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VCHT Conservation Efforts Culminate in Historical Agreement with DNER

An agreement between the Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust (VCHT) and the PR Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) to co-manage the nature preserve that holds the Mosquito Bio-luminescent Bay (Bio-Bay) was signed in a public ceremony held at the VCHT in February. The signing brought together residents of the Vieques community, business representatives, biobay-tour operators, members of VCHT, and state government officials, including the Secretary of DNER Carmen R. Guerrero Pérez.

Guerrero’s commitment to the conservation of the Bio-Bay, a mission she shares with the Trust, predates her current position as Secretary of DNER. She has worked with the Trust in the past in an effort to preserve the unique bio-luminescent phenomenon that occurs in several bays and lagoons of Puerto Rico. Familiar with Vieques and the island’s rich bio-diversity, Guerrero spoke of the historic nature of the agreement. “To be very sincere, the DNER cannot do it on its own. Vieques has been an example of that through the support of the Trust. One of the things that I have been supporting as public policy is to expand the number of collaborative agreements all throughout Puerto Rico.”  She concluded her remarks by saying: “Your work has not only impacted the island of Vieques, la Isla Nena, it has impacted all of the work that we do in conservation across Puerto Rico and, I can say, in other parts of the world.”

Lirio Márquez, Executive Director of the VCHT, discussed what the agreement means in both historic and scientific contexts. Marquéz sees the agreement as a step forward in the continuing efforts to monitor the bay and the possibilities for more scientific studies and measuring standards. Under Márquez’s leadership, the Trust has conducted several scientific studies in conjunction with universities as well as the the USGS, an agency that plays an important role in Biobay research for conservation. She has been an advocate of ongoing community education efforts and was instrumental in securing the funds that brought much needed infrastructure improvements to the tributary access road to the Bio-Bay.

Mark Martin, who spearheads community outreach efforts at the Trust, highlighted some important clauses of the agreement with a state-of-the-arts presentation that included the total acreage inside the Sunbay Natural Preserve now covered under the agreement. With his unique enthusiasm and passion for the conservation of the Bio-Bay, Martin reminded attendees that the agreement was a big and significant step, but “the real work has just begun.”  He elaborated on this point.  “We celebrate what has happened here. We are so gracious to Barbara and Myrna to mark the time and celebrate all of the work that has been done. But we understand this as two things; the trust that has been given to us, and the responsibility and work that we have to do now. And there is a lot of work. There’s a lot that we already do, sure; education, science, etc.  But we have to step it up because, and I want to make this clear, this is not a co-management for the bay, this is for the entire reserve, which includes our front steps and goes all the way to the bay with all the beaches in between. There’s a management plan that has been approved.  Well, now it’s an action plan that needs to happen. And we’re ready. It’s time because Vieques is changing and, very closely related, the world is changing.

The importance of the agreement was expressed by the potent words of Myrna Pagán, VCHT first Board President. An excerpt from her address follows.

“From its conception, the main mission of the Trust was the protection of the Bioluminescent Bay, preservation of the archeological sites and involvement of the community in achieving its goals. Eco-consciousness was a budding force and I know that the work being done since our beginnings has served greatly in augmenting the concept of service and unity in Vieques. We have all grown as defenders of the environment aware of the essential role we play en defensa de los Recursos Naturales de la Isla Nena.

The co-management agreement with the DNER has taken decades to achieve. Many have been the official visits to San Juan for lobbying and conferences; many have been the Secretaries of DNER to receive us and our offer to collaborate in the protection and management of the Bio-Bay. But both the perseverance and dedication to the cause, the constant growth and innovative contributions to the island by the Trust, have brought us recognition as a valuable ally, one to trust.

Directors and members have worked long and hard at making a difference for the benefit of our community, and the community has responded and benefited by association. I would recognize one colleague who has labored from day one and served as an inspiration to all during these decades of education, outreach and sharing with local and off-island professionals and universities. Considering the importance for the Trust of being regarded as an integral part of this society this woman stands out as one who has established among Viequenses a sincere, dedicated, caring presence which has served to attract members and supporters, young and old alike. We applaud Dr. Barbara Bernache Baker.  Barbarita, we are beholden to you.”

Pagán also thanked Lirio Márquez, Mark Martin, Jorge Morales, zaimara Pagán, Pedro Ayala and Airamzul Cabral Guadalupe.  She then summarized the overriding meaning of the historic event by quoting Baba Dioum, a natural resource management advocate from Senegal. “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”  

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