On September 20, 2017, Puerto Rico was hit by María, a hurricane of a strength not seen since 1928. María left the Island devastated, from critical infrastructure to natural habitats. The San Juan Bay Estuary Program quickly jumped into action, launching a relief campaign #EstuarioRevive to channel resources to the areas most needed. Through a whirlwind of actions including reforestation, debris clean-up brigades, provision of potable water, solar panel installation, and water quality monitoring, we now find ourselves 6 months after the passing of the hurricane, not only continuing to provide relief, but leading efforts in the metropolitan area to make our communities and ecosystems more resilient to future extreme weather events.
Four days after the hurricane, the team of the San Juan Bay Estuary Program were in the field evaluating the impacts of the hurricane on the ecosystems and infrastructure of the area. We found the Estuary devastated. However, we knew that evaluating the environment while providing relief was important to help us understand how the system was recovering and provide reliable information to citizens and stakeholders. In October, we began monitoring the quality of the metropolitan waters on a weekly basis and more than doubled the number of sites to include several beaches across the metropolitan area. Each week, we continue to inform thousands of citizens on the quality of the waters they use for recreation. In December and January, we conducted a series of bird censuses, documenting over 1,500 birds of 65 species with the help of more than 100 volunteers. This was a sure sign of hope that the Estuary is very much alive.
One of the problems that persisted after hurricane María was severe flooding, due to a rainwater infrastructure that was left clogged and damaged. The San Juan Bay Estuary Program responded by recruiting dozens of volunteers and engaging local partners to carry out the task of removing vegetative and other debris from roadsides and ecosystems, to clear out the sewers and make the water flow again. Through multi-day brigades across the watershed we removed over 4,000 cubic meters of debris from our communities and waterways, supporting reduced trash accumulation and flooding, and greater public health. Not stopping there, we have also turned to creating resilience for the future through support to green infrastructure. By planting hundreds of trees in coastal areas, we are restoring the dunes, forests and other ecosystems which are our life-saving natural infrastructure in the face of hurricanes.
During these six months, the San Juan Bay Estuary Program has received the support from organizations, foundations and partners in and outside of Puerto Rico. This has allowed us to work tirelessly to channel relief and resources to the communities where they are needed the most. Responding to the basic needs of potable water and light, the San Juan Bay Estuary Program has empowered local youth through a solar-powered desalinization plant, provided over 200 water filters and solar-powered lanterns, and facilitated the electrification of a community center through the installation of solar panels. Going beyond the basic needs, we have also brought outdoor cinema to communities without power across the island, so children can enjoy a movie and families can relax. Over 600 people have attended these events.
Lastly, we remain dedicated to caring for the body of water which we co-manage: the Condado Lagoon Estuarine Reserve. The only estuarine reserve in Puerto Rico, the San Juan Bay Bay Estuary Program has worked over the past 20 years to transform a body of water so polluted that many thought it would be best to fill it in, into a healthy ecosystem which residents and visitors depend on for swimming, recreation, and eco-tourism businesses. A diversity of birds, fish, and even the endangered manatee also thrive in these waters. Through working with local and federal agencies to correct discharges and implementing reforestation and green infrastructure projects, we continue working to maintain the health of our only Estuarine Reserve, which the people, flora and fauna depend on.
Though we find the passing of hurricane Maria six months behind us, we find the next hurricane season, beginning on June 1st, rapidly approaching at less than three months away. All that we have achieved until now has been possible through the united support of citizens and organizations near and far. Together we have worked in the face of tragedy to lift the Estuary and its ecosystems and communities. For the future, rather than despairing, we are thinking big. In addition to continuing our relief efforts, we will develop a community-focused natural disaster mitigation plan, to make us stronger and more prepared in the face of a future extreme weather event. This is a large undertaking, however believing that resilience is the answer for a future in which our environment and communities can quickly recover. We count on you to join us in not only imagining a resilient future but working to create it.
Together we bring back the Estuary.