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Something to Remember

2008 August 21

About the author: Maria Pimentel is a scientist in the Office of Air and Radiation who joined EPA in 1995. Prior to that, she worked in the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

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Sometimes I wonder if those of us growing up in an island are especially aware of their connection with the environment and their community.

I spent my childhood somewhere between the sun and the sea in the beautiful island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. From the rich and fertile volcanic soil we harvested tropical fruits, vegetables, and grass for farm animals. The gifts from the sea were fresh seafood, life-abundant waters, rich with sea coral and beauty. Vieques is also home of the Mosquito Bioluminescent Bay, one of the most unusual live phenomena in the world.

In this small island, we had no drinking water reserves, so we learned to conserve water for drinking, until the construction of an underground pipeline from the main island. Before then, the source of drinking water was rain collected in tanks, and a desalinization plant which utilized sea water as raw material. As I look back, I realize our long history of loving this island.

The Taino Indians, the first habitants of Puerto Rico had a special connection with their environment. Together with their benevolent god Yukiyu, (who lived in the rain forest, El Yunque) and their destructive god Huracán or Hurricane, who sometimes still strikes in anger, there was a balance. Since ancient times, the community had a strong, simple, yet vital connection between survival, nature, and natural events.

Experts tell us that our early events determine our makeup in life. This is a possible explanation for my innate curiosity to understand how nature “works” and the path that my journey took when I later moved to the main island, Puerto Rico, went to college and, after several detours, continued a higher education in science.

After a productive career as an educator, researcher and health scientist at EPA, I have come full circle. My ultimate goal is still to understand, educate, and protect the environment we all live in.

I would like to invite you to go back in time and share your childhood memories related to the environment. And to do what you can to enjoy, preserve, and protect the environment around you. Your contributions will be enjoyed by all of us.

Algo para recordar

Sobre la autora: María Pimentel, científica en la Oficina de Aire y Radiación, ha estado laborando en EPA desde 1995. Con anterioridad, trabajó en el Instituto Nacional de Ciencias de Salud Ambiental.

Algunas veces me pregunto si los que viven en una isla comprenden su conexión con el medio ambiente.

Yo crecí en un lugar entre el sol y el océano en la bella isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico. Durante mi niñez, del rico suelo volcánico cosechábamos frutas tropicales, vegetales y hierba para los animales de corral. El mar nos regalaba mariscos frescos, abundante vida marina llena de arrecifes de coral y belleza. En Vieques también se encuentra la Bahía bioluminiscente de Mosquito uno de los fenómenos biológicos más raros del mundo.

En esta pequeña isla caribeña, no existen grandes reservas de agua potable. Por ende, aprendimos a conservar agua hasta que se construyó un acueducto submarino proveniente de la isla grande. Previamente, las fuentes de agua potable en la isla eran el agua de lluvia, la cual recolectábamos en cisternas, y una planta desalinizadora de agua, la cual utilizaba agua de mar como materia prima. Según voy recordando el pasado, me doy cuenta de cuan larga es nuestra historia de amar a nuestra isla.

Los indios taínos, los primeros habitantes de Puerto Rico, tenían una conexión especial con el medio ambiente. Junto al dios benevolente, Yukiyu (el cual habitaba en el busque lluvioso, El Yunque) y su dios destructor Huracán (el cual algunas veces, todavía golpea con ira) existía un balance. Desde tiempos antiguos, en la comunidad existió una fuerte, simple y, a la vez vital conexión entre la naturaleza, los eventos naturales y la supervivencia.

Los expertos coinciden que las experiencias en nuestra temprana vida determinan nuestras características adultas. Tal vez, es esta razón por mi curiosidad innata acerca de cómo la naturaleza “trabaja” y la senda que tomé cuando mi familia se mudo a la isla grande, Puerto Rico, asistí a la universidad y, luego de varios desvíos, proseguí una carrera en ciencia.

Como bióloga, he gozado de una carrera muy productiva en educación, investigación científica y ciencias de la salud en la Agencia de Protección Ambiental (EPA por sus siglas en inglés). Sin embargo, mi objetivo sigue siendo comprender el medio ambiente en que vivimos y educar acerca de cómo protegerlo.

Ahora, quisiera invitarle a retroceder en el tiempo y compartir los recuerdos de su niñez relacionados al medio ambiente. He invitarle a disfrutar, conservar y proteger el medio ambiente que le rodea. Todos nosotros nos beneficiaremos de su contribución.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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13 Responses leave one →
  1. Bill S. permalink
    August 21, 2008

    I grew up in the Bronx in the fifties and have no childhood memories relating to the environment. I remember being annoyed about seeing the neighborhood parks littered, but not annoyed enough to do anything about it. I was well into my twenties before I started bringing newspapers to a local recycling center. Today, I consider myself a sincere, practicing environmentalist. But it is really a product of being an adult and processing all the information we get today and realizing that as an individual I must do my part. That probably has more to do with just learning to be a good citizen as a kid than it does with any childhood experiences with the environment. I’m sure it’s different for those who grew up in rural areas, such as the author of the posting.

  2. Lina-EPA permalink*
    August 21, 2008

    Great to read someone write about their beautiful island with so much passion.
    For over three years, Vieques was my bread and butter. What I mean is–that since April 19, 1999 through August 29th, 2001 I was writing an average of four newspaper articles daily covering all aspects of the environmental and military issues of the US Navy inner range on that Caribbean island. I appreciate viewing the Island now from the human perspective. Natural treasures that still need protection.

  3. Brenda-EPA permalink
    August 22, 2008

    Vieques is my favorite place in the whole world! Travel and Leisure announced about two weeks ago that the beautiful Vieques is the best Caribbean destination. As someone who works for EPA and spent a lot of time during my childhood by cane sugar and coffee plantations I’ve come to appreciate places that put me in direct contact with nature. And Vieques is one of those places. Though like Lina it’s been my bread and butter for the last six years due to the Superfund site, I still find always something new in Vieques. From the rays in Isabel Segunda, green turtles in the beaches of the former Camp García, to the huge starfishes. You were indeed very lucky to grow in Vieques!

  4. Leslie Sansone Williams permalink
    August 23, 2008

    I, too, grew up in the fifties. We had no plastic bags, only paper and fabric bags. I remember my grandmother saving glass jars (under the sink, of course!) and paper bags. We saved our shopping bags and used them repeatedly.

    I truly appreciate all that has been done in the last 30 yrs. or so to clean up the air pollution in the U.S. Great progress has been made thanks in part to catalytic converters.

    This is a time for appreciating our resources and understanding just how precious they are.

    Leslie Sansone Williams
    LegalEdPro

  5. Zita permalink
    August 25, 2008

    Acabo de leer tu escrito sobre la Isla de Vieques. Me alegro mucho que luego de tanto tiempo fuera de Puerto Rico, todavía tengas tus recuerdos bien latente de tu niñez. Escribes con tanta pasión, amor, y sabiduría que demuestras que tu raíces no lo has olvidado y eso me emociona. La Isla Nena (como se le conoce) sigue siendo hermosa, de bellas playas, con su gente buena, la naturaleza y su verdor que siempre la ha caracterizado. Te felicito por tus éxitos y tambien por tus recuerdos. Y se que donde quiera que estés estará prohibido olvidar a VIEQUES.

  6. Dr. Blaine D. Pope permalink
    December 15, 2008

    What a wonderful eco-story from Maria Pimentel—complete with history and folklore!

    I grew up in Southern California, in the 1960s and 70s. I moved away for many years—spending some of that time working abroad and on the East Coast of the US—and then recently moved back. Regarding the environment, of course, it is all too easy for us to speak about those things that have gotten “worse,” worldwide. I, however, would like to note one local environmental success story, wherein something got a little better: Los Angeles area air quality.

    The air quality in the northern section of LA County (Pasadena and surrounding areas) has actually improved since I was a child! Back in the late 1960s, I can recall being a chubby little kid, trying to play football or dodge ball. Sometimes I was not even allowed to play in that terrible, smog-filled air. I can recall almost not being able to see the majestic Sierra Madre/San Gabriel Mountains near my house, even though I lived and went to school a scant mile or two away from base of them (anyone who has ever watched a Rose Bowl Game on TV has seen those beautiful mountains, in the background). Worst of all, I can recall my young lungs actually aching, at the end of a day spent playing in such polluted air.
    Returning to live in my “homeland” in 2007, I have noticed that “I can breathe deeply again!” The air is noticeably cleaner; and the place of my birth is noticeably more beautiful, more often, throughout the year.

    So, I am led to ask, “If we can clean up our old smoggy air in Southern California so effectively (in spite of significant population increase), why not other aspects of our environment?” What can we learn from what we did here, regarding air quality? How might that process be replicated, for example, regarding current events like California’s AB32 legislation, on greenhouse gas emissions?
    Today, that fat little kid from Altadena-Pasadena now works at the Center for Sustainable Cities, at the University of Southern California, focusing on these and other “green” issues.

    I am indeed honored to be “back home.”

    Blaine D. Pope, Ph.D., MIA, MPA
    Research Assistant Professor
    USC Center for Sustainable Cities

  7. Lina-EPA permalink*
    January 21, 2009

    Dr. Pope
    Obviously your loe for green issues started at a young age. Glad you’ve seen an improvement in air quality near your “homeland.

  8. Rico Puerto permalink
    October 6, 2010

    Puerto Rico, one of the best vacation spots in the whole world. A series of islands inhabited by amazing people, Puerto Rico is located in the northeastern Caribbean Sea. An archipelago, it is composed of one mother island and several other small islands, some of which are uninhabited.

  9. Mark Brown permalink
    April 15, 2011

    I grew up in a small Kansas town in the 50′s and 60′s. The environment was not a great concern in those days, but the my personal economy was a big concern to me. In a day when kids didn’t receive allowances collecting pop bottles and selling them was big business for me and my friends. There wasn’t a hiding place safe enough for glass bottles. We patroled highways, bridges, lakes, streams, and garbage heaps for bottles.

    I was sad to see the advent of throw away bottles. There aren’t many places that offer refunds on bottles. If an aggressive refund and reuse policy was instituted for most types of bottles many tons of trash would be reduced and many kids and adults could find a means to earn money.

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