Por: Laura M. Quintero
El gobierno federal actuando a nombre de la Agencia de Protección Ambiental (EPA, por sus siglas en inglés) presentó una demanda contra el Municipio de San Juan, el Gobierno de Puerto Rico y dos de sus agencias por la descarga de aguas usadas en el Estuario de la Bahía de San Juan y por no aplicar un adecuado Programa de Manejo de Aguas Pluviales.
La demanda impone una multa de hasta $32,500 por cada día y por cada violación que ocurrió previo al 15 de marzo de 2004, y de $37,500 por cada día y por cada violación que ocurrió después del 12 de enero de 2009. Además del Municipio de San Juan, la EPA extiende la acción civil contra el Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales (DRNA) y el Departamento de Transportación y Obras Públicas (DTOP).
La acción civil radicada ayer se da luego de que distintos estudios que encomendara la agencia federal en los cuerpos de agua de la zona metropolitana, como el Caño Martín Peña y la Laguna San José, encontraran la presencia de contaminantes con niveles de amoníaco, surfactantes y bacterias fecales. Las estaciones de bombeo de Barrio Obrero, Buena Vista, la Avenida Baldorioty de Castro, la Avenida De Diego, y la Parada 18 en Santurce tenían fallas en el sistema de descarga por introducir el agua usada en los cuerpos de agua sin tratamiento de contaminantes.
El agua usada es el agua potable que ha sido contaminada mediante el uso doméstico, industrial, comercial, agrícola o público. La EPA tiene estrictas regulaciones a través de la Ley de Agua Limpia y el permiso general para los sistemas de drenaje pluvial municipales, que estipulan han sido violadas por el Gobierno de Puerto Rico y el Municipio de San Juan.
La demanda requiere que tanto el Municipio como las debidas entidades estatales tomen las acciones necesarias para disminuir el peligro a la salud de las personas por la descarga no permitida de contaminantes en al menos tres de sus estaciones de bombeo.
Author(s) Leda Dunmire
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—I first get to know the producer of the film project that calls me to the Caribbean as we glide over the turquoise waters. I have joined Gary Strieker, an Emmy award-winning television correspondent who has worked all over the world, to shoot an episode of “This American Land” about the Bajo de Sico seamount, an underwater wildlife mecca off the western coast of Puerto Rico. The episode is set to air this summer on public TV stations.
Over the roar of the Cessna’s propellers, we talk about Bajo de Sico, the flattened peak and coral-rich slopes of the undersea mountain that rises from the deep ocean floor to within human diving limits of 70 to 200 feet.
- See more at: http://www.pewenvironment.org/news-room/other-resources/in-search-of-spawning-fish-85899545981#sthash.waZ2SdoH.dpuBajo de Sico hosts the annual spawning rituals of several fish species, including the imperiled Nassau grouper. Some fish travel hundreds of miles to gather during spawning season.
We have come here to tell the story of a team of scientists working with fishermen to protect Bajo’s seamount habitat. Banning fishing during times when fish are reproducing could allow them to safely aggregate, spawn, and produce a larger number of offspring. Robust fish populations are essential for healthier ocean ecosystems that may be more resilient to threats such as climate change. Thriving ecosystems in turn support fishing and recreation, which power local economies. As a result, some limits on fishing may create more economic opportunities for everyone in the future.
Tomorrow we will dive at Bajo to see the unique place that these experts and Pew are working to save.
On the second day of our trip, I awaken with a head cold and fear that congestion will stop me from this long-awaited dive. I worry that I won’t be able to clear my ears to deal with the pressure changes that happen on deepwater dives. I power through a morning of planning and interviews with University of Puerto Rico scientists Michael Nemeth and Michelle Schärer, who study fish spawning aggregations. They believe they may have discovered the unexpected return to Bajo of the once plentiful but now internationally endangered Nassau grouper.
We set off in the afternoon for Rincón, a small fishing and surfing town in the northwestern part of the island. Locals call it “Gringolandia” because of the many Americans drawn there for the surf and laid-back lifestyle. We arrive, and as we rest on a bluff overlooking the sea, we spy whales spouting in the distance. It’s breeding time for the Atlantic humpback whale. It would be a dream come true to see them during our dive, but such contact is rare.
I’m still stuffed up when we reach the dive boat. The rebreather divers—who use specialized closed-circuit equipment to stay underwater longer—have already been there an hour preparing their gear.
It’s an hour’s journey to Bajo. The birder in me is excited by the prospect of spotting the brown and masked boobies rarely found on the mainland. When we arrive at the dive spot, the mood turns serious. We prepare for the dive, deep—90 to 170 feet—and dangerous.
As the rebreather divers get into the water first to complete research-related tasks on the seafloor, I get ready. I love the 10 minutes before hitting the water for a dive. Even after 17 years of struggling into a wetsuit, there’s nothing like the anticipation of the mystery that waits for me below.
Everchanging, yet ever the same. Storms, people, and time may alter the seascape, but in the tropics, marine life still plays a unique role in these complex ecosystems. The tiny cleaner shrimp still pick away parasites in a grouper’s mouth, and the ubiquitous damselfish still dart among the corals, defending their algae gardens.
I’m the first in my group to take the plunge, then Michelle, Roger Herr (the videographer), and lastly Francisco “Paco” Garcia-Huertas, our boat captain.
We descend slowly, and I hope it will give my ears time to adjust to the pressure. It works! Without problems I get to the bottom, which is covered in gently rolling coral hills and riven by channels. Surgeonfish cruise around in small schools. Parrotfish nibble on algae. Triggerfish slowly flutter by. We can spend only 10 minutes at this depth. While the production crew busily records our surroundings, I focus on the quiet beauty of the underwater city that surrounds me: coral architecture and lush landscapes that should house abundant life.
Although Michelle and Michael’s research has shown that fish gather here for spawning, we don’t spot any today. They have dispersed since the last full moon. If this year is lucky enough to see a second spawning time—a “split spawn”—they may return during the next lunar cycle. Such infrequent opportunities for reproduction—and the slow population growth that results—exacerbate their vulnerability to overfishing and other threats. With very little chance of a baby boom, it is critical to conserve habitats such as Bajo.
After the dive and a simple lunch, we return to the water for a leisurely swim, using our snorkels to explore just below the surface. The waves make it hard to get our bearings, but the sea feels warm and relaxing now that we have taken off our cumbersome dive gear.
We are startled by the sound of a tail slap and a flash of white underwater: A humpback whale is in front of me! The animal floats by vertically with its head down and flukes hanging limply by its enormous head. Eyes closed, it is at rest in the water.
“Thank you,” I whisper. “Thank you for being here.” Whether it be luck or privilege or good karma, I share a full minute and a half with this sublime creature. I search for the words to describe what I feel in this moment: love, awe, gratitude, humility. I am not afraid, even though I am physically dwarfed by this enormous animal.
Too soon for me, the whale awakens, rights itself in the water, and seems to size up my three goggle-eyed companions and me. Then the leviathan gracefully swims away.
I break the surface in the whale’s wake. We are all elated, but the thrill is bittersweet. We know that Bajo is not what it used to be. We hope for what it could be once again.
Protecting the seamount is critical for life to rebuild here. Fish, corals, whales, and all marine animals need a haven in which to reproduce. I know now more than ever that safeguarding these areas is paramount. The brief moment with the humpback steels my resolve to work for the preservation of Bajo de Sico—an underwater home where vital sea life can safely feed, spawn, and rest.
If you want to experience the wonders and potential of Bajo de Sico, please tune in to “This American Land” to watch the episode Seamount of Life. Watch video of the Bajo seascape and hear fishermen, scientists, and advocates explain why this is a place worth saving. Check your local listings for dates and times. If you want to communicate with Leda Dunmire about her trip and work, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the United States Army Corps of Engineers got to work on a massive network of levees and flood walls to protect against future catastrophes. Finally completed in 2012, the project ended up costing $14.5 billion — and that figure didn’t include the upkeep these defenses will require in years to come, not to mention the cost of someday replacing them altogether.
But levees aren’t the only things that protect coasts from storm damage. Nature offers protection, too. Coastal marshes absorb the wind energy and waves of storms, weakening their impact farther inland. And while it’s expensive to maintain man-made defenses, wetlands rebuild themselves.
Protection from storms is just one of many services that ecosystems provide us — services that we’d otherwise have to pay for. In 1997, a team of scientists decided to estimate how much they are actually worth. Worldwide, they concluded, the price tag was $33 trillion — equivalent to $48.7 trillion in today’s dollars. Put another way, the services ecosystems provide us — whether shielding us from storms, preventing soil erosion or soaking up the greenhouse gases that lead to global warming — were twice as valuable as the gross national product of every country on Earth in 1997.
“We basically said, ‘It’s an imprecise estimate, but it’s almost definitely a pretty big number, and we’ve got to start paying attention,'” said Robert Costanza, a professor at Australian National University who led the study.
That study proved to be hugely influential. Many governments, from Costa Rica to the United Kingdom, started to take the value of ecosystem services into account when they planned environmental policies. But the study also set off a lot of controversy. Some economists argued that it was based on bad economics, while some conservation biologists argued that price tags were the wrong way to save ecosystems.
Seventeen years later, the debate is getting re-energized, just as the nation becomes immersed in an intense fight over the Obama administration’s attempt to tackle the emissions that scientists say could threaten many of these ecosystems. Dr. Costanza and his colleagues have now updated the 1997 estimate in a new study, published in the May issue of the journal Global Environmental Change, and concluded that the original estimate was far too low. The true value of the services of the world’s ecosystems is at least three times as high, they said.
“As we learn more, these estimates increase,” Dr. Costanza said.
That’s putting it mildly. The enormous rise in the price tag stems from hundreds of new studies carried out on ecosystems around the world. Taken as a whole, these studies reveal that ecosystems do more for us than Dr. Costanza and his colleagues could appreciate in 1997.
Coral reefs, for instance, have proved to be much more important for storm protection than previously recognized. They also protect against soil erosion by weakening waves before they reach land. As a result, Dr. Costanza and his colleagues now consider the services provided by coral reefs to be 42 times more valuable than they did in 1997. They estimate that each acre of reef provides $995,000 in services each year for a total of $11 trillion worldwide.
Continue reading the main story Continue reading the main story AdvertisementMost of the 17 services that Dr. Costanza and his colleagues analyzed in 16 different kinds of ecosystems — including tropical forests, mangroves and grasslands — also turned out to be more valuable. When they added up all their new figures, they came up with a global figure of $142.7 trillion a year (in 2014 dollars).
But they also had to take into account the fact that many ecosystems have suffered since 1997. Many coral reefs, for example, have been dying off because of pollution and other human activities. Dr. Costanza and his colleagues estimate that the world’s reefs shrank from 240,000 square miles in 1997 to 108,000 in 2011.
If coral reefs and other ecosystems were still as healthy as they were in 1997, the value of their services today would have been considerably higher: $165.8 trillion.
In other words, deforestation and other damage we’ve inflicted on the natural world has wiped out $23 trillion a year in ecosystem services. To put that loss into perspective, consider that the gross domestic product of the United States is $16.2 trillion.
“I think this is a very important piece of science,” said Douglas J. McCauley of the University of California, Santa Barbara. That’s particularly high praise coming from Dr. McCauley, who has been a scathing critic of Dr. Costanza’s attempt to put price tags on ecosystem services.
“This paper reads to me like an annual financial report for Planet Earth,” Dr. McCauley said. “We learn whether the dollar value of Earth’s major assets have gone up or down.”
But even with the new calculations, Dr. McCauley still thinks valuing those assets with dollar figures is wrong. As ecosystems shrink or suffer degradation, they may be seen as less valuable — and thus less likely to be protected. “I think this approach to conservation is disingenuous and dangerous,” he said.
Dr. McCauley is hardly alone. In the journal Conservation Letters, Matthias Schröter of Wageningen University in the Netherlands and his colleagues recently surveyed a number of objections that have been leveled against Dr. Costanza’s approach. Some scientists argue that it doesn’t make sense to look at ecosystems simply as providing us with good things. Ecosystems can also harbor diseases and harm us in other ways.
As for his own view, Dr. Schröter said that Dr. Costanza’s method was a powerful way to communicate just how much we depend on nature — and just how much of it we’re destroying.
“Time has run out,” Dr. Schröter said. “The message needs to get through that we lose something of crucial value every day.”