By John McPhaul
Natural and Environmental Resources Secretary Anaís Rodríguez Vega said Tuesday that an annual Christmas lighting event slated to be held this weekend in La Parguera in Lajas was not authorized.
“After the holding of a Christmas lighting in the La Parguera Nature Reserve, in Lajas, was publicly revealed, I confirm that the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) has not received any formal request related to this activity convened by the La Parguera Community Association,” Rodríguez Vega said.
“The DNER reminds the community and event organizers that any activity in protected natural areas must obtain the corresponding authorization from the department, in accordance with the laws and regulations administered by the DNER, in particular Regulation 8013,” the official said. “This regulation is essential for the responsible management of protected areas and to ensure that activities do not compromise the ecological integrity of these vital spaces.”
Rodríguez Vega added that the Law for the Control and Prevention of Light Pollution specifies in its Article 8, subsection A, the classes of outdoor and special areas. La Parguera, a bay that is part of the bioluminescent bay ecosystem in the southwestern coastal town of Lajas, falls under a special class, pursuant to the protection of the wildlife and marine resources of the area, she said.
In the absence of formal authorization, and to ensure compliance with environmental regulations, the DNER Ranger Corps will be obliged to intervene to prevent any unauthorized activity, the DNER chief added.
“This measure ensures the protection of our valuable natural resources and compliance with the laws that protect them,” Rodríguez Vega said.
Earlier on Tuesday, a prominent community leader from Lajas had publicly asked the DNER to issue a cease and desist order against the owners and operators of houseboats who intend to inaugurate the annual offshore Christmas lighting tradition in La Parguera this weekend.
“We have heard the mayor of Lajas, Jay Martinez, promoting a Christmas lighting event on the houseboats permanently located in La Parguera Bay,” community leader Jorge Echevarría said. “It is important to note that this activity contrasts with the protection of the red mangrove (rhizophora mangle) and the single-celled dinoflagellate organism (pyrodinium bahamense) responsible for light or bioluminescence in places such as La Parguera. The lighting that is intended to be sponsored is something that goes against the protection of the ecosystem that requires certain physical, chemical, biological and ecological conditions [...] for the phenomenon of bioluminescence to occur, or illumination by biological means, as occurs in Mosquito Bay in Vieques, La Parguera and Moncio José in Lajas and Laguna Grande in Fajardo, which is why Puerto Rico is one of the few places in the world to have bioluminescent bays.”
The Popular Democratic Party leader said it is up to the DNER and its secretary to issue a cease and desist order to stop the illumination of the houses and houseboats nestled in the red mangrove along the shores of La Parguera Bay. The central government agency has the responsibility to protect the island’s natural resources, Echevarría said, so it must take immediate action to avoid an ecological disaster in the top tourist attraction in the southwest of Puerto Rico.
“However, the bioluminescent bay at La Parguera is under several threats: sediment from access routes, a continuous increase in visitors, some of whom leave behind debris and other pollutants, and, most evidently, the increasing illumination of the surrounding area,” he said. “We know that the combined night lighting of existing and under-construction homes, road lighting and institutional lighting shed and reflect a significant amount of light on this valuable natural resource. It is important to know that the bay of La Parguera has to be free of all these pollutants, so it is vital that there is a compatible ecosystem around the bay. The construction of new houses or structures should be avoided and there should be zero deposit of chemical pollutants in [the bay’s] waters.”
Many of the liquids that are generated in houseboats and then deposited in the sea are deadly compounds for the microorganism responsible for bioluminescence, Echevarría added.
“In order for the human being to perceive the wonderful phenomenon of bioluminescence, there can be no artificial light of such magnitude as to compete with the phenomenon,” he said. “Consider that the light emitted by the full moon alone is enough to significantly reduce the perception of light from dinoflagellates.”
The STAR was unable to reach Lajas Mayor Jayson Martínez Maldonado for comment before press time on Tuesday.