In an effort to protect Puerto Rico’s rich marine biodiversity, some of the healthiest elkhorn corals, and the surf that breaks over them, the Reserva Marina Tres Palmas (RMTP) was established in January 2004. This marine reserve, the first on the mainland of Puerto Rico, was established through a community-driven effort.
Since the explosion of tourism in the mid 1960s, Rincón has experienced strong social and economic changes. Formerly a people devoted to agriculture and fisheries, tourism is now the foundation of the economy. Rincón is today one of the most popular tourist destinations of the island, which has led to an accelerated development of its coastline. The absence of local planning zoning has enabled the development of hotel complexes and condominiums in the shoreline area. This type of construction cause erosion to the coast and this coupled with climate change and marine pollution is threatening the beaches, corals and biodiversity that depends on it.
By keeping marine areas in a natural state, free from potentially damaging human activities, these environments will be protected for future generations. Rinconeños will also benefit from the positive effects that this protection will have on recreation and tourism, community education and scientific research.
Protecting Rincón’s coastal and ocean resources is a priority because they are the economic engine of the community’s economy. With funding from NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program the development of a management plan for the marine reserve commenced in 2005.
WHAT IS A MANAGEMENT PLAN AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
A management plan is a guide for the conservation of ecosystems, natural and cultural resources for a specific area defined by legal processes based on scientific criteria and the management of resources. The plan provides a description of the area and region, summarizes scientific research for the area, and presents and discusses critical issues, problems, threats, relevant activities and conservation opportunities. It is a working plan that will guide the day-to-day activities of the reserve to comply with the goals and objectives for the reserve. The plan will be created through a collaborative process between government agencies, NGOs, stakeholders, and citizen participation,
DEVELOPING THE PLAN
Dr. Manuel “Manolo” Valdés-Pizzini and his team from CIEL facilitated the process to create the management plan.
The development of the management plan was guided by a steering committee with representatives from local and Commonwealth government, fishers, educators, scientists, local business, and community groups. A group of technical advisors ensured the legal compliance and scientific validity of the plan.
The process to create the management plan emphasized diverse and extensive public participation in many forms.
The Management Plan for the RMTP was completed in 2008. The Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) approved the plan shortly after its completion and the document is now being evaluated by the P.R. Planning Board.
The management plan mandates that a Management Board (Junta de Manejo) be constituted to collaborate in the management of the reserve, jointly with the DNER. The board must have members that represent different groups and interests related to the reserve in Rincón, as well as DNER officials. The DNER also approved an Administrative Order prohibiting the collection of any marine organism, either living or dead, in the area of the reserve.
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The video Salva Tres Palmas tells the story of the environmental victory that gave life to the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve.