Wildlife and People Hit Hard in the Caribbean

“During the hurricane everyone confronted different challenges—no one was exempt from this, including our wildlife.”  — Nathan González, the Puerto Rican Ornithological Society

Hurricanes Irma and Maria scoured Caribbean habitats that our affiliates, the Puerto Rican Ornithological Society and the Virgin Islands Conservation Society, work hard to protect. The devastation from the catastrophic storms also resulted in personal pain for so many of the volunteers and members on the islands.

Thank you to all friends of wildlife who are standing with us and stepping forward to help the National Wildlife Federation family recover in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Support from our members will help restore vital habitat lost among thousands of felled mangroves, decimated tropical forests, damaged salt flats, ruined wildlife conservation areas, and spoiled coral reefs.

Here are on the ground glimpses from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands of how wildlife—and the caring people who are working to protect them—fared:

Puerto Rico

El Yunque National Forest
Hurricane Maria obliterated the 28,000 acre El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rain forest in the United States forest system. Photo by Tana Wood, International Institute of Tropical Forests.

During the hurricane everyone confronted different challenges—no one was exempt from this, including our wildlife.

Through our windows we could see birds fighting to get to the ledges or holding on to stripped down branches.  We didn’t have to wait long to see that our beautiful island had drastically changed, our lush green forests, mountains, and hills were now shadows of their former glory.  Birds and bees searched for flowers to no avail. The urban setting didn’t fare any better with debris, trees and power poles littering the streets and impeding transportation.

Every step taken around the community challenges your knowledge of your surroundings and forces us to come to grips with our new reality. Many people find themselves without a home or a livelihood. Tourism, one of the biggest economic engines, is now stalled. We will have to work extremely hard for months only to achieve a minimum level of normalcy, something our country hasn’t had to do in more than a century.

Our Biologist is designing a protocol for an immediate survey of our Important Birds Areas, these are all over our island and should give us a good insight on the state of our most endangered species. At the same time, we will use this opportunity to assist the most isolated and in need communities that happen to be close to our Important Birds Area.

Puerto Rico’s future will be defined by the action taken at this time by its people and the people willing to help. Our island needs to make better planning decisions by always taking into account our role in nature, which is our biggest asset and challenge.  – Nathaniel González, Puerto Rican Ornithological Society

U.S. Virgin Islands

Bat Conservation Site
The ruins of a Danish period ‘well tower’ provides a home for a colony of bats commonly called Cave Bats (Brachyphylla cavernarum) that play an important role in the pollination of sausage tree, calabash, silk cotton, and baobab trees on St. Croix.

Our beloved U.S. Virgin Islands were hit by 2 category 5 hurricanes in 12 days!!! The devastation is real.  Hurricane Maria’s wind plucked the leaves from every tree with surgical precision, reshaped our landscape with torrential rain and at the same time strengthened our resolve to fight for nature and its importance to our survival.

Both Hurricanes Irma and Maria uprooted and knocked trees across communities, and we have lost most of our fruit that many wildlife depend on. Our Bat Conservation site was hit hard. Bats are critically important in the aftermath of hurricanes: they eat mosquitoes and other bugs and help with reforestation. We’re also concerned about recovery for lizards, frogs, and hummingbirds.

But, we got love. We got strength. We got will. Together, we will unite and rebuild! We’ll assess the devastation and prepare to plan how to continue to conserve, educate, and advocate for our home and our people!

We recently opened our doors to our office in St. Croix and braced ourselves for the anticipated hurricane damage. We were relieved that it was mostly intact, but everything is wet, moldy, and the ceiling is falling down. We are a little overwhelmed, but will rise up and tackle this mess like all our fellow catastrophic storm survivors!

People ask, how can I help?

This is the most frequent and difficult question to answer. At this moment I’ll say keep Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean in your minds and let policy and decision makers know you care. After that give us some time to heal and learn, then visit us once again and enjoy the wonders we have to offer. – Sylvia Brady, St. Croix Environmental Association, partner to Virgin Islands Conservation Society