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P.R. National Parks begins construction on Sun Bay Beach

Vieques landowner, architect raps project as endangering turtle nesting, bird sanctuaries, and nearby bioluminescent bay


June 10, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Puerto Rico National Parks Co., the government agency responsible for protecting and managing the island’s public natural areas, has begun construction of a $15.7 million project in Vieques called Balneario Sun Bay (Sun Bay Recreational Park). As explained in the National Parks proposal and official report, the project consists of 50 two-bedroom vacation cottages, fully equipped with bathroom and kitchenette, eight parking areas with room for more than 393 vehicles, a 6,980-square-foot administrative services building, and 423-square-foot concessionaire booths.

"The recreational park is an ecologically friendly project similar to recreational parks in Añasco, Boquerón [Cabo Rojo], Arroyo, and Maricao," explained National Parks Co. Executive Director Samuel González. "Our statistics show 80% of the people who use these recreational parks are either middle-class or low-income; therefore, the Sun Bay recreational park is a chance for these people to enjoy the beach at Sun Bay, arguably one of the most pristine beaches in the Caribbean," he said. "These people don’t have access to existing lodging in Vieques, mainly because of the price, but with the low-budget vacation cottages, up to six people can stay at Sun Bay for approximately $55 a night per cottage," said González. The recreational park also will include an observation platform of the Mosquito Bioluminescent Bay, providing visitors better access to the bay.

For more than 60 years, the U.S. Navy occupied two-thirds of Vieques, and government officials argued bombing exercises threatened the island’s ecological wonders. When the Navy exited Vieques in 2003, it left behind a priceless gift. Decades of occupation had been a blessing in disguise for Vieques wildlife. The land included forested hills, white-sand beaches and a Bioluminescent Bay. With 18,000 acres of untouched land, Vieques could become an unparalleled site for Caribbean ecotourism.

"The area is all the more precious because similar bays in the Caribbean have been destroyed by pollution," said Roberto Bramvilla, architect and Vieques landowner. "If development isn’t handled wisely–and recent government projects certainly aren’t encouraging–Vieques may be nostalgic for the era of Navy occupation," he said.

"The Sun Bay recreational park project, being built directly on the beach, will prevent turtles from nesting, disrupt bird sanctuaries, and sacrifice acres of mangrove to new roads and parking places," said Bramvilla. "Right next to this project is an ecological treasure, the bioluminescent bay, Mosquito Bay, which sparkles at night because of the sensitive microorganisms," he explained. "This project would endanger the bay."

Vieques’ plan for development urges protection of the island’s natural assets as the best strategy to promote ecotourism. The municipality’s plan also recommends implementing small hostels managed by local residents. The Puerto Rico National Parks Co. project jeopardizes both recommendations by covering 183 acres of the 280-acre Sun Bay property, while setting aside a large area of Sun Bay for public use, imposing controlled access to the beach during the day, and locking gates by night.

The stated objective of this project is to provide inexpensive accommodations for Puerto Rican families. "Yet, in Vieques, there are several inexpensive tourist accommodations and various family lodgings in private homes," Bramvilla said.

Puerto Rico former Gov. Sila María Calderón proclaimed in 2003 the Navy’s withdrawal was the beginning of a new era of prosperity for Vieques and emphasized the importance of preserving the ecological wonders of the island. Yet, a project composed of 50 two-story, concrete buildings and a network of access roads with massive lighting installations isn’t compatible with ecological considerations, according to Bramvilla. The National Parks executive director calls the recreational park a "sustainable project," noted Bramvilla, yet the United Nations’ definition of "sustainable project" is an ecologically bearable and economically viable project.

In the end, Bramvilla said, a $15.7 million recreational park with concrete cottages, access roads, bathrooms, and artificial lights is anything but sustainable. "By creating a recreational park on the beach where sea turtles nest and putting up artificial lights that kill the millions of phosphorescent microorganism in the ecologically fragile Mosquito Bay, the Puerto Rico National Parks Co. project fails to be ‘sustainable,’" Bramvilla said.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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