What has Climate Change Done?

Climate change greatly impacts the types and availability of the food that humans consume. A few examples the effects of climate change are: a year of not enough or too much rainfall, a hot spell or cold snap at the wrong time, or extremes, like flooding and storms, can have a significant effect on local crop yields and livestock production. Contrasting the negative effects of climate change, carbon dioxide emission could increase production of some crops, such as rice, soybean and wheat. (Ranger) Although there are some positive effects, the changing climate affects the length and quality of the growing season. Also farmers could experience increasing damage to their crops, caused by a rising intensity of droughts, flooding or fires. When events such are droughts or flooding occurs, it makes it more difficult to grow crops, raise animals, and catch fish in the same ways and same places that had been used in the past. (EPA) A prime example of a type of food source that is greatly impacted is the fishery industry in both the Illinois and Puerto Rico. Fisheries are stressed by overexploitation and pollution. Warming surface waters in the oceans, rivers and lakes, as well as sea level rise and melting ice, will adversely affect many fish species. The absorption of carbon dioxide emissions by the oceans also has a direct impact on marine ecosystems through ocean acidification. (Ranger) Along with fish, other food sources that could be affected are wheat, corn, and rice. In the case of Puerto Rico, crops such as coffee can be affected by climate change. Due to high rains and not enough sun, plants cannot flourish. Because of this, different strands of coffee beans were created in order to provide a high yield.

The food industry could have positive and negative effects on the environment. Carbon sequestration in soils leads to a possible solution of climate change.  Organic agriculture can remove from the air and sequester 7,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per acre per year. In drought years, it increases yield, since the additional carbon stored in soil helps it to hold more water. In wet years, the additional organic matter in the soil wicks water away from plant roots, limiting erosion and keeping plants in place. (Dunn) Another solution is local food systems. Local food systems can help reduce agriculture’s impact on global warming even further by employing organic agricultural practices which have significant potential to help mitigate climate change and strengthen local, seasonal food systems. By maintaining certain practices such as local food systems and carbon sequestration in soils, some of the harmful effects of climate change can be fixed. In contrast, the food industry can contribute to the problem of climate change. One way this can happen is excessive production of greenhouse gas emissions from fertilizer and pesticide use.  The manufacture and use of pesticides and fertilizers, fuel and oil for tractors, equipment, trucking and shipping, electricity for lighting, cooling, and heating, and emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases” bumps the impact up to between 25 and 30 percent of the U.S.’s collective carbon footprint. (Dunn) All the factors and practices that are involved in producing and selling agricultural products is a process that can greatly harm the earth. Another practice that causes a problem is land use changes and agriculture. In almost every case, land use changes result in more surface warming. Examples of land changes are deforestation and paving over green space for suburban expansion and agricultural practices. The effect of land use conversion on rising surface temps is an underestimated component of global warming.

One practice that people whom care about environmental conservation can implement immediately that will reduce climate change is unplugging or using energy efficient appliances. Unplugging electronics or appliances that are not in use save energy and money. Similarly, buying energy-efficient gadgets saves on both energy and money. (Biello) By saving on energy, the production of greenhouse gas emissions is prevented. For example, efficient battery chargers could save more than one billion kilowatt-hours of electricity which prevents the release of more than one million metric tons of greenhouse gases. One practice that can be a long term project that individuals within the environmental industry can implement in order to reduce climate change is infrastructure upgrade. Buildings worldwide contribute around one third of all greenhouse gas emissions. By installing thicker insulation and investing in other cost-effective, temperature-regulating steps, a building save money in the long run. Investing in new infrastructure would help cut greenhouse gas emissions and drive economic growth in developing countries. (Biello) Even though building new infrastructure leads to use of cement, which is a larger producer of greenhouse gas emissions, building energy-efficient buildings will benefit the world’s population. Both solutions could have a major impact on reducing the emission of greenhouse gases and therefore reducing factors that cause climate change.

Besides climate change, there are oh so many different factors that are affecting the earth. Along with factors that are occurring within nature, a majority of them are caused by humans. Some of these problems include clean water supply, enough food to supply a population and lack of resources. With populations growing, chemicals being spilled in the water a lot of resources are becoming limited. In creating complex changes, we could potentially cleanse the earth from the maladies that have been plaguing it. Slowly but surely, a change can be made.

This sign, found at the coffee farm, instructs migrant workers to specifically pick a certain type of bean. Due to a parasite, some of the crops has been destroyed, therefore the onwner does not want those seeds being put through processing.

While exploring a water plant, we learned that the canals found on site were used to transport water to the surrounding farms.

Works Cited

Biello, D. (2007, Novermber 26). 10 Solutions for Climate Change . Retrieved from Scientific American: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/10-solutions-for-climate-change/

Dunn, C. (2009, November 19). 6 Ways Agriculture Impacts Global Warming. Retrieved from Tree Hugger: http://www.treehugger.com/green-food/6-ways-agriculture-impacts-global-warming.html

EPA. (2016, August 9). Agriculture and Food Supply. Retrieved from United States Environmental Protection Agency : https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts/agriculture.html

Ranger, N. (2012, October 12). How will Climate Change Affect Food Production? Retrieved from The Guardian: https://learn.illinois.edu/course/view.php?id=18362

Exploring a New World

One major difference that I noticed between the states and Puerto Rico was time. In the states, everything is done with tasks fast and on time. While at a restaurant in the states, it takes about fifteen to thirty minutes to receive a meal. We use instant coffee as a common practice and the streets are densely populated with fast food restaurants. But once I arrived in Puerto Rico, all of these common luxuries went out the window. Ordering and receiving food takes about an hour to an hour and half to be completed. Convenience stores open later in the day, around ten o’clock maybe and could close as early as six in the evening. Life is leisurely and slow but that’s what you call “island time”. This “island time” is very common in the Caribbean islands. One time for example, a few of the girls and I went to a convenience store down the street from our apartment and we arrived around six o’clock. Apparently the stores closed at that time but we didn’t know. So instead of letting us in to quickly buy some food, the owner locked the door in our face. Instead of making profit, they cared more about closing on time, but I guess they can do that since they were the only convenience store located within a five mile radius. They had the capacity to close because they knew that they were the only place near us that we could go to buy food. So, of course we went the next day and bought food at that convenience/grocery store.

Another aspect that I noticed often while looking out the windows of the van that transported us from place to place was that a vast majority of the land in Puerto Rico is used for agricultural practices. While I know that a decent amount of land in the United States is used for farming, the farms are separated through many different counties, cities, and states and the United States does not solely depend on agriculture. Also maybe it’s the fact that I live in the city that agriculture was not evident to me. It was not until I attended a specialized high school whose main focus was agriculture that I found out about what agriculture was and how it benefits the world. I learned that agriculture is very much part of everyday life no matter if you live on a farm, in a suburb or in the city. It effects all of us. It was with this mindset and knowledge that I applied and got accepted into the College of Agriculture at University of Illinois. It was how I found out that I wanted to have a career in sustainability and conservation. From this previous knowledge, I knew a little about agricultural practices so when we arrived in Puerto Rico and toured a few farms, I knew the general machineries and practices. But what surprised me was how dependent the economy is on agriculture. Majority of the land on the island is not developed therefore, the crops are a major source of income. The crops produced here are vastly different from the main ones produced in the states. A big crop that has been grown here was sugar cane but in the 19th century, other countries started to become bigger producers therefore leaving Puerto Rico in the dust. After visiting an old, no longer in use sugarcane planation, we were lucky enough to see the last standing steel mill of its kind that was used to extract the sugar. The machine was beautifully restored and was from 1861! It was a true piece of artwork. We also visited a coffee farm and learned about the different varies of coffee plants, where they are from and the process from plant to bean of how coffee is made. Being able to experience these places here in Puerto Rico has opened my eyes and really made me appreciate the environmental and cultural diversity of the world.

One of the highlights of the trip was visiting the coffee farm. There we learned the process from start to finish of how coffee is produced.

While driving on the express way, this is a common site to see. Many citizens participate in loading their trucks full of bananas or other agricultural products.

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

History’s Lasting Effects

The colonization of Puerto Rico begins with the name of a very famous sailor we are all familiar with, Christopher Columbus. In 1943, Columbus discovered the island of Puerto Rico and claimed it for Spain. Spanish settlement on the Caribbean island began soon after. Before the Spaniards came, the Taino Indians called the small island their home. However, the Europeans brought new diseases which wiped out much of the previous Indian population.

In 1815, the Royal Decree of Grace was issued, allowing all foreigners to be admitted to Puerto Rico and Islanders to trade with other nations. Around the same time, Puerto Rico exhausted the final riches of their meager gold supply. Due to this loss of economic activity from the small gold rush, the islanders began to try and establish an agricultural based economy. Cattle, sugar cane, tobacco and coffee were the core investments.

In 1898, the Spanish-American War, a conflict between the United States and Spain over colonial rule of Puerto Rico, had come to an end. The United Stated acquired the territory in the Treaty of Paris. Soon after, the Foaker Act of 1900 established a civil government for the territory govern itself.

As we can see, much of the current state of Puerto Rico has been shaped from historic events. The Spanish settlers brought over much of their culture to the island, including the Spanish language. This is evident because even though Puerto Rico is now a United States’ territory, much of the island speaks Spanish as their primary language. Secondly, the Royal Decree of Grace allowed Puerto Ricans to begin trading. This new law, along with running out of gold supply on the island, sparked a switch towards a more agricultural based society. Lastly, it is obvious the effect that American culture has had on the current culture of Puerto Rico. Many of the islands citizens can speak English, and they have also adapted many of our holidays and customs as well. According to forumbiodiversity, another one of the largest influences the United States has had is in the educational systems. The University of Puerto Rico was officially founded in 1903, shortly after the United States took over. Overall, it is very obvious to see that historical events in Puerto Rico’s history have made lasting impressions on the identity of the country today.

While the tropical island may seem like a great territory, it has its many problems as well. The Puerto Rican government currently has more than 70 billion dollars in outstanding debt, and the future does not look much brighter. The effects of their lackluster economy can be seen all across the island, as education systems are failing and unemployment rates continue to rise. It was also very obvious that the infrastructure of the island was a lot more worn down than what we are used to here in the United States. Congress is currently not helping out Puerto Rico at all, so there is very little hope from the future unless some changes are made effectively.

If the government can supply some money to the island, I’d advocate for it to be put toward the education and healthcare systems. Increasing education will have many major benefits. Unemployment will go down and the economy would flourish with more educated civilians working good jobs across the country. Another area the country can improve in is their agricultural production. As we’ve talked about over and over again, most of their food is imported. This is a lost opportunity to gain revenue for the people of Puerto Rico by not producing their own food, but by buying from other countries.

Solving these problems are not going to be easy, and will take years. However, by applying a systems approach and thinking about how all aspects effect each other, I hope one day these financial burdens can be lessened.


The infrastructure in Puerto Rico is very poor. Potholes covered nearly every road we traveled on.

The United States influence led to the University of Puerto Rico being founded in 1903

“Life Begins at the End of your Comfort Zone”

As someone who has been swimming nearly their whole life, there is absolutely nothing I love more than being in the water. For me, the water is my comfort zone. I know I am a strong swimmer. When I heard we were going snorkeling, I could not have been more excited. I love aquatic animals and fish, and more importantly, I love to swim.

To my dismay, Dr. Rodriguez informed us all that the snorkeling was cancelled because of the high surfs. While I was disappointed, I knew that things happen, and I was excited to hear we might go to the beach instead. The next day plans had changed and we were informed that we were going ziplining. Although I hate admitting it, heights aren’t exactly my favorite, so when Dr. Rodriguez told us that we would be ziplining, I began to grow anxious.

A million thoughts rushed through my brain. I was so scared, that I even considered using my stomach flu illness as an excuse as to why I couldn’t zipline through the rainforest. However, I quickly realized that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and that I could not let my fears take over and miss seeing the rain forest from a bird’s eye view.

When we first geared up, I surprisingly was very calm, but I suppose some of the people around me could sense my fear so many people started joking around with me trying to scare me. The man putting on my harness even asked me, “Is this your first time?” when I said yes, he followed jokingly with “Me too, I am learning with you guys.” What really got my stomach in a knot was when he said “Hopefully heights aren’t a problem for you, because each line gets higher from the ground.”

After that, the lady proceeded to give us all these instructions on how to break, and what to do if we didn’t make it to the end of the line. This increased my fears even more. At that moment, nothing seemed more terrifying than not making the end of the line and dangling in the air. I followed directions carefully, and went on the first line. To my surprise, I was not scared at all. I loved being in the air. As the lines progressed, they did get higher, but I enjoyed them, except one.

When we first arrived to the site, there was a huge red structure with a nearly vertical ladder and a platform. I remember talking to Emily and Emma saying “There is no way I am climbing up that.” Being experienced zipliners, they assured me that I would not have to climb up to that platform and that you simply just zipline to platform to platform and the ladder was just there for precautionary measures. After the fourth line, the man running the even looked at me and said, “alright go to the ladder and climb all the way up.” Because I enjoyed ziplining so much, I forced myself to conquer my fear. When I got on the ladder, my legs instantly felt like jello. Even members of our group who weren’t usually afraid of heights were scared on the latter. To make matters worse, when I was half way up the ladder, it began to pour rain. The steps became slippery, and I looked down by accident. I took a moment and a deep breathe, and with the encouragement of peers, I made it up the ladder. I was so proud of myself. From then on, the views were absolutely breathe-taking, and I felt like I was soaring above the clouds. Zipliing for me was one of the best experiences of my life, and gave me a sense of adrenaline that I craved for me.

The Crew before taking on the ziplines!

If I didn’t face my fear, I would never have had this amazing experience. This was a large lessons I learned throughout my time in Puerto Rico. In order to experience the world, you have to go out and try new things. Rarely are things ever learned in your comfort zone. Never in a million years would I have thought I would get up on a platform and jump on it into the depths of the rainforest, but if I hadn’t I would have never known what it was like to fly. Often times, traveling abroad scares a lot of people. People always fear the unknown, and dwell on possible things that could happen to them. Traveling to Puerto Rico has given me a further desire to travel the world and do things that scare me. I can confidently say that I am definitely over my fear of heights, and I hope to zipline again wherever I end up in this world. I learned that life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Identity and Place in the World

My personal identity is something that I spend a lot of time thinking about. One of the greatest concerns that I have right now and something that I have been trying to figure out for a while is what I want to do with my life. I am currently majoring in Agricultural and Biological Engineering but the only thing that really interests me in this major is the Renewable Energy Systems concentration. I also am interested in Aerospace, and jet propulsion, for spacecrafts and such. And I also find robotics pretty cool. At U of I’s engineering school they make it so hard to transfer to different programs (which literally just makes me want to punch a hole through a wall) but makes me feel an urgency in figuring out what I want to do, which I really don’t know yet. One thing I know is that I want to be an engineer and that I love solving problems, and there were a few separate occurences in Puerto Rico that helped solidify this for me.

The last hotel that we stayed at was an Eco Lodge in the middle of the Rainforest. There was a ten minute hike that we could took from the lobby that led us to a river. The river was not a river that one could canoe in because there were many big rocks sticking out of the water that are all pretty close to each other. Once we got to the river, I jumped on one of the rocks, and then another, avoiding the water underneath. I kept doing this and made my way down the river, however with every rock I had to figure out a way of climbing on it, getting to the next one, and to navigate the best path down the river. Sometimes the rocks were slippery and I had to try and stay on without slipping and falling. A few times the only way to get to one rock to another was to jump. I think this reflects my identity pretty well. I am a very adventurous person, and I really love putting my body on the line and taking risks. I really hate looking back on things and regretting, so I try to take every opportunity that I can. I also love solving problems, and I really liked looking down the river and finding the best route.

Us navigating a route down the river going from rock to rock.

We went to a couple plantations during the trip, one sugar and one for coffee. I generally am pretty underwhelmed when it comes to farming, and it does not interest me at all; so when the talked about the plants and stuff it was hard for me to get excited and be engaged. However once they stopped talking about the planting and got to the machines it was a whole other story. The machine used for crushing the sugar canes is recognized as one of the greatest mechanical engineering feats for its time, and while looking at it I could tell that it was very advanced for the time that it was built. I was in the back of the group as we approached it and once they turned it on I made my way to the front and just stared at it trying to understand how every part worked. I looked at it for a few minutes and asked Dr Rodriguez a couple questions about the mechanics, that now make sense to me. At the coffee plantation the machines were also very interesting. In fact, there was this machine that was used to filter the different coffee fruits based on their density, so that they could only collect the better, denser ones. I think it is really cool that they can construct a machine so that it can do all of that.

On this trip we also visited the engineering University, where we met Dr Luis Perez. He told us about the school then took us out and showed us a farm and the dam. Although I was sick for that day I did get a piece of paper that showed the path of the irrigation system, where the dams are, and how it works. I liked seeing this because it provided me with an example of an application of the things that we are learning. We also went to another location near San juan where we got a lecture from Perez, and the lady that wrote the article we discussed in class. Perez took us through one of the projects that he was working that had to do with wastewater, experimenting to test for different minerals in the water. Seeing these two applications of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, it really made me want to get out in the world and help. I like to tackle problems especially on the actual sites and my place in the world is to use engineering knowledge to save our planet, this makes me think that once I learn the basics, my identity will allow me to do great things.

History Repeats Itself

A member of a labor union shouts slogans while holding a Puerto Rico flag during a protest in San Juan September 11, 2015. Reuters/Alvin Baez

People protesting for equal funding in education

Puerto Rico has a long a rich history. What Puerto Rico is today all began with the settlement of the Ortoriod people between 3,000 and 2,000 BCE. At this time, other tribes also populated the island. At the time of Christopher Columbus’ arrival, the dominant culture were the Tainos people. However, their numbers became dangerously low because of disease the Europeans brought over.

From the early days of exploration, Puerto Rico was a large part of the Spanish Empire. It served as a military post during many wars between Spain and other European Countries. Throughout the 19th century, Puerto Rico and Cuba were the last two Spanish colonies in the new world.

In 1898 during the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico was invaded and became a possession of the United States.  Later, the Foraker act of 1900, which established a civil government, and the Jones Act of 1917, which made Puerto Ricans United States citizens was enacted.

Similarly, the United States was formed through colonization. Illinois specifically became a state in 1818, and is now considered one of the most powerful states in the United. However, both Illinois and Puerto Rico face their fair share of problems. Specifically, Puerto Rico and Illinois both suffer major economic problems. The island of Puerto Rico is over 72 million dollars in debt, and they have missed key bond payments. The effects of this financial crisis can be seen all over the Island, especially in healthcare and education. To make matters worse, the United States congress is not helping at all. This has made the cost of living in Puerto Rico skyrocket. While in Puerto Rico, we learned that many of their agricultural products are imported.  While Puerto Rico was once used and an agricultural wonderland, it is not agriculturally sufficient, creating food security problems. Many of the problems Puerto Rico faces have roots within the detrimental effects of European colonialism.

Just like Puerto Rico, Illinois has numerous budget problems. For example, Illinois has not passed a budget. Illinois has major problems funding education and healthcare. However, Illinois receives help from the federal government, while Puerto Rico does not have those same perks. However, Puerto Rico has a larger tourist industry than Illinois, but Illinois has a large metropolitan city.

Both Puerto Rico and Illinois are often headline horror stories in news outlets primarily because of their financial standings. History has a great deal to do with that. It appears that Illinois and Puerto Rico have regressed as far as the state of the nation is concerned. Puerto Rico had a prime period when they were agriculturally sufficient and they had major exports. We learned a lot about this from a sociologist from the University of Puerto Rico. She talked about the major agricultural/food crisis the island was facing.

As of now, the best thing that can be done is advocating for the issue. For Puerto Rico, a lot of their problems would be solved if they received more support from the federal government, or they became a state. In Illinois people all over the state advocate for issues they care about to their state legislatures. Ultimately, a great solution would be better allocated funds for education. It is difficult to get out of a financial crisis, and Illinois and Puerto Rico have a long way to go. As of now, their quality of life is good compared to developing countries, however, the cost of living in Illinois and Puerto Rico continues to be a reoccurring problem. These problems can be solved with a systems thinking approach, and hopefully one day the political and financial scandals in both Illinois and Puerto Rico will be solved.

Understanding My Place in the World

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.

Travel Responsibly

In the classroom portion of ABE 199: Sustainable Biosystems we learned that sustainability does not really have one single, set definition. Its definition can vary from person to person, and it does not apply to just one area of discussion. My personal definition of sustainability has a lot to do with efficiency as well as being conscience of surroundings and the cause and effect associated to those varying surroundings. Whether it is an effect on humans or the environment. In class, we learned that sustainability influences three major sectors. Social, environmental, and economical. While sustainability has an every-changing definition and reaches too wide to easily comprehend, it is something that is important to consider in almost, if not every endeavor. The application of sustainability has a huge impact on those sectors, but it is a type of push and pull because those sectors can very heavily impact the way that sustainability is practiced.

This is an example of a graph that shows how the three sectors interact. Personally, this is the optimal model, but in many cases the circles can be rearranged based on how people think the three sectors are actually being used.

When it comes to travel, it is easy to forget about sustainability. In my opinion, when a person forgets completely about sustainability it is easy to make irresponsible and uniformed decisions. Whether it is a decision that effects your social life, your morals, or the environment around you, it is easy to forget when it is not something that would create an effect on your everyday life. It is easy to leave litter because there is already litter. It is easy to decide to enjoy yourself a little too much on a night out. It is easy to walk past a situation that someone should intervene in. These are all situations that are easy to pass up in everyday life, but even easier to pass up when you are just visiting somewhere, because how does it really effect you. Honestly, it probably has no noticeable effect on you as a person. Unless it is a question of your morals that is. However when you are traveling, in many facets your decisions effect other people more. They have to live with the litter you left on the beach. They have to live with the effects of your decisions far longer than you do.
That is why when a person travels it is so important to take into account whether your choices are sustainable for all three sectors of the graph above. I think that a great first step of carrying sustainability in the front of your mind is to take a personal responsibility to learn about the place you are visiting before you go. This is not only something that can be incredibly interesting, but also is something that can help you to feel more of a connection between where you are going and your home. There will be differences, but the similarities between your home and the place that you are going will help you care more about not only the place that you are visiting but also about the people that live in that place who can often be taken for granted.
I truly believe that as a person I need to do more of this when I travel. I can definitely see where I can improve in making decisions that take the people that live there full time in to account. The biggest way this trip showed me that I can take personal responsibility is by cleaning up more than I brought. The beach is one place that Puerto Rico really lives on. Between attracting tourists and the way that the locals use the beaches it is easy to tell that beaches are a part of not only the islands revenue, but also the culture of the island. This proves to me that by taking a personal responsibility to help clean up more than just what I brought I will not only create a more enjoyable place for myself and other tourists potentially helping draw more travelers and money to the island, but also help social aspects of the culture that revolve around the beaches, and the by helping the environment by cutting out more litter that could potentially harm animals and the ecosystems they live in.

This is an image of our group exploring a beautiful beach. It was well kept and many locals came later in the day, but there was definitely more trash we could have picked up and tossed on our way back to the bus that would have taken no extra time at all.

Bioluminescent Bay

Oh my gosh, where to begin? This trip has had so many great times. From our rocky start to our slippery finish, I have to say that this is by far my favorite class that I have ever taken! We have accomplished so much here in Puerto Rico from tours, to excursions, to lectures, and more, so to narrow it down to my single favorite, I’ll just pick the most recent. This being the bioluminescent bay.

Coming off feeling like death itself, the bay made my heart leap, and boggled my mind with its beauty. In the daylight, the bay casts the shimmering light of the sun on the pearly white sailboats in the harbor, and feels warm from the long day. We reached the bay a while before our scheduled departure so we could get dinner and search for some more souvenirs if we so desired. We dispersed and regrouped in about an hour by the bus to drop off the things, and made our way to the glass bottomed kayak stand for our reservation.

Shortly after we arrived, the last tour made their way to the shore and we underwent a relatively short instructional briefing. We were told all the safety measures and commands that they would use should we lose control of our kayaks, and were equipped with our life jackets. We then paired up and got in line for our respective kayaks. The guides brought the Kayaks one by one to the shallow water to help us get in properly, gave us our paddles, and sent us off to start the adventure.

The moon, thoroughly risen, shone above illuminating the bay, helping us maneuver around the anchored ships and toward the mangroves. The canopy of the mangroves formed a tunnel that blocked out the moonlight leaving our group in a state of pitch black wonder. We navigated the channel as best we could with the guides, only having a few minor catches with as little shouting as can be expected. We were not the only ones in the channel though, there were several other tours, some in kayaks, others in the boring safety of larger tour boats. We crossed paths, and the guides exchanged friendly banter, while keeping all of their customers safe and happy. The journey probably took twenty minutes from the shore to the actual bioluminescent bay.

As we emerged from the canopy of the mangroves, the light of the moon stung my eyes with how bright it was, while also striking me with its beauty. Making myself look away, I dipped my hand into the water to see if the water would glow. At first, I saw only sparkles in the water that I assumed were just the refracted light of the moon. Later I realize that the few sparkles were actually the microorganisms lighting up.

Once everyone had emptied from the mouth of the channel, we were again given a short briefing on what our purpose was, and were asked if we saw the bioluminescence on the way in, and were told that the best way to stir up the organisms was to put our arm into the water up to our elbow and then move our hands. It was amazing! As we paddled around the bay, the bow of the kayaks stirred up the organisms enough that they would shine as we passed over the water. Because of this, we could see the lights through the glass bottom of the kayak. They almost looked like stars.

After what seemed like a half an hour, we grouped back up and headed down the channel in a single file row again. The guides took our pictures for their Facebook page Glassbottompr, and led us out safely to shore where we disembarked, partook in a few refreshments, and watched them pack away their kayaks. All in all, I would highly recommend this experience to anyone and everyone who wants to see a beautiful awe inspiring natural wonder.

The entire group on the tour, including the guides

Emma and Matthew Rocking the Kayak and Paddles