Preservation of Unique Natural Resources in Puerto Rico

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By Luz v Garcia, MS, ME

Since I wrote about the unique places in Puerto Rico, I have to mention the importance of preserving this unique ecosystem. Dynoflagellates, the microscopic microorganism that produces the luminescence in the Puerto Rico bays can be destroyed without repair. How? Just by the simple act of swimming in these bay waters.

There is a third bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico—“Laguna Grande” – in the town of Fajardo on the northeastern side of the island. The scientific name of this unique dinoflagellate is Pyrodinium bahamense.  It produces a bioluminescence as bright as the one in Vieques island . But in 2003, this unique habitat was adversely impacted by the local practice of swimming in the area. Luckily, the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources took over and banned swimming at Laguna Grande and the fluorescent bay was reestablished.

Dynoflagelates are sensitive to other microorganisms—bacteria and ciliates. These contaminating microorganisms can create toxic algae and change the pH of the water where these fragile dynoflagellates live . Human intervention promotes the increase of bacteria in these habitat waters further threatening the fragile pH balance of the ecosystem.

Just imagine that you are enjoying a beautiful flowering garden and all of the sudden the weather changes and acid rain starts pouring into your garden destroying all your beautiful flowers. In the same way, this unique microorganism can disappear by just the simple change in pH created by an increase population of bacteria. The acidification process in the water creates an unbalanced environment for these Dynoflagellates and soon they get “stress out” by the blooming of red algae.

In the town of Fajardo , aquatic sports are commonly practiced. It appears that kayaking has not had an adverse effect, for now, on this unique habitat. I believe humans and other species can live in a positive and facultative symbiotic relationships and knowing how much Puerto Ricans love water sports, I believe that once we are aware of the value of unique natural resources, we will promote their preservation and value.

About the author:  Ms. Luz V. García M.E. is a physical scientist at EPA’s Division of Enforcement of Compliance Assistance. She is a four-time recipient of the EPA bronze medal, most recently in 2011 for the discovery of illegal pesticides entry at U.S. Customs and Border Protection in New York.

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