Viva el Corredor Ecológico del Noreste!
Since its formation in 2005, the top priority of the Sierra Club's Puerto Rico Chapter has been protecting an area many Puerto Ricans see as their island's crown jewel: the spectacular Northeast Ecological Corridor (or CEN, as it's known locally). On October 4, the chapter's efforts, and those of allied community and environmental groups, were rewarded when Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila signed an executive order to establish a 3,240-acre natural reserve that will effectively protect all of the lands in the CEN. Chapter Director Camilla Feibelman, former Legislative Chair Ramon Nieves, now head of Puerto Rico national parks, Chapter Chair Eduardo Gonzalez, Chapter Vice Chair Francisco "Pachi" Perez, and a core group of volunteer leaders including Samarys Seguinot tirelessly promoted the CEN's ecological, scenic, and recreational values and lobbied for its designation as a nature reserve.
To build support, the chapter led outings to the area, one of which is pictured above. Below, a Club volunteer talks to trip participants as they pore over a map of the CEN prior to another such outing.
The chapter's biggest challenge was blocking two mega-resorts proposed for the corridor by the Four Seasons and Marriott Corporations, which would have included nearly 2,000 new residential and tourist units and three golf courses. One of Puerto Rico's last true wildlands, the CEN includes wetlands, forests, coral reefs, mangrove swamps, and a bio-luminescent lagoon, and its beaches are one of the most important nesting areas for the Leatherback Turtle, currently threatened with extinction. In a statement to the Associated Press, Governor Vila said his administration recognizes that "the CEN is a zone of extraordinary natural scenic and ecotourism value, serving as home to 40 critical, rare, endemic and endangered species… which depend on the natural integrity of this zone for their subsistence."
"Thosands of people have visited the Corridor and communicated with the governor calling on him to protect this special place," says Feibelman, "not just as a nature reserve but also as an eco-touristic destination. The governor listened. The executive order just goes to show that when citizens do their job by communicating with their elected officials, we can accomplish real change."