Puerto Rico’s Extensive Pollution Problems

A black plastic bag pollutes the beach

A black plastic bag pollutes the beach

Traveling to another country is basically jumping into the unknown. No matter how extensively you research the culture of your destination or believe you know what to expect, it’s impossible to fully prepare yourself for the challenges you will face ethically, socially, and environmentally. With little prior knowledge of Puerto Rico, I was standing in these shoes as I walked through the airport in San Juan. I’d previously traveled to Europe, the Bahamas, and been to almost every corner of the United States, but once again this was something drastically different. With each new trip, I have experienced not only the unique cultures that give each community its own identity, but also the challenges that each society faces on a local scale. Puerto Rico is no different, as it has many glaring challenges of its own.
One of the most apparent problems I have noticed in Puerto Rico over the last five days has been the extensive litter. As we drove across the country and walked along the beaches, the amount of litter was very eye opening. Cans, bottles, plastic bags, and more lined most of the areas along the beaches and roads of nearly everywhere we have traveled thus far. This environmental problem has many negative effects both locally and even globally. Puerto Rico has countless amounts of animals that will be affected by this trash. Lizards, iguanas, feral cats, and more will have to deal with the loads of pollution each and every day. One example of the problems faced by these animals is that discarded soda cans are tempting to many of the island’s small critters as they look for food and shade. These animals face danger as they can easily be cut and injured by the cans sharp edges. Plastic bags are another object that proves to be a huge threat. Curiosity and the need for food lead countless amounts of animals to crawl into these bags, and some may get trapped and suffocate. Not only are these discarded objects a huge threat to the land animals here in Puerto Rico, but also the animals living in the vast ocean surrounding the island. With so much trash on the local beaches surrounding the island, it is easy to assume a lot of trash gets sucked into the sea during high tide and storms. Fish and seabirds across the world suffer from these same problems as the land animals, as they also cannot escape the countless troubles caused by human trash. Even though this is a very obvious environmental problem on the island, it does not seem that people are trying to make a significant change. Trash cans have been very sparse on each of the beaches we have visited, even though the litter has been mind blowing.
Not only does the massive amounts of pollution on the island have an effect on the environment, but it also causes large social challenges. We have previously learned in this class that most of the Puerto Rican economy no longer relies on the agriculture harvest as it used to. Instead, Puerto Rico thrives on tourism, as we have seen by the large cruises that docked in San Juan and the hundreds of stores that sell souvenirs. Foreigners want to see the long, spotless beaches that they had seen on commercials and in advertisements begging citizens of first world countries to come explore the beaches of the Caribbean. If these travelers come and witness the extensive pollution it will dampen the excitement of their stay here on the island. A lot of tourism relies on friends talking about different trips they took, as they suggest exciting trips, and vacationers who take repeated trips to the same location. Neither of these would be positive if people were to dislike the beaches due to its trashy nature. Instead of coming to Puerto Rico again, they may choose a different tropical island for their next adventure. Locals may also be deterred from taking day trips to the beaches, which may ultimately lower the overall happiness of the island if this problem continues to take over.
Personally, I can take action on this problem by making sure I throw all my garbage into the trash cans. I can challenge my family and friends to do the same, both here in Puerto Rico and back home in Illinois. Even this small difference can help animals locally and globally. Another action I can attempt to take is talking to local environmental organizations on the island and suggesting they invest in more garbage cans to scattered around the many beaches on the island. Signs can also be added on the shorelines reminding people to throw their trash in garbage bins and of the troubles caused by their pollution. I believe the island is moving in the right direction, as they have stopped handing out plastic bags to start attacking this extreme problem. However, this will not be solved until each person, both locals and those visiting, takes a personal initiative to do their part in helping to stop the pollution of this beautiful island.

3 thoughts on “Puerto Rico’s Extensive Pollution Problems

  1. During open house, I think one of the main purposes it to show just how interesting ABE can be. Like all engineers, Agricultural and Biological Engineers can use systems thinking to solve problems.

    Pollution is a huge problem in Puerto Rico, and definitely ties into our major and career field. Since we have learned so much on systems thinking, I think it would be cool to show the steps an agricultural engineer would take to solve this problem through a flow diagram.

    To relate it more to the agricultural side, I think we should talk about fertilizer run off in the ocean. This is a pertinent problem facing agriculture and marine ecosystems. This would show just how vast problems are that Ag and Bio Engineers tackle.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your post!! I totally agree with everything you said. People need to consider both the economic and environmental impacts of mismanaged waste materials. Your blog reminds me of the ongoing plastic issue on Midway Island. Basically, the ocean is continuously sweeping discarded plastic onto the island, causing sickness and even death to many species of birds. Therefore, our actions are having an indirect, but undoubtedly powerful, impact on natural ecosystems. I agree with your idea of adding more signs to promote and encourage proper waste disposal. It would also be beneficial to increase recycling in order to conserve landfill space. For our booth, I think it would be a good idea to collect and display samples of litter we find along the beach to emphasize the severity of this issue.

  3. I think that this article highlights a true problem that Puerto Rico faces as an island. I think that bringing in the fact this can not only effect the environment on the island and in the sea, but also the fact that dirty beaches can effect the social aspects of the beaches in turn effecting the tourism dollars flowing in is a great connection. Personally, I have the same topic and had already started writing a paper about something very similar but plan on changing topics. Overall, I think that this is a great area to discuss at open house due to the way that it ties into the three circle diagram of sustainability which is something that every group had as a part of their overarching goal for the end project. I think that we could really use this blog to talk about the interactions between the three circles while show examples of not only how real systems interact, but also possibly a flow diagram to tie in one of our main topics from class.