Illegal construction has made Puerto Rico more vulnerable to climate change (PHOTOS) | The Weather Channel – Articles from The Weather Channel
An ongoing investigation into illegal construction on Puerto Rico’s coastline has found that more than 3,600 protected mangroves have been damaged or destroyed.
The discovery launched a criminal investigation by the Puerto Rico Department of Justice.
“This is one of the biggest environmental crimes I’ve seen,” Rep. Jesús Manuel Ortiz said April 27 during a public hearing into the situation. ” It’s scandalous. A crime is committed in front of everyone.
Concrete houses, fences, swimming pools and a wharf have been illegally built inside the Jobos Bay Estuarine National Research Reserve, which is meant to protect nearly 2,900 acres of mangrove forest.
It’s not the only place something like this has happened on the island. Environmentalists say issues like this make the U.S. homeland even more vulnerable to climate change.
Less than 1% of all tropical forests on Earth, according to the United Nations Environment Program, mangrove forests play a key role in mitigating climate change. While the soils they grow in act as a carbon sink, preventing carbon from entering the atmosphere, mangroves themselves protect shorelines from erosion and rising seas by slowing flooding and trapping sediment, reports Yale Climate Connections.
“The mangroves are like the person standing there enduring whatever can happen,” local and community leader Jacqueline Vázquez told The Associated Press. “It’s like a wall that saves us.”
Local whistleblowers like Vázquez received what they consider to be threatening phone calls after bringing attention to the illegal building, the AP reported.
Aixa Pabón, director of the Jobos Bay reserve, said the whole system broke down when construction was authorized. She also accused the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) of negligence. Officials have accused people living in illegal residences on the reservation of taking advantage of the pandemic as well as the aftermath of Hurricane Maria to construct and add buildings to Jobos Bay.
The hearings were delayed in early April because the DNER promised to investigate the case, then canceled the morning of their hearing, rescheduling their work until mid-April, according to the San Juan Daily Star.
Representative Joel Franqui Atiles called it an attempt to cripple the investigation.
In February, in Rincon, on the western edge of Puerto Rico, a judge overturned a government-issued permit allowing a condominium to rebuild a swimming pool, hot tub and other recreational facilities destroyed by Hurricane Maria in 2017 In this case, 2% of the land the company planned to build on was protected land, while 12% is located in a coastal area at high risk of flooding, the AP reported.
Concerned residents raised the flag on both occasions, launching protests and demanding accountability from government agencies. For the Jobos Bay case, residents have been opposing illegal construction since 2018.
Now lawmakers are beginning to weigh in on an island-wide investigation into illegal construction in conservation lands. Activists are pushing for a full moratorium on construction along the coast.
Governor Pedro Pierluisi called the request “excessive”, saying a moratorium might be appropriate for vulnerable areas, such as those suffering from erosion or other problems related to climate change.
DNER secretary Rafael Machargo Maldonado resigned in late March as the scandal unfolded. The department’s acting secretary announced on April 27 that he was preparing to file eviction orders against 12 people accused of living in illegal homes in Jobos Bay. The department also sought a court order to demolish the buildings.
Officials say evicted parties would be required to pay at least $4 million in environmental damages.
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