I’ve always considered myself a lover of nature. I think I realized how much I cared for the environment when I picked up my first fishing rod around age 4. I remember how it would always bother me to see garbage in the water or dead fish. My parents wanted my brother and I to see as much of the world as possible, we were always going on weekend trips to local forest preserves, or Wisconsin or Michigan. We would go blueberry picking, apply picking, or morel mushroom hunting. They got my brother and I into cub scouts and eventually boy scouts and we found that with each new adventure, our love for the outdoors continued to grow. When it came time to decide on colleges, I knew that my major had to have something to do with the environment. Working a 9-5 desk job was never going to cut it for me. I wanted to be out in the field getting my hands dirty with the environment as my office and the limit to my imagination as my cubicle. All of the excursions and exposure to the outdoors as a kid has most definitely played a large role in who I am today. Today, I am a freshman studying Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Illinois. Without the immersion in nature and the outdoors as a young kid and throughout my life thus far, I don’t think I would be the same person.
Being in Puerto Rico for the last 10 days has been incredible. It has given me the opportunity to see life in another country first hand and how different it can be compared to my life in the states. In addition, through my observations there, I was able to use to my love for the outdoors and the environment to further my understanding of some of the issues being faced by the country of Puerto Rico as well as provide clues to my true identity in this world and what I’m on this Earth to do
One thing that I noticed in Puerto Rico almost everywhere was the amount of litter. Even with plenty of trash receptacles in cities like Old San Juan, there was still plenty of trash on the sides of streets. Even when we were up in the mountains, I saw beer cans and trash on the side of the road walking up to breakfast every morning. Although littering is illegal, it is still something that is evident all over the world. What people don’t realize is how long it takes for some of those things to disintegrate and break down. A plastic bag is said to take around 1000 years to decompose. The thing is, there isn’t one person dropping a plastic bag on the ground, its millions of people around the world and eventually all of the trash that throw on the side of the road or on the side walk really adds up. The problem is that people often operate under the out of sight out of mind approach. If they can’t see it anymore, then it isn’t a problem that they have to deal with. I think that is one of the major problems with the world today. People need to realize that just because they can’t see something, it doesn’t mean it won’t still cause problems. I think that’s where people like me come in. It’s up to people like me who love the environment and truly understand its necessity to teach the other people how to protect it and make sure that the Earth will be protected for years to come. If I can teach one person the importance of recycling and the problems associated with littering, then they will teach their kids the same thing and those kids will teach their kids. I can effectively start a chain reaction to ensure that the environment remains as pristine and perfect as it was before. I think I’m in the world to not only protect it, but to also make sure that others do the same.
The bioluminescent pools also offered valuable insight into just how fragile the environment is and the impact that people have had on Puerto Rico. Michael, our guide on the Kayak tour, told us that 10 years ago, the bioluminescence used to be 10 times brighter, but with all of the tourists and all the people that interact with it now, it was slowly dying. I’ll admit, going on that tour was one of my favorite parts of the entire trip but from a standpoint of protecting the environment, it was a bad decision. The mangroves and the bay are such a fragile ecosystem. In fact, the bay is one of the only places on Earth with the bioluminescent factor. Mangroves all over the world are threatened everyday by places like large resorts that cut them down to ensure that they have the nicest more pristine beaches in the area. What people don’t realize is the amount of habitat that mangroves offer to countless species of fish as well as their vital importance to the preservation of the bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico. I was glad to hear that PR is generating funding to help protect the mangroves and the bay before it is gone forever. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve told about mangroves and how important they are to different types of saltwater species such as the Tarpon and Snapper. They also protect the soil from erosion with their root systems.
I feel like I am on this Earth to alert people of the weight of the decisions they make when it comes to the environment. Through my love for the environment and the world in which we live, I can teach other people to love it as well. Through a collaborative effort, we can all make the world a better place. A place that will sustain countless generations to come. It’s the people like me, the ones who truly understand how important our ecosystem is to giving us things like clean water, and air, and food to eat, who have the moral responsibility to teach others the importance of all that is sustainability and environmental health. This trip has taught me to protect what is rare and fragile on this Earth and ensure that I continue to fulfill my role in maintaining the sanctity of our home.