Puerto Rico Daily Sun – Monday, February 1st, 2010
By Nathalia Vega
You are greeted with a sign with the image of a whale that reads “Playa Marías.” You park your car and take a glimpse of the tropical vegetation that is the gateway to a bright blue ocean and white sand. You close your eyes and feel the breeze blowing through your hair. The artistic display of the sun reflected on the ocean was just what you needed to complete this masterpiece. Immediately you think: “This is paradise.”
But Playa Marías was not always this way. Its beauty was hidden under a sea of spare tires, soda cans and plastic bags. Under the wing of the Surfrider Foundation, it has been transformed from a neglected beach to a beautiful, clean and accessible paradise for everyone to enjoy.
“There was trash all over the place. You couldn’t even park in the parking lot,” Surfrider chairman Wess Merten said.
Watering the plants, pulling weeds, mulching, and cleaning the beach were just some of the activities that Surfrider members and volunteers were doing to fix up Playa Marías on Jan. 23. This was the final event in the Playa Marías Restoration Project.
Located in Rincón, “the Town of Beautiful Sunsets,” Playa Marías is a well known surfing spot that attracts both tourists and locals.
“Maria’s Beach is legendary, ever since the 60s. It is the lifeblood of the community, and one of the most biodiverse and healthiest places around”, said Jason Epstein, treasurer of the foundation.
The Playa Marías Restoration Project started August 2009, when a group of volunteers installed new trash barrels at the beach and adjacent areas. During another event, they assembled 3 planting beds where over 75 shrubs were planted. “We planted vegetation to stabilize the soil. One of the main problems that beaches face is the [erosion] of this soil, something that ultimately affects the coral reefs,” Merten said.
A week later the chapter paid over $600 for the parking lot to be fixed.
Now, Playa Marías is the object of amazement and surprise for those who knew it before.
Surfrider is a nonprofit, grassroots environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans, waves and beaches. This beach is just one of the many projects that Surfrider Foundation in Rincón has done.
Their main proyect was Salva Tres Palmas, the environmental victory that gave life to the Tres Palmas Marine reserve, the first marine reserve in Puerto Rico.
For the Playa Marías Restoration Project, the foundation had the help of the municipality of Rincón, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and private companies such as HC Wooden Pallets, Calypso café and Surf787 Surf School. Money is limited, so collaborators play an important role in the projects.
“There’s only so much that we can do by ourselves,” Merten said. The manual labor is done by a small but dedicated group of volunteers.
“Ever since we were little, we were taught to love our island. That’s why we do what we do”, said Cuqui González, a volunteer who picked up trash and filled water gallons while her husband Alexis Henriquez planted shrubs.
But there is already graffitti on the new trash barrels, and government zoning affect the work. Roger Wagner, owner of Surf787 surf school, said the main problem was in education and awareness of the problems that beach littering can bring.
“One solution to the trash problem would be consistent enforcement of the littering laws and the initiation of school programs to educate children about the importance of protecting their beaches,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Surfrider Foundation plans to continue their efforts to clean up restore and improve the island’s environment. “It may seem like a small area, but it has a big impact,” Merten said. The next events include filming a documentary about coral reefs, hosting a fundraiser, finding another site to restore, and preparing for the upcoming International Surf Day in June.
They’ve got their hands full. “Volunteering your time to preserve and conserve our natural resources can help the future generations to appreciate those resources that we enjoyed when we were young. Once they are destroyed, they are lost forever,” the Surfrider representative declared.
For more information on the Surfrider Foundation, log on to www.surfrider.org/Rincón.