Responsible Pier Initiative Implemented in Puerto Rico
Several weeks ago, we received an email from a woman named Suki at TICATOVE, the sea turtle conservation organization in Vieques.
Vieques, an island located about eight miles east of mainland Puerto Rico, has a unique history. Approximately two-thirds of the island was occupied by the US Navy for more than 60 years. In 2003, the Navy left and lands were transformed into a National Wildlife Refuge. Although Navy presence halted development, the beaches now face several other threats.
Following more than a decade of closure, Mosquito Pier reopened to the public in November 2014. The pier, located on a one-mile land bridge called Rompeolas, has no guard and no enforced regulations. Suki’s email read as follows:
“At least three hawksbills have been documented hooked on a flipper and tangled in fishing lines… Please, I need some advice from you ASAP.”
Earlier this month, after translating the RPI signage and educational materials, Tommy and I traveled to Vieques – first on a plane to San Juan, then on a tiny Cessna that took us on a 20-minute flight from San Juan to Vieques. The view of the coastline was stunning and as we landed, we flew directly over Rompeolas. The following day, we led a First Responder workshop at the US Fish and Wildlife offices. The workshop was attended by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Natural Resources, TICATOVE, the Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust, a representative from the mayor’s office, several dive operators, and Viequense community members.
The workshop provided not only a solution for turtles hooked or entangled on Mosquito Pier, but an opportunity for stakeholders to gather together to discuss protection for their marine resources.
Following the workshop, Suki and friends showed us around Vieques – the two towns, the villages, the local wildlife, the 300-year-old Ceiba tree, the ecosystem beneath Mosquito Pier, including a few local sea turtles, and BioBay: the most bioluminescent bay in the world. The island is rich in history, culture, and biodiversity. Neither Tommy nor I had ever been to Vieques before, but we were met with the most welcoming, gracious, proud hosts when we arrived. They care very deeply about protecting the place they call home, and now, so do we.
The RPI signs were hung on Mosquito Pier on April 13. The initiative is an important step for sea turtle conservation in Vieques, however, there is much more work to be done. We are currently developing additional educational signage as well as a few other projects to increase awareness and protection on this beautiful island.
We are very excited to continue our partnership with TICATOVE and look forward to future possibilities.
Up next, the RPI is headed to Florida’s West Coast. Updates coming soon!