One of my earliest childhood memories while riding in the car with my parents is the Condado Lagoon boardwalk. Back in the late 1970’s, this area was a local hangout. Filled with noise and street vendors who operated from trucks converted into food stands, the Condado Lagoon boardwalk was the place to go at night from Thursdays to Saturdays. On Monday the area was littered with food residue and trash, many of which were dumped or dragged into the lagoon. The place was also known for its foul odors from grease from the food stands and raw sewage going into the body of water from houses in the nearby Condado neighborhood.
The Condado Lagoon encompasses an area of 102 acres and flows into both The Atlantic Ocean and the San Juan Bay and is part of the San Juan Bay Estuary. In the late 1950’s, 20 percent of its total area was dredged for the development of an arterial avenue. Dredging activities destroyed sea grasses and mangroves, which are essential habitat and nursery, respectively, for some marine species.
The health hazards associated with the water quality of the Condado Lagoon prompted the Puerto Rico government to construct a sanitary sewer system to service the structures that were discharging their raw sewage into the water body. This effort, and the enlargement of the Dos Hermanos Bridge to increase water flow into the lagoon, significantly improved the water quality of the area. In addition, in the late 1970s, the Environmental Quality Board addressed the noise problem and issued cease and desist orders to those discharging into the lagoon or storm sewers.
Now over 300 species, including birds, reptiles, amphibians and tropical fishes, are associated with the Lagoon and its mangrove habitat, including 124 species of fish. The Lagoon includes coral reefs that are home to sponges, starfish and sea urchins and other fish and marine invertebrates. Turtles and manatees now make the Condado Lagoon their “hangout.”
Moreover, efforts conducted by the San Juan Bay Estuary Program, EPA and NOAA have led to restoration of the red mangrove forest. Nearly 750 volunteers have planted 1,389 plantules of red mangroves since 2005. After street vendors were relocated in the early 1980’s a new boardwalk was built. Two years ago the Condado Lagoon Jaime Benitez State Park was inaugurated providing ample space for outoor activities, such as the Estuary’s Green Movie Night, and non-motorized aquatic sports. Now driving along the lagoon boardwalk is a real scenic drive.
About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.