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

Water Tax

Water. It is what keeps the world going. It especially keeps the agricultural world running. Weather it is the water going into our food, or the water we need to cross to get our food, either way, it directly impacts the price of food around the world. Its availability and quality directly impacts the price of every product down the line. So, now that we have determined that water plays the key role in determining the price of food, we can look at how water affects Puerto Rico’s food prices.

First off, unlike Illinois, Puerto Rico has many different climates for its relative size. It has the relatively tropical north, the rainy, mountainous interior, and the dry south. All of which have their own agriculture, but each has its own needs regarding water. The north and interior are actually the best off only really requiring drainage, while the south desperately needs all the water it can get. Funny as it is, a fair amount of Puerto Rico’s agriculture takes place in this dry flat land, but how? That was answered when we visited the reservoir, dam, and water channel.

To catch the runoff from the mountains, some dams were built by natural basins in Puerto Rico. They hold water for distribution for nearby farms, and when they become too full, they either turn turbines to generate electricity, or just overflow on their way to the next reservoir downstream. The distribution system was interesting. The dam we visited, had a siphon that used the pressure of the water in the reservoir’s own weight to push the water up a hill in a pipe to a channel that was open to the air. The water then traveled down the channel to be distributed to farms. Each farm would then pay for access to the channel. The access points to the channel were effectively a gate that had to be wound open. The water would then flood from the channel to the field.

This system is extremely different to what we have in Illinois. Usually, our agriculture gets all of its water from precipitation, but if it is supplemented by an outside source, it probably comes from a tank or a hose.

Next is the quality of the water. In Puerto Rico, many of these channels, especially in the north become contaminated. When the seasonal rains come, everything floods. This includes the sewers. Evidentially, this sewage water finds its way into the channels. The same channels that lead to reservoirs that hold water for the farms to use. This contaminated water then is used for crops, or it gets treated to be used for drinking water.

Unfortunately, because this flawed system is in place, it leads to some of the high prices in Puerto Rico. This problem, while great, is greatly overshadowed by the fact that most of Puerto Rico’s food is imported. Approximately eighty-five percent of all of the food in Puerto Rican stores does not come from Puerto Rico. This is a major problem because it costs insane amounts of money to ship all that food from wherever it was made across the Caribbean.

Over all, it was amazing that the prices of food in Puerto Rico were not completely outrageous. They were a bit high, but nothing compared to what it could be. The best way to encourage lower prices of food would be to continue to encourage the purchase of domestic products. Hopefully, that would make amount of imported food go down. Regardless of what happens though, Puerto Rico has a very long way to come if it wants to do that.

This is an example of the many channels that cross all over the countryside of Puerto Rico

From the top of the dam, you can see how much water flows on its way to the next reservoir

The Plight of the Honeybee

During the time that we have spent in Puerto Rico so far, I’ve been able to understand a lot of the problems that they face here as well as identify, to a greater extent, some of the problems that we face back in Illinois.
One of the coolest things so far on the trip has been the sheer amount of different plant species here in Puerto Rico. We have seen plenty of fruit trees, tons of woody shrubs, various types of palms, and of course, a massive number of different flowers. The sheer amount of biodiversity on the island is astounding.
In Illinois, while we don’t have nearly as many species of flora that PR has, we have a large amount and are one of the major agricultural producers in the country. We grow everything from corn to peaches, and all of it wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for a little flying insect called the honeybee. Bees play an incredibly vital role in countries all around the world and especially in places like Illinois which rely of them for the production of plenty of crops which our state uses for both food and sale. While the reduction in the population of honeybees hasn’t been too bad in Puerto Rico it is a very pressing and seldom talked about issue facing Illinois and much of the continental United States.
I think it’s important to first introduce what got me into learning about bees in the first place. A few years ago, my mom took some classes at the local community college and picked up beekeeping as a way to destress and also help the environment. She always asked for my brother and I’s help with it. We would prepare the bins that the frames went into, help paint the hive and hand her things while she was working in the hive. She told us all about the bees and just how cool the little creatures are. They are very precise creatures and some of the smartest insects in the planet. She also alerted us of the plight that the bees have faced in recent years regarding colony collapse. Hearing all of this, I began to research more into the bees and learned plenty of very interesting things about them. In my opinion, the problem of dying honey bees may be one of the most important of our generation. It affects everyone on Earth.
In the time between 1985 and 1997 there was a 57% decline in the amount of bee colonies in the US. Part of this decimation of the population had to do with the application of various pesticides by farmers and homeowners (Richard). Each year bee populations continued to face losses until in 2005 when they faced one of the worst losses in decades. California is one of the largest almond producers in the world and they lost so many of their bee colonies that the US opened its borders to other countries to ship more bees into the states. It was the first time that bees had to be shipped in from other countries in over 50 years (Richard). As honeybees are responsible for over 1/3 of the food that we eat, the problem of colony collapse disorder was finally brought into limelight and the loss of bees was finally brought up in discussion. Colony collapse disorder or CCD occurs when “the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen” (EPA). CCD has been long thought to be the major problem of bee endangerment but in recent years it has subsided. The amount of bee colonies that don’t survive through the winter are still high though.
A major problem that the bees also face is due to intruders and parasites into the hive. Something called the Varroa mite has been particularly deadly to the bee colonies across the country and plays a key role in CCD. In fact, my mom has found that the varroa mites have led to the deaths of some of her hives over the year. The varroa mites attach onto the bees and eventually kill them. They give the bees a disease called Varroosis and suck the blood of the bees and the bee pupa. This shortens lifespans of the bees and also leads to defects in the newly developed bees such as missing limbs and deformed wings (Bessin).
Although bees have been officially declared endangered a few weeks ago, there is still precious time to reverse their path towards demise. Researchers have begun looking at wild bees to understand how they have been able to withstand attacks from various parasites like the varroa mite. One of the major reasons why the parasites have been so deadly to bee colonies is the proximity between colonies. In nature, colonies are around a half mile away, so when one hive is faced with a parasite, the parasite has a lot of trouble spreading out after killing the colony (Gebreyes). The reason why the parasites are so deadly to cultured bees is because the hives are located very close to each other which greatly increases how fast parasites can move from colony to colony. An easy solution to this would be to increase the space between each hive. This wouldn’t have to be a great distance like a half mile. If the hives were all separated by say 20 feet, it would greatly increase the amount of time that the parasite would take to spread and allow the bee populations to begin to grow back and increase before the parasites could claim more colonies.
In order to see if this option does in fact provide satisfying results, a basic test using 4-6 bee hives could be performed. As a control group for the experiment, put two hives a foot away (about how far hives are from each other in a traditional setting) from each other and introduce varroa mites into one of them. Then measure the amount of time it takes for the varroa mites to spread to the second hive. Repeat this same test but increase the amount of space between the hives by 5 feet, then 10 feet, then 20 feet, etc. If the time does in fact increase by a great enough factor, then this technique to deal with parasitic colonies can be enacted and will hopefully play a role in protecting the future of our honeybees.
This does come with some drawbacks though. While it provides a temporary solution to the problem at hand, it is just slowing down the inevitable. It may take longer for the parasites to travel between colony but they will still get there at some point. In addition, this option could also introduce the other problem of exposing the bees to more pesticides when the distance from the chemical safe location in the field is increased. My mom and I have seen firsthand how fertilizers and pesticides can affect bees. Moving the bees affects their flight path and could introduce them to chemicals that they otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to. We lost a colony last year because our neighbors sprayed a large amount of pesticides on the flowers that were right in the flightpath of one of our hives. They had most likely collected most of their pollen from those flowers and the effects of the pesticides were devastating to both the pests and the pollinators. It is important to look at every option in order to give the bees the best chance of thriving and ensuring the future of our food supply.
The other option that is also looking very feasible goes into the genetics of the wild bees compared to the cultured colonies. In other words, asking what chemically makes the wild bees less susceptible to various parasitic attacks. By doing so, the gene for parasitic tolerance can be isolated and we can breed bees that can better combat the diseases spread by the varroa mites and other parasites. To test this, one could breed cultured bees with the gene that helps with parasites and introduce a parasite into a colony of the selectively bred bees. The number of surviving bees after a specified amount of time could then be counted and compared to a hive of standard bees (without the special gene) that has also been exposed to the parasite. The number of survivors could then be compared and from there, a consensus as to the success of the selective breeding can be created. This option also represents a risk because we don’t know how the parasites will adapt and it could lead them to become stronger than before. That’s the problem with genetics, it often yields satisfactory results at first but eventually it leads to the strengthening of the threat they were created to protect against. This was seen with the Round Up ready plants from a couple years ago, eventually, the weeds adapted to favor the strongest of the species and many were able to survive the round up and mooch more nutrients from the plants compared to before the round up plants were created. Eventually, the weeds became “super-weeds” (Wilkerson/Chow). What’s to say that changing the genetics of the bees won’t develop super parasites?
While these are just two options to begin solving the problem of the disappearing bees, many more options are still being looked at. It’s important that people start understanding the true severity of this problem. Many places in the world already face food shortages. Imagine reducing the number of food they have by 1/3, it would lead to massive amounts of starvation around the world. States like Illinois have been hit particularly hard by this issue because of how much we produce in terms of both food and feed in the country. As the problem begins to spread, it will surely be felt by more than just the producers in our country. By creating change today, and doing everything in our power to reduce this problem, we can ensure food security for the future of both our state, our country, and the world.


Richard, Michael Graham. “Who Is Killing Nature’s Precious Bees?”TreeHugger. N.p., 15 Aug. 2006. Web. 16 Jan. 2017.
“Colony Collapse Disorder.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 16 Sept. 2016. Web. 16 Jan. 2017.
Bessin, Ric. “Varroa Mites Infesting Honey Bee Colonies.” Varroa Mites Infesting Honey Bee Colonies | Entomology. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Jan. 2017.
Gebreyes, Rahel. “Finally, Some Good News About the Future of Bees.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 3 June 2016. Web. 16 Jan. 2017.
Wilkerson, Jordan, and Brian Chow. “Why Roundup Ready Crops Have Lost Their Allure.” Science in the News. N.p., 12 May 2016. Web. 16 Jan. 2017.

Cultural Influence and Change at a Global Scale

Although, both Illinois and Puerto Rico are part of the U.S., they have very different pasts that were shaped by various groups of people. They wouldn’t be the places they are today without centuries of multinational influence.

The first Europeans to discover Illinois were the renowned French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet. The mighty Mississippi River was their primary method of transportation. After the French and Indian War, the territory was ceded to Great Britain. However, following the American Revolution, the U.S. took possession. Although Illinois was incorporated into the U.S. in 1818, slavery still existed in the southern part of the state. This slave labor ignited Illinois’s agricultural industry that dominated for the rest of the 19th century and early 20th century. In addition to agriculture, trade also dominated Illinois’ economy. The Chicago River linked Lake Michigan to the Illinois River, which was linked to the Mississippi River. Moreover, lake Michigan was connected to Erie canal which eventually reached the Atlantic Ocean. These systems of canals and rivers greatly enhanced trade in Illinois and led to a boom in industries such as coal and oil. Cities grew starting in the south and moving up north to Chicago. Chicago eventually became the state’s largest city. The Great Migration brought many African Americans to Chicago to work in its coal, oil, and meatpacking factories. As the 20th century progressed, the state’s economy underwent a transition from agriculture-based to industry-based. Today, Illinois continues to suffer from severe debt, a lack of natural areas, and high crime rates (predominately in Chicago). Despite these flaws, Chicago is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s most eco-friendly cities.

Puerto Rico has had a dramatically different history. The island was originally home to the agriculture-dependent Taino Indians. Europeans first landed on the island in 1493 during Columbus’s second voyage. It was originally named San Juan Bautista in honor of St. John the Baptist. Eventually, the island was renamed Puerto Rico, but the major port city on the north coast retained the name of “San Juan”. Although Puerto Rico became a colony of Spain, the Spanish were more interested in profiting from other Caribbean islands such as Cuba and Guadeloupe. Spain’s colonization of Puerto Rico brought many infectious diseases to the Taino people. Because of these foreign diseases, many of the natives perished. To replace the indigenous people, Spain brought in African slaves to work the sugar plantations. Driven by the philosophy of mercantilism, Spain was now able to produce goods in Puerto Rico (and other Caribbean islands) and ship them back to the motherland. However, this process was not easy because other world powers (such as the Dutch, English, and Americans) became threats to Spain’s Caribbean colonies. The Dutch very nearly conquered Puerto Rico during the Battle of San Juan in 1625. Now feeling threatened, Spain quickly modified its fort system to be able to protect the strategically-located port city from future attacks. As time progressed, independence movements started to rise throughout Puerto Rico. To mitigate this problem, Spain started to encourage immigration to the island from other European countries. Nonetheless, tensions grew and riots erupted. In the mid-late 19th century a series of activists such as Ramon Ementerio Betances and Segundo Ruiz Belvis advocated for independence from the crown. In 1898, the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War. Thus, Puerto Rico as well as Guam, the Philippines, and Cuba were given to the United States. Throughout the 20th century Puerto Ricans gradually obtained the rights of U.S. citizens. Despite having its own governor and constitution, Puerto Rico is still denied an electoral vote for the U.S. presidential election. Over half of its citizens are unsatisfied with its status as an unincorporated U.S. territory. As far as industry goes, Puerto Rico (much like Illinois) has transitioned from agriculture to industry/tourism.

Both Puerto Rico and Illinois are constantly progressing, but there is still room for improvement. Chicago undoubtedly struggles with crime. The source of this issue goes back to the city’s roots as a popular destination for African-Americans during the Great Migration. Chicago was home to many jobs in the railroad industry, factories, food processing plants and many other businesses. Due to a lack of education and intense segregation that existed in many parts of the city, African-American workers were paid very poor wages. This led to an increase in poverty and crime that still exists today. The same can be said about San Juan – the capital of Puerto Rico. The crime rates of San Juan are significantly higher than those of New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. In addition to a lack of education, civil unrest also fuels Puerto Rico’s crime rates. As aforementioned, many Puerto Ricans are angry about their political status and limited rights. Both places also struggle environmentally. Illinois suffers from a lack of natural areas. Although parks and forests do exist, most of the state’s land has been converted to farmland and cities. These are important for boosting the economy, but our planet needs trees because they act as carbon sinks and help regulate Earth’s climate. Furthermore, natural areas are aesthetically pleasing and can increase both physical and emotional well-being.

I will admit that these problems will not be easy to solve. They will involve a lot of compromise as well as collaboration. It all starts with education. If we educate our community, people could get better jobs, earn more money, and decrease their need for crime. Moreover, people need to start getting involved in clubs and organizations that promote the cooperation that is necessary to make change at a global scale. Also, if we educate our society about the importance of preserving nature and keeping our environment clean, we will be able to create a society in which future generations can live happy, healthy lives. Unfortunately, un inevitable result of activism is opposition. Many people will fight against change, especially in regards to the environment. This is because many businesses rely on activities that degrade the environment. For example, the oil industry benefits many countries economically. However, oil is a major contributor to global climate change. If more people are aware of the detrimental effects of oil and other fossil fuels, enough public support might be gained to transition to clean, renewable energy sources.

Challenges in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has the perfect climate to grow a variety of crops. It used to produce a large percentage of its food, but the percentage has dramatically reduced in recent years. As we learned from one of our presentations at the University of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico imports about 80% or more of its food. This number is astounding, considering it has resources and the climate to produce much more of its food. Not only does importing goods cost much more money, it also uses gasoline and other resources to ship things that could be produced and consumed on the island itself. Another point to consider is that there is a decline in farmers, and the farmers that remain are getting old.
A solution to this problem is not easy to pursue. There are resource issues, political issues, and human labor issues. One way to go about solving this problem is to give out tax incentives. If there were good incentives to become a farmer, then more people would do so. This could be by giving out free or subsidized land, establishing price floors, and promoting agricultural growth. Agriculture needs to be more attractive as a career to the young generation. Along with agriculture comes harvesting machinery, processing, and distributing. All of these fields would expand, creating many jobs and stimulating Puerto Rico’s economy. We also learned that Agriculture contributes to less than one percent of Puerto Rico’s GDP. That’s just sad when there’s plenty of rain and sun to theoretically grow crops of all sorts. We would measure the success by the change in agriculture contribution to Puerto Rico’s GDP, as well as the percentage of food imports to the island. These numbers would tell us exactly how effective these solutions are; an increase would show that more jobs are kept in Puerto Rico itself. One underlying risk is if the farmers produce too much and lack in processing or transportation mechanisms. The opposite could happen too – farmers might not produce as much as they expected, so there’s an abundance of post-harvest facilities.

Another issue that is related to Agriculture comes from the soil itself. We learned that the soil in areas of Puerto Rico have high salinity content, making it hard for crops to thrive. We also learned that there is already somewhat of a solution in place for this problem; planting fields of rice actually absorbs the salt and makes the plot usable for other crops. I thought this was a phenomenal solution, but I noticed that the area in which the rice was growing didn’t quite have the right resources to properly farm and harvest the crop. I didn’t see any large storage bins or harvesting machinery for that matter. It’s nice that the government is testing new crops, but there should really be more infrastructure in place to help the farmers. A solution would be that the government provides the necessary machinery to properly harvest and store the rice. If they are the ones to launch a pilot program, there should be support to follow through with the project. We would measure the success in rice fields by comparing the salinity content before and after to make sure the plots are suitable for other crops. Another way to measure success is if there is no waste in harvest due to machinery involved in the process. An underlying risk is if the government provides equipment without enough farmers to work the plots.
I’ve noticed that there is no public transportation on the island. There are even some train rails carved into the ground with no train to use them. This is problematic because Puerto Rico already has to import all of its gasoline. Also, space will definitely become an issue if it isn’t already. There’s only going to be a growing amount of people and cars on the island, so public transportation is only becoming more important. Having some sort of bus or train system would greatly improve travel efficiency. People who can’t afford cars will still have a means of transportation. There would be less gas use and less pollution. While there is no easy way to implement a bus and train system, it could definitely be done with the right resources. The government needs to intervene and get outside support to draft plans. A way to measure success if to determine what percentage of the population use public transportation and to do a cost-benefit analysis to see if it was worth the money invested. Another way is to compare the amount of pollution released from the island before and after implementing public transportation. The last way is to compare the difference in traffic patterns before and after implementation. One underlying risk is that it might cost a lot of money and not be used as much as expected.

Here’s a picture of a sugar cane plot. Sugar cane used to be one of Puerto Rico’s biggest exports but has declined dramatically in recent years.

Puerto Rican Issues and Actions That Could Be Taken

Going to another country – or even another common wealth of the same country – can pose to be difficult when you don’t speak the native language. Spanish is the native language in Puerto Rico, and from what I’ve seen, only a select handful of people can speak English. I noticed that in Old San Juan, – the more touristy area of the island – most if not every one of the workers speak English. This is because tourism is a huge part of Puerto Rico’s economy, with ships bringing in thousands of tourists on a daily basis. An action I could take to address the language barrier is to be more respectful of the locals by trying to accommodate to what they’re trying to say. I could try speaking as best Spanish as I can, especially since I’ve taken three years of Spanish in high school. I could be more open to learning what they’re trying to say by sounding out the syllables as they speak to me. Another thing I could do is to not assume that people who don’t speak the same language as me are less intelligent.
People in Puerto Rico live by “island time” and take things easy. While this is good if you’re vacationing, I could definitely see this as a lack of efficiency in the long run. Because everything is taken so easy, it could be hard to schedule a day without accommodating for some issues that might arise. A prime example of this is when we hiked the dry forest; the gate guard wasn’t on duty because of a local holiday. Nobody told us anything, and I’m sure it was just a spur-of-the-moment type of thing. An action I could take is to just live by “island time” amongst the locals. Take things slowly while I’m vacationing on the beautiful island. If things do go as planned – which many things at this point have not – I can just deal with it and move on with my day. No big deal.
As for the environment, there is at least one obvious issue. I’ve seen many pieces of plastic washed up on the beaches. This problem is not in the hands of Puerto Ricans but collectively all the people who live on earth. Because of improper handling of garbage, plastic debris floats in our oceans by the tons. An action that I could take is to pick up any piece of plastic I see on the beach – whether it be big or small. This small action could actually make an impact because then animals wouldn’t confuse small pieces of plastic with food. Another action I could take is to use less plastic in general and be more conscious of recycling. The next time I’m in a grocery store, I’ll bring my own bag, for example. I’ll bring along my own reusable water bottle before taking a disposable plastic one.
Another not-so-obvious issue with the environment falls in island transportation. I noticed that there is no public transit system on the island. This causes lots of traffic, more air pollution, and more use of imported gasoline. I’ve also seen garbage cars left in pieces parked outside of homes and along the street. This takes up space and isn’t appealing to tourists visiting the island. There is no direct solution to these problems. All I can do is to inform others of my observations in hope that something changes.
On the second and third nights of our trip, we witnessed a Three Kings Festival. The local town was crowded full of people, the houses had decorations, and even a band came to play live music for the festivities. While this is wonderful for most of the locals, there could be a potential issue. Are all residents of Puerto Rico Christian? How about the tourists? There could be some issues with clashing religious beliefs. An action I could take is to respect Puerto Rico’s local holidays, even if I wasn’t Christian.

We ate freshly harvested and prepared oysters from a local stand in the town.

Bernando ran a coffee plantation all by himself. He could speak very little english, but he tried very hard to speak to us the best he could. Dr. Rodriguez eventually had to translate, but we all tried as best we could to understand what Bernando was saying.

Discovering My Place in the World

I have always had an interest in traveling. My traveling adventures started when I was much younger. Every year, my family would take a summer road trip to celebrate the end of the school year. I was always fascinated by the spectacular scenery and the dazzling cities we would pass through. However, what made the trips special was bonding with my dad. One of the things my dad and I have always had in common was our passion for traveling. We would often sit together and map out the summer trip weeks (sometimes even months) in advance. We even set a goal to visit all 50 states before me and my brother left for college. Although we did not hit all 50 states (we came very close), we had an unforgettable time during all our travels. Therefore, I could not wait for college so I could get the opportunity to study abroad and look for ways to change the world. Now, here I am in Puerto Rico doing just that!

This trip to Puerto Rico is my first study abroad experience. I have always wanted to study abroad, but before college, I never truly believed it would be feasible. Although I have been all over the continental United States, I have never been off the mainland to a place as exotic as Puerto Rico. So far, getting to see the island’s wonderful cities and diverse cultures has been eye-opening. There are quite a few aspects of Puerto Rico that surprised me. First, the enormous size of the island blew me away. On a map, it appears like it would only take a half hour or so to drive from end to end. But I reality, it would probably take a little over three hours to drive from the east coast to the west coast. With this immense amount of land comes a wide variety of land uses. I was astonished that most of the land we drove through was heavily developed. As we traversed the island I saw cities, plantations, mines, houses in the mountains, dams, and lighthouses. However, one thing I noticed was the lack of areas completely untouched by man. Even though Puerto Rico has natural areas, they are almost all confined within the borders of El Yunque National Forest. The aforementioned signs of human development are quite remarkable, but they require a lot of space and they eventually degrade environmental quality. People need natural areas because they increase both physical and emotional well-being. Other ecosystem services include water purification, nutrient cycling, climate regulation, biodiversity, and food. To maintain these ecosystem services, it is imperative that we immediately devise some sort of a balance between developed land and natural land. I am happy I got the chance to travel to Puerto Rico because it has made me realize my place in the world as well as my future ambitions: to designate more wilderness areas with the intention of increasing biodiversity and overall environmental health. Moreover, my goal is to initiate progress by bringing people together to realize the significance of land conservation. However, this will not be easy because it will take a global effort. I am confident that my individual efforts will be driven by my passion for traveling the world and determination to preserve the land. The world needs more people who have the same ideals to save natural areas from disappearing forever.

This trip has also been socially beneficial to me. Most of my peers are majoring in a different field than I am. Therefore, it was very interesting to learn a little about their backgrounds and future desires. Each of them are very interesting and I have had a wonderful time being with them in Puerto Rico. It felt great to be surrounded by brilliant minds that are just as eager as I am to develop plans to fix some of the world’s most complex problems.

It is very important to travel the world to get to know other people and their cultures. Furthermore, it is vital to understand what other countries are doing to increase environmental quality and agricultural efficiency. This is because our perspective, as Americans, is considerably limited. Without a variety of opinions, worldviews, cultures, and ideas, it would be nearly impossible to solve some of the world’s greatest difficulties.

I am quite certain that I will never lose my passion for traveling. However, if I do find myself losing motivation, I will reflect on the fun times I had with my family on the road. Furthermore, I would think of the large number environmental problems that exist around the world: the food crisis, the water crisis, biodiversity loss, deforestation, climate change, pollution, waste management, and urban sprawl. Then I would remind myself that the world needs my contribution along with the contribution of others to go out and fix these problems. Obviously, solving these issues will not be easy. However, I am very confident that the people of our world can unite and conserve our environment for future generations.

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The Great Rice Debate

While our ABE 199 class visited Puerto Rico, we had the opportunity to meet Professor Perez, who worked with us during our study abroad trip. Professor Perez allowed us to tour the dam and irrigation canals that distribute fresh water to farms across the island, which was amazing to see. Each farmer has to send in a request for a specific amount of water. Gates in the canals are then opened to that the exact amount of water needed for each farm is distributed. Being able to see something like this was very exciting for me, since I am considering specializing in water and could definitely see myself in the future working on something similar.

After he finished showing us these canals, Professor Perez then showed us something else that I found very interesting: a large rice field. Although this might sound unimpressive, the story behind it is very important. The professor explained to us that the rice is part of a current project, which is being conducted to show that Puerto Rico would prosper by producing more crops domestically instead of importing much of its food. The project has been very successful so far, but is in danger of being cut short because of its location on this island.

The rice fields are located in a large area of land that originally contained a lagoon. Many years ago, the lagoon was drained so that farmers could use the land to produce more crops. Ever since then, it has been used heavily for agriculture, and many farmers’ entire plantations are located in the skeleton of the drained lagoon. This farmland is in jeopardy because of the Puerto Rican government’s efforts to revert more of the island back to its natural state. The proposed “33% by 2033” is exactly what it sounds like: by 2033, the government plans to have restored thirty three percent of the island back to its original form.

While this is a great idea, Professor Perez explained to us that the “33% by 2033” plan has some significant drawbacks. The government is planning on recreating the lagoon that once existed in this valley as part of its program. However, by doing this, they will be taking away a significant amount of valuable farmland that many farmers rely on. One of the benefits that the rice fields have brought to this area is improving the soil quality, which was previously very high in salinity and sodium. The soil in this area will now be able to support many more kinds of crops without needing excessive amounts of fertilizer. If the government goes through with their decision to recreate the lagoon, though, the rice fields will be completely underwater for the majority of the year, making them unusable.

The debate over the lagoon shows the island’s struggle between celebrating its past and moving forward into the future. History is very important to the island’s culture, and many traditions are proudly carried on year after year. Bringing back the lagoon would help restore the island’s original beauty. Some officials also believe that the lagoon could become a tourist attraction and bring in revenue. While reverting the island back is very appealing to many, others argue that it is preventing the island from moving forward and prospering. Agriculture is one of the most promising fields in Puerto Rico, with plenty of potential to bring great benefits and profit to the island. The rice project that Professor Perez was explaining to us is just one great example of how new technology and innovations in agriculture could have awesome results. If the lagoon is restored, however, many acres of valuable farmland could be forever lost. Also, it’s possible that the lagoon may not be successful as a tourist attraction, especially because weather patterns on the island would mean that it was only present for a portion of the year. The lagoon would change in size with the rainfall, shrinking, growing, and even disappearing for periods of time.

This debate between the lagoon or rice fields illustrates the current state of limbo that the island of Puerto Rico is in. The people are torn between staying true to the island’s history or evolving with the times. Of course, some sort of compromise on the large scale picture can be reached, and it doesn’t entirely have to be one way or the other. Over the rice versus lagoon debate, however, a compromise seems unlikely. I personally agree with Professor Perez that recreating the lagoon would be a mistake. In my opinion, sacrificing valuable land just because something else was originally there seems silly, and like a waste of space, especially since agriculture on the island has shown so much potential. Even though I’m against the lagoon, I do see the benefits that restoring it would bring and understand why the governement believes that it’s the right choice. What this debate really comes down to is what each individual places more value in: history or possibility. Both have their own set of risks and rewards, and only time will tell what the fate of this area of land consists of.

This image shows how much land the proposed lagoon would cover if the government decides to implement it.

Agriculture in Puerto Rico – A Brief Analysis

Agriculture in Puerto Rico, although not a major part of the nation’s GDP, still holds an important aspect of the island’s culture and history. A variety of crops are grown in Puerto Rico, including rice, sugar cane, coffee, and corn. However, there is currently a debate as to whether or not agricultural production on the island should be increased or reduced. Some believe that the island’s GDP would increase with a boost in agricultural production, but others think that Puerto Rico would fare better by investing in something else. As always in agriculture, there are both costs and benefits to producing crops, especially on such a small, isolated island with only a limited amount of arable land.

One of the main problems with agriculture in Puerto Rico is that the island nation is too small, and therefore unable to produce enough quantity of crops to compete with other, larger nations on an international scale. Another reason that Puerto Rico is unable to compete is because unlike the United States, where gigantic, corporate farms are the norm, many of Puerto Rico’s farms are smaller, family owned operations. In the lecture given at the Puerto Rican university, we were told that the majority of food crops have been historically been produced by farmers who own plots less than three cuerdas. This small size means that although the value of the goods produced is most likely quite high, the quantity is minimal, which puts Puerto Rico at a disadvantage in the international market.

Another, somewhat related problem with agriculture in Puerto Rico is that farming may take away land that could be better used for another purpose. Since land on the island is limited, every farm comes with a sacrifice. Tourism is one of the island’s major industries, and a strong argument could be made that Puerto Rico would receive more revenue by investing in tourism insead of agriculture. Currently, roughly a quarter of Puerto Rico’s land is divided into over 13,000 farms. Many of the farmlands are located in areas that could potentially become tourist attractions, with locations near beaches, rainforests, or other scenic areas. In addition, not all of Puerto Rico’s soil is best suited to grow many of the agricultural crops that farmers plant on their plots. In many areas on the island, there is very high soil salinity, which makes many plants struggle to prosper. In order to optimize yields, many farmers use heavy amounts of fertilizer, which can damage the soil and nearby watersheds. Because of these problems with the soil and farmlands, some people have suggested that Puerto Rico should focus less on farming, and instead turn to other methods of revenue such as tourism.

However, there are also many arguments that can be made in favor of increasing agricultural production in Puerto Rico. Currently, over eighty percent of food consumed in Puerto Rico comes from imports. The island is heavily dependent on imports to supply food to its population. This causes many potential problems. Import costs will drive the prices of food items up, and make many items much more expensive than they would be if they were locally grown. Also, by the time a lot of the imported food reaches the island, it is no longer fresh because of lengthy shipping times. Also, hurricanes are a common threat to Puerto Rico, which can make food deliveries difficult during hurricane season and drive the food prices on the island up even higher. By cutting back on imports and producing more crops on the island, Puerto Rico would be able to cut back on expensive import costs and enjoy fresher, higher quality food.

In addition, increasing the size of Puerto Rico’s agricultural sector would boost the economy and provide more jobs to the population. Although at this time, less than two percent of Puerto Rico’s workforce is employed in an agricultural job, increasing the number and the size of the island’s farmlands would create many more available jobs. This would boost the economy, which has been struggling for many years now, and boost the nation’s GDP. It would also decrease the unemployment rate in Puerto Rico, which could in turn create more revenue for businesses on the island as more people would have extra spending money.

In summary, there are many arguments that can be made both in favor of and against increasing agriculture in Puerto Rico. Some experts believe that since Puerto Rico is unable to compete on an international scale, the island would prosper more by investing in other areas that it excels in, such as tourism. Others say that promoting agriculture will provide fresher, less expensive food, more jobs, and an economic boost. No matter which side a person stands on, it is inarguable that farming has a historical significance in Puerto Rico that will never go away. Agriculture is part of the island’s culture, and will most likely remain so forever.  

Many of Puerto Rico’s farms have historical significance, including this sugar plantation that the class toured.

An Adventure in El Yunque

My whole life I’ve been rather adventurous. I grew up in a NW suburb or Chicago, but my family owns a large piece of land in Serena, Illinois. This area is full of hardwoods and open plains that I’ve been exploring my whole life alongside my siblings and cousins. From hunting and fishing to week long camping trips and making our own zipline, we’ve done it all on this special plot of land. The adventures I experienced there sparked my interest in traveling the world to discover the millions of other thrills that were out there just waiting for me. I’ve traveled a good amount with my family and friends, but every place is very unique in its own way. I’ve now added Puerto Rico to my list of adventures, and it has definitely been one of the best yet. I’ve really enjoyed every day here in on the island, and it’s difficult for me to pick out my favorite. However, the most unique and thrilling day had to be our hike through El Yunque, the only National Forest in the National Park system.
The day started off when we met for breakfast in the hotel lobby. We were served many native fruits such as mango and papaya which I really enjoyed. Soon after we began out descent down the mountain in search of the waterfalls that were said to run down the side of the nearest mountain. The terrain itself was not too challenging to maneuver around, but the slick rocks and mud led to many dangerous falls throughout the group. Only a mere ten or fifteen minutes into the hike, we began to hear a large waterfall. Once we reached the water it was a breathtaking view, as the water crashed among the rocks and rushed down the mountain. While the sight itself was very beautiful, there was nowhere to swim, so we moved on downstream to find a new water hole.
As we traveled across the rocks moving further downstream, it was a lot more dangerous than before. Each rock was a challenge in itself as they were slick from the recent rain. One wrong move could have led to a brutal injury in the middle of nowhere. As a group we helped each other over, through, and around each obstacle until we had finally found what we had been searching for, a calm pool of water. As we each began to jump in, the water was much colder than I had anticipated. Chills ran through my bones and I felt numb after a mere couple seconds as I swam through the clear water. It was rather easy to look past this though, as the scenic views around us were some of the most beautiful I had ever seen. Upstream there was a beautiful waterfall that fell into the area we swam in, providing our pool with fresh water. Above us were hundreds of trees of all shapes and sizes, providing us with some shade from the beating Puerto Rican sun.
Another aspect of the rain forest that puzzles me is the weather. One minute the sky can be bright blue without a cloud in sight, and just a couple minutes later it can be storming so badly you may think you were caught in a hurricane. This very situation occurred as we were enjoying our time swimming around the water hole. All of the sudden we heard some bustling wind and then soon after came an absolute downpour. We decided to stay in the water and wait out the quick storm, as it was like a scene out of a movie. It was freezing and my whole body was numb, but it was an adventure I may never get the opportunity to experience again.