Punta las Picuas. Photo: Pesca, Playa y Ambiente
Dead manatee caught in fishing net. Photo: Pesca, Playa y Ambiente
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Volunteers will celebrate Father’s Day by sweeping debris out of a critical bay in eastern Puerto Rico in Pesca, Playa y Ambiente’s third mega-clean-up. The event in Punta Las Picuas is on Saturday, June 14, and is also aimed at raising awareness for a gill net ban and building support for shark conservation on the island.
In two previous clean-ups last year, Pesca, Playa y Ambiente, a leading marine conservation non-profit group in Puerto Rico, brought hundreds of volunteers out to pull nearly 50,000 pounds of discarded trash from the San Juan Estuary, a vital habitat for tarpon. For the June 14 clean-up the group has chosen a flat bay in northeast Puerto Rico for clean-up duty. However, poorly discarded debris is not the only problem in Punta Las Picuas. Widespread use of gill nets threaten to leave the bay barren of marine life, and Pesca, Playa y Ambiente hopes volunteers engaged in the effort will help advocate for a gill net ban.
Israel Umpierre. Photo: Jose A Aponte
“This effort at Punta las Picuas in Rio Grande it truly a mega cleanup, in the sense that our mission is to build public support to restore Puerto Rico’s ecosystem by enforcing and enacting laws and bringing attention to how we can protect and conserve our special and unique marine environment,” said Israel Umpierre, collaborator of the movement Mega Limpieza I & II, and founder of the Facebook group, Pesca, Playa y Ambiente. “We want to raise awareness of all of the problems—over fishing, use of gill nets, erosion, trash and even toxic chemical use -- with a focus on Punta las Picuas, which is designated as part of the Reserva del Rio Espiritú Santo nature and marine reserve.”
The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation is fully endorsing PPA’s efforts. Dr Guy Harvey, who joined trash-collecting volunteers in the October 2013 PPA Mega Limpieza, has produced two public service announcements. One urges volunteers to turn out for the sweep, and the other calls on Puerto Rico to enact a gill net ban.
Also supporting the effort is the Pegasus Foundation, which advocates for Shark Friendly Marina Initiative. SFMI works to spread shark conservation messaging and best practices at the point of departure, marinas. The effort to recruit marinas in Puerto Rico comes on the heels of a major victory for shark conservation in the Caribbean. Just last month, the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico’s neighbour to the east, declared its waters a shark sanctuary.
"Currently between 60 and 100 million sharks are slaughtered worldwide each year,” said Pat Ragan, managing director, SFMI. "This massive cull of these apex predators is unsustainable and poses a serious threat to the oceans' health."
Mega Limpieza III, according to Umpierrre, will start Saturday morning (June 14) with six different staging areas around Punta Picuas. Hundreds of volunteers will work both on-land and on-the-water to remove trash from illegal dumping. The work will be followed with a lunch of sustainable seafood prepared by celebrated local chefs, education workshops and a play staged by local children to message the importance of sustainable fishing practices and the need for a net ban implementation.
Annette Ramirez, President of Pesca, Playa y Ambiente, said more than 700 names have already been collected on a petition calling for the Secretary of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources to enforce the gill net ban to the exclusion of commercial fisherman, who are currently permitted to use nets.
The petition’s goal is to push government to enforce an existing ban on the use of gill nets, which are being used by locals (non-commercial fishermen) indiscriminately to catch and sell fish of all sizes and species in an unregulated marketplace. The practice common to interior waters around Puerto Rico is greatly diminishing fisheries and has even led to the death of manatees, found caught in fouled netting.
For more information on the day’s agenda, go to www.pescaplayaambiente.org