Guánica Dry Forest

Although this entire trip was exciting and I had so many new and fascinating experiences, one day stuck out in particular. On the third day of the trip, we woke up fairly early and, with reminders to choose good footwear and to bring plenty of water, headed out to the Guánica Dry Forest. The Guánica State Forest, which is located in southwest Puerto Rico, is considered to be one of the best preserved subtropical forests in the Caribbean. One interesting fact about this forest is that about half of Puerto Rico’s bird species and nine of the sixteen endemic bird species populate it. It is about 9,500 acres, making it the largest tropical dry coastal forest in the world.

Once we arrived at the entrance to the forest, we were greeted by a closed gate. This gate, when open, allows vehicles to pass through in order to get to the parking lot at the top of the mountain. Because it was Día de los Tres Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day), we figured out that the person who usually opens the gate must have had the holiday off. After making this realization, we decided to walk around the gate and walk the distance to the parking lot, adding on this distance to the rest of our planned hike. On the way there, our professor pointed out multiple large termite nests on trees and the trails that these termites left behind along the road. The weather, while the trail itself was not very difficult to hike, made for a more intense hike as it was hot and humid and despite there being many trees on either side of the road, there was not much shade. The next interesting thing we saw was a 700-year-old Guayacan tree (which is pictured below). After sitting on the above-ground tree roots to take a break and take a few pictures, we began to hike again, with our next destination being the beach.

Slightly exhausted from the heat and humidity, our pace sped up as soon as we could see the water. Once we were actually at the beach, almost everyone immediately ran to get into the bay. After swimming for a bit, which mostly consisted of me trying not to get overtaken by the high, rough waves, I, along with two other classmates, decided to try to find a good coconut to break open. After a bit of time searching on the ground, we decided to try to get one out of a tree to avoid breaking open a rotten one from the ground. To do this, we picked up coconuts from the ground and threw them at the ones in the tree, which was both safer and more effective in getting them down. After about five minutes of throwing the ground coconuts, we were able to get some down from the tree. The only problem was that the coconuts from the tree were not ripe and we could not get them open. After this realization, we decided to take the risk with the ground coconuts and began to work on breaking one open. We worked through the coconut’s husk, tearing the fibers away and finally got to the hard internal shell which held the meat of the coconut and the water. We broke open this shell, obviously very proud of this accomplishment, and tasted the fruit and water. The rest of our time at the beach was spent eating peanut butter and guava jelly sandwiches and relaxing.

Guayacan Tree in Guanica Dry Forest

Beach near Guanica Dry Forest

Illinois History

Over the years, Illinois has had many historical and contemporary events that have shaped its current state. Beginning in the 1820s, farmers have been importing animals from out of state in order to better their breeds. Prior to the 1930s, these early Illinois farmers lost many of their animals due to these unpreventable pests and diseases. This is due to the fact that Illinois farming began before the usage of chemical pesticides became the norm. Without these pesticides, it was both costly and nearly impossible to protect against the insects that attacked their crops. In efforts to control these pests, farmers used methods such as crop rotation. Crop rotation involved the crop of wheat being followed by beans and then wheat again afterward. This coupled with skipping a year greatly decreased the number of pests in the area. Also, beans were grown near other crops because the amount of moisture and shade they offered discouraged insects. The second popular method was to harrow the soil, plant debris in the fall, and clear rotten plant material which killed many of the pests. Because of occurrences like this, farmers have formed farmers’ associations for mutual benefit. From 1850 to 1900, farms in Illinois rapidly developed using mechanization and farmers became even more connected by sharing the cost of machinery. Agricultural in Illinois today is very different. Rather than the traditional subsistence farming of the 1800s and early 1900s, the majority of modern farms are commercial. New technologies and computers have drastically become more used in agriculture over the past two decades. In the fields, computers are used for record-keeping, to monitor rainfall, crop yield, and soil quality. In terms of new machinery, during the middle of the 1800s, the usage of steam-powered machinery became the norm for those who could afford it. Also, as the custom of using automobiles for transportation became popular, farmers began to use the gasoline engine for their machinery. In terms of how farms are financed, farmers get government subsidies, insurance, and take out loans. This often means that farm owners and workers must also have additional jobs.

Illinois became a state in 1818, with Chicago being incorporated as a city in 1837. With the incorporation of Chicago soon came a largely diversified economy. Chicago connects Illinois to other ports, the Mississippi River, and the Atlantic Ocean. In the early 20th century, groups of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe came to northern Illinois for the industrial job prospects. In around the same time period, the Great Migration occurred where groups of African Americans from the south moved to Chicago and established communities within it. At the turn of the 20th century, Illinois had a population of around 5 million people. Although Illinois has been historically considered a swing state, it is currently considered one of the most democratic states in the United States. Illinois also, unfortunately, has a history of corruption. In the late 1900s, an Illinois congressman was imprisoned for mail fraud, a governor and federal judge was imprisoned for bribery, and a comptroller was imprisoned for embezzlement. In 2006, the former governor of Illinois was convicted and sentenced to about six years in prison for racketeering and bribery. Only two years later, Governor Rod Blagojevich was alleged to have conspired to sell Barack Obama’s old senate seat to the highest bidder. Then, in December of 2011, Blagojevich was convicted of this crime and sentenced to 14 years in prison for it. In the future years, it is hoped that Illinois can avoid putting corrupt people into power.

“Chicago’s Dominance Puts Illinois Solidly in ‘blue-state’ America.” HighBeam Research. Chicago Tribune, 8 Nov. 2014. Web. 29 Jan. 2017. <>.

“From Prairie to Fruited Plain: The History of Illinois Agriculture.” History of Illinois Agriculture. Illinois State Museum, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2017. <>.

Shaw, Andy. “A ‘must Read’ Tells How Corrupt Chicago and Illinois Are.” Chicago SunTimes Opinion. Chicago Sun Times, 22 Feb. 2015. Web. 29 Jan. 2017. <>.

Automated Machinery used in Illinois in the early 20th century

This picture shows the type of industry in Chicago that brought in immigrants.

Sustainability and Water

By participating in this study abroad tour, I learned a few things about sustainability and the actions that help to promote it. My main takeaway from this trip is that preserving water and having efficient ways to treat and distribute it are vital aspects of sustainability. The sustainability of water depends on how well it is managed. Because it is both an irreplaceable and finite resource, it is crucial that the management of the many water systems across the globe is put into the hands of people who know how to handle it. This means putting an emphasis on the fact that the water issues around the world are not just problems; it is a water crisis for many.
We also must educate those in the fields of agriculture, industry and energy, and cities. Agriculture accounts for 70% of water deficits globally. The United Nations estimates that by 2050, agriculture needs to double its food output in developing countries in order to sustain population growth. This means that the amount of water needed to sustain this increase in production must also nearly double. Energy and industry come in second for the amount of water they demand. The 20% of water demand that these two sectors account for mostly occurs in the more developed countries whereas agricultural water demand dominates in less developed ones. In large urban areas, water management organizations cannot keep up with the overwhelmingly large demand. By 2050, it is anticipated that over two-thirds of the world’s population will live in these cities which are already hard pressed for water. Lastly, it is vital to educate the public. Millions of people around the world die from preventable waterborne diseases largely due to a lack of knowledge and education about the proper ways to purify water.
Another issue is that so many people do not know how big of an issue the water crisis is because they are not noticeably directly affected by it. Many people do not really give major issues a second thought when they believe that it could never happen to them. This is why education plays a huge role in decreasing the negative effects of the depletion of water. It is estimated that in just eight years, in 2025, around two-thirds of the population will be living in countries that are classified as “water-stressed”. The increasing strain on the planet’s water resources has had detrimental impacts on millions of people’s economic status and wellbeing. This is due to things such as wastefulness, weather patterns, and the over-pumping of aquifers. While the earth’s groundwater is finite, other aquifers are renewable. The problem with this, according to Sandra Postel, the director of the Global Water Project and the National Geographic Society’s freshwater fellow, is that humans are pumping them too fast for precipitation alone to refill. Also, poorly managed water systems coupled with underinvestment have only exacerbated the problem.
At the water treatment plant pictured below that we visited, many water was sent to places in both that city and the surrounding cities. Visiting this place showed us how much it can take for water to get to homes, farms, and various businesses. Visiting this plant during the trip also strengthened my interest in water supply and quality, which I am interested in partially because of how vital it is to life on this planet. Around 900 million people do not have access to potable water and about 3 million die each year due to waterborne diseases.

Handwerk, Brian. “Sustainable Earth: Water.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2017. <>.

“Water and Sustainable Development.” United Nations. United Nations, 2014. Web. 20 Jan. 2017. <>.

Agriculture in Illinois and Puerto Rico

Until around 2006, Puerto Rico’s economy was one of the most competitive in both the Caribbean region and Latin America. In Puerto Rico, 1.6% of the work-force are agriculture workers and approximately 52% of the land is used for agriculture (Rivera). As a leading competitor in agriculture, 75% of Illinois’s total land area is farmland. Because of the importance of agriculture in both economies, it is vital that both the drawbacks and benefits of the agricultural/food system in Puerto Rico and Illinois are effectively compared and analyzed.
There are a few drawbacks/costs to Puerto Rican agriculture. One of these is the lack of sufficient natural resources. Other than the abundances of clay, sand, and limestone found on the the island, there is a severe lack of the resources necessary to maintain what remains of the territory’s dependence on food production. Over the past 60 years, the production of crops such as coffee, tobacco, and sugar, Puerto Rico’s primary cash crops, has declined. This is due mostly to the dramatic decline of the agricultural sector (“Puerto Rico – Agriculture”). In October of 2016, it was found that agriculture accounted for only 0.9% of Puerto Rico’s gross domestic product (“The World Factbook”).
There are also costs to agriculture in Illinois. For one, agrichemicals, such as pesticides and fertilizers, pose significant risks to both the environment and the health of animals and humans when used improperly. Illinois’s climate also leads to both negative and positive impacts. In terms of the negative, the pollination of crops such as corn and soybeans can be vulnerable to changes in weather. This affects these crops mostly due to the fact that they are planted in spring and harvested in the fall. Illinois’s wet springs make it difficult for farmers to work because the soil is often too wet to support heavy equipment and to provide seedbeds of sufficient quality. Following planting, newer plants are at a larger risk of being overwatered. At the point of harvest, weather that is consistently wet slows in-field drying. As a way to combat this issue, some farmers turn to using fossil fuel for drying which increases greenhouse gases. These wet springs also introduce a new range of pests that disturb crops across Illinois (Jarrell, 2009).
There are also some things that are benefitting Puerto Rican agriculture. Although agriculture in Puerto Rico has been declining over the past 60 years, many people believe that it will soon improve. According to Myrna Comas, the Agriculture Secretary, Puerto Rico could even double its food production by 2025 (Allen & Penaloza, 2015). In recent years, engineers who focus on agricultural technology have been working on creating new technologies that will help farmers do things such as monitoring their crops. These ways in which innovators have been improving agriculture by bring people and their ideas together can have long lasting positive effects (Luscombe).
Illinois agriculture also has many benefits. As a leading corn and soybean producer, much of the US and many other countries depend on Illinois agriculture to be efficient. For one, it generates over $19 billion every year. In the many rural areas in Illinois, agricultural production is a large part of the citizens’ income. In urban areas, agricultural processing and manufacturing dominates. Because of these urban areas, Illinois comes in first in the United States for processed food sales with $180 billion and 2,640 manufacturing companies. Illinois has a transportation system with over 2,000 miles of interstate highways, which surpasses many other states dependent on agriculture. It also ships around $8 billion in products overseas. The majority of Illinois land is considered “prime farmland” which, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, “is important because it provides an environmentally sound base for crop production”. Also, the food industry in Illinois employs approximately one million people and because of this, agriculture in Illinois has a large impact on many of its citizens (“Facts About Illinois Agriculture”).

Machinery used to crush sugarcane.

Machinery used to crush sugarcane.

House used by plantation owners over the years.

House used by plantation owners over the years.

Works Cited

Allen, Greg, and Marisa Penaloza. “Puerto Rico Is Sowing A New Generation Of Small Farmers.” NPR. NPR, 6 May 2015. Web. 10 Jan. 2017. .
“Facts About Illinois Agriculture.” Illinois Agriculture. Illinois Department of Agriculture, 2014. Web. 10 Jan. 2017. .
Jarrell, Wesley. “Impacts of Climate Change on Illinois Agriculture.” University of Illinois Extension. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2009. Web. 10 Jan. 2017. .
Luscombe, Richard. “Puerto Rico’s Born-again Farmers Dig for Victory in Island’s Debt Battle.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 29 May 2016. Web. 10 Jan. 2017. .
“Puerto Rico – Agriculture.” Nations Encyclopedia. 2011. Web. 10 Jan. 2017. .
Rivera, Magaly. “Economy.” Welcome to Puerto Rico. 2016. Web. 10 Jan. 2017. .
“The World Factbook.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, Oct. 2016. Web. 10 Jan. 2017. .