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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Volunteers remove over 55,000 pounds of waste from island beaches & waterways


According to preliminary data, over 55,000 pounds of waste was removed from Puerto Rico’s beaches and waterways by volunteers in Saturday’s 21st edition of the International Coastal Cleanup.


By THE STAR STAFF


More than 4,000 volunteers organized by Scuba Dogs Society (SDS), the official coordinator of the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) in Puerto Rico, managed to remove over 55,000 pounds of waste from natural spaces over the weekend, according to preliminary data.


Karem Pérez González, the executive director of the Scuba Dogs Society, announced that preliminary reports from the 21st edition of the cleanup project showed that the number of volunteers and pounds of garbage collected exceeded last year’s record, which was affected by the passage of Hurricane Fiona. She noted that it was also possible to fulfill one of the main objectives, which was to incorporate areas of the interior of Puerto Rico.


In total, volunteers cleaned up three reservoirs, 18 rivers and 146 beaches. Likewise, the event served to educate about Law 51, which prohibits single-use plastics in Puerto Rico to be replaced by reusable and recyclable materials.


“We appreciate all the support received,” Pérez González said. “The preliminary results reflect significant numbers that would not have been possible without the collaborative work of our captains, volunteers, collaborators and sponsors.”


The SDS official pointed out that reports from the coastal captains continue to highlight that single-use plastics are the form of debris most frequently found during cleanups, especially in recent years of the initiative.


Marine biologist Sandra Schleier Hernández, the SDS program coordinator, stressed that most of the items collected were of plastic origin. Microplastics, smaller materials that can cause harm to various animal species, were also detected.


She noted that the data was collected in an application designed by Ocean Conservancy, the parent organization of the International Coastal Cleanup, to add to the information reported by more than 120 countries participating in the global effort.


This database, which is being added to the other 20 editions of the cleanup organized by the SDS, will be applied to future research and supports the development of public policies and legislation for the benefit of the environment, such as the prohibition of plastic bags and Law 51 itself.


“Compared to previous years we can say that, although progress has been made in education, there is still work to be done so that the population understands that waste is a serious environmental problem that affects resources and species, our health and the economy,” Schleier Hernández said.


Pérez González stressed that another of the notable achievements of Saturday’s International Coastal Cleanup was the incorporation of the mangrove planting initiative in protected natural areas through an agreement with the organization Para la Naturaleza.


Elizabeth Padilla, manager of the science, education and volunteer unit of Para la Naturaleza, said “activities such as the International Coastal Cleanup help raise awareness among citizens about the importance of protecting water bodies and mangrove forests.”


“Today we planted 600 mangrove trees in the Medio Mundo and Daguao Protected Natural Area in Ceiba and in the Hacienda la Esperanza Natural Reserve in Manatí,” she said. “Mangrove forests are vital for maintaining coastal ecosystems.”


“In addition, they are a refuge that protects a great diversity of native, migratory and threatened species,” Padilla said. “In turn, they are important barriers in protecting coastal communities from events such as hurricanes and sea level rise. We are extremely pleased with this collaboration, which gives us the opportunity to educate hundreds of participants about the importance of this valuable tree and our reforestation initiatives.”


She said that in the island’s northern region Para la Naturaleza planted 300 red mangrove seedlings and collected 119.4 pounds of waste, while in the metro-central region (including the Usabón River) 909.62 pounds of waste was collected, while in the east 1,183 pounds was removed and another 300 red mangrove seedlings were planted.


The 21st edition of the ICC in Puerto Rico was sponsored by: Access All Services, AMGEN, Banco Popular, Bio Strong, Coca Cola, Puerto Rico Tourism Company, Cooperativa de Seguros Múltiples, DDB Latina, Destilería Serrallés, the island Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, Ecoeléctrica, El Nuevo Día, First Bank, Fundación Liberty, Hot 102, MMM, Motorambar-KIA, NotiUno, Ocean Conservancy, Para La Naturaleza, Plaza del Caribe, SalSoul, San Patricio Plaza, Scuba Dogs, T-Mobile, TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, United Way PR and Uno Radio Group. Caleido, CSA Group and the Villa Cofresí Hotel also acted as collaborators.

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