need. Seeing how this is an island nation it is difficult and not particularity cost effective to be shipping fossil fuels out to Puerto Rico. Instead most of the territory is accustomed to using solar energy. Demaris Rosado- Alverado confirms this by saying most of the Puerto Rican native’s will use solar energy to heat and cool water as well as other common living functions. Puerto Rican citizens have been utilizing solar power far before it was considered a sustainable practice, and just simply so the territory’s residents could afford a source of energy. After tragedy struck this past September of 2017 with hurricanes Irma and Maria, Puerto Rico was left with only a mere 9 percent of its territory with power. Despite the islands loss there are great plans for a bright future. The CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk, has taken it upon the company to provide relief to Puerto Rico and rebuild/ innovate a better more efficient solar power grid. CNN quoted Musk in a recent interview saying “the Tesla team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico.” (Gillespie, 2017). Only time will truly tell but thus far Tesla has proven itself while aiding the island nation on smaller energy endeavors. This kind of sustainable movement is one for the record books and will clearly take time to fully develop into fruition. But at the very least hopefully Tesla will inspire other companies to bridge the political gap in order to aid a nation in need.

From tragedy sparks innovation and a natural will to survive. Puerto Rico has seen no shortage of strife but in turn has also displayed no shortage of resilience. This small nation faces fresh water shortages, flooding, erosion, and a limited access to energy naming a few. As of now there are initiatives to adapt and mitigate each issue as they come, all while bracing for future climate change impacts. Small island nations are feeling the brunt of the rest of the world’s bad ecological decisions that contribute to climate change. The very least larger nations can do is take notice these consequences are effecting smaller nations, hopefully sparking a motivation to help small island nations like Puerto Rico get on their feet once more.


Special Acknowledgments:

Thank you Demaris Rosado- Alverado for contributing your time and valuable personal insight into this blog series.


Work Cited

Coto , D. (2013, August 24). Report: Puerto Rico unprepared for climate change. Retrieved

November 20, 2017, from https://phys.org/news/2013-08-puerto-rico-unprepared-climate.html

DiMento, J. F., & Doughman, P. (Eds.). (2014). Climate Change: What It Means for Us, Our

Children, and Our Grandchildren (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT.

Gillespie, P. (2017, October 5). Elon Musk: Tesla can fix Puerto Rico's broken power grid.

Retrieved November 19, 2017, from http://money.cnn.com/2017/10/05/news/economy/elon-musk-puerto-rico-tesla-power-grid/index.html

Rahmstorf, S. (2010). A new view on sea level rise. Nature Reports Climate Change, (1004),

44-45.doi:10.1038/climate.2010.29

Reef Ball Foundation. (n.d.). Reef Ball [Photograph]. Fajardo, Puerto Rico.

Rosado- Alverado, D. (2017, November 2). Puerto Rico. (R. Rosinski- Kennell, Interviewer)

Glossary

Citation

Horning, D. (2017). Puerto Rico Blog Series: Before and After the Storm Part I. Retrieved from http://www.bluecommunity.info/view/blog/5a1cd7c70cf26bc6ab8f16e2

0 Comments

To add a comment, please Log In.