PUERTO RICO: Activists Fight Proposed Beach Hotels

Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero


SAN JUAN, Oct 8 2002 (IPS) - While local environmentalists want to conserve the unspoiled beach between the towns of Luquillo and Fajardo, the last strip of undeveloped coastline in northeastern Puerto Rico, the government and developers have other plans.

Both are supporting construction of two mammoth tourism projects there. The first, San Miguel Four Seasons Resort, would consist of 1,800 hotel and residential units, plus two golf courses. The proposed Dos Mares Resort would include 1,250 hotel and residential units and a golf course.

Project backers, such as Marriott International, claim the developments will create nearly 3,500 direct and indirect jobs. But activist groups, including the Surfrider Foundation, Grupo Arena Mar, the Sustainable Development Initiative and the Caribbean Action Network (CAN), warn that the environmental impact of these proposed projects would be unacceptable.

“Our beaches and forests do not belong to us, we borrow them from our children, and we have the moral obligation to return them in a better state than when we found them,” said Grupo Arena Mar in a statement.

“If we allow the development of our natural resources without appropriate planning, our future generations will lack the natural beauties that God blessed this island with.”

Instead of massive tourism, residential developments and golf courses, environmentalists want the 3,240 acres to be preserved as the Northeastern Ecological Corridor (NEC).

They say it contains more than 40 species of marine mammals, birds, snakes, sea turtles and plants seldom found in other parts of the world, including the Puerto Rican plain pigeon, the snowy plover, brown pelican, the hawksbill sea turtle and the West Indian manatee.

“The region is best known as one of the most important nesting grounds for leatherback sea turtles in areas under U.S. jurisdiction and in the Caribbean,” according to the CAN.

“All of the coastal wetlands found in Puerto Rico, such as coral communities and mangroves, are also encompassed within this region. These wetlands are essential to the existence of a biological phenomenon rare in the world, but occurring in the NEC, a bioluminescent lagoon,” it continues.

The planned NEC also includes a world-class surfing beach known as La Selva..

Opponents of the two projects are also concerned about the impact they will have on already scarce water resources.

“A deficit of over 2,000,000 gallons of water will result from their development, worsening the present situation for many local communities in the region that lack potable water,” says the CAN.

“The development of these two projects is contrary to (U.S.) federal and (local) Commonwealth environmental policies, and thus to the public interest, since it would undermine current and past conservation efforts,” it adds.

But Four Seasons president for worldwide operations, Kathleen Taylor, defends the planned San Miguel resort, and claims it will benefit the environment.

“The project will preserve and enhance more than two-thirds of its land, including the entire maritime-terrestrial zone, 100 percent of the mangrove forest, 97 percent of the wetland areas and the forest in the eastern ridge of the project site in almost its entirety,” she said in an open letter to Puerto Rican environmentalists, dated Sep. 19.

Taylor added that Four Seasons will create a natural reserve area of approximately 300 acres within the site, and establish and fund an environmental research and education centre.

The ecological value of the area was acknowledged as far back as 1978, when Puerto Rico’s natural resources department recommended that it be conserved. But only one part of the proposed area got protected status.  Now called the Las Cabezas de San Juan Natural Reserve, it is owned by the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust, a local private group.

In 1992, the natural resources department and the Conservation Trust suggested that the rest of the area now proposed for the NEC be included in Las Cabezas.  But the government had hotels and big developments in mind.

As early as 1993, developers began presenting proposals for tourism projects in the area. In 1996, governor Pedro Rosselló declared his support for tourism development in the Fajardo-Luquillo beach area, and had the lands there re-zoned for residential development. There were no public hearings, which the law requires when lands are re-zoned.

Environmental scientist Luis Jorge Rivera of the Sustainable Development Initiative questions the economic viability of the two proposed projects.

In recent testimony to the Puerto Rican Senate, he said that international trends in the tourism industry favour moderate-priced tourism, not extremely expensive hotel suites such as those in the proposed Four resorts. He cited as an example the bankruptcy of the local Ritz-Carlton hotel.

Rivera emphatically denounced the government’s “attitude of indifference and disregard for the laws that govern the administration of our natural resources and public participation”.

Activists also criticise what they see as corporate welfare. “Of special concern is the fact that the proposed projects would be significantly financed by public funds, would benefit from several tax-exemptions and would be established mostly on public lands,” declared the CAN.


FOR MORE INFO: http://actionnetwork.org/PRAN/home.html


You can blow out a candle,

but you can’t blow out a fire.

Once the flame begins to catch,

the wind will blow it higher.


·        Peter Gabriel


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