Puerto Rico Declares State of Emergency on Coastal Erosion

By Dánica Coto | April 13, 2023

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico’s governor declared a state of emergency on Tuesday to fight worsening coastal erosion across the U.S. territory that officials blame on climate change.

The government is setting aside $105 million in federal funds to implement nearly two dozen measures to offset the ongoing loss of land and minimize its effects. The measures include relocating homes, creating artificial reefs, planting mangrove trees and adding sand to beaches.

“This is an ambitious agenda,” Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said at a press conference.

Puerto Rico has nearly 700 miles (1,200 kilometers) of coastline, and two-thirds of the island’s 3.2 million resident live along coastal areas. Of that population, more than 20% live in areas at high risk for flooding.

A study by the University of Puerto Rico found that more than 60 miles (99 kilometers) of shoreline have migrated inland in previous years. Much of the erosion is blamed on storms including Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that slammed into the island in September 2017, with experts warning that future storms will be more powerful and occur more often.

By July 2018, erosion was identified in 40% of Puerto Rico’s beaches and accretion, which is the accumulation of sand, was found in 60% of beaches, according to the Institute of Coastal Investigation and Planning of Puerto Rico.

The measures announced Tuesday will be implemented in municipalities that have been hit the hardest, including Rincon, Cabo Rojo, Isabela and the neighboring sister island of Vieques, all extremely popular with tourists.

The island’s Department of Natural Resources also was ordered to create a new protocol to deal with coastal erosion and update its coastal zone management plan.

Other measures include the creation of a committee charged with fighting coastal erosion, the demolition of abandoned coastal structures and the demarcation of public domain assets in the maritime-terrestrial zone.

The announcement comes as activists and environmentalists continue to demand a moratorium on coastal zone construction and decry an increase in illegal coastal structures, some of which judges have ordered demolished.

Pierluisi said he would not rule out such a moratorium, but only for certain areas.

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