Karst zone at Encantado River, Manatí

Karst zone at Encantado River, Manatí

Because of the great biodiversity and the hydro-geological importance of the karst region in northern Puerto Rico, Law 292 of August 21, 1999, also known as the Karst Physiographic Protection and Conservation law, was approved. The law’s public policy statement summarizes the importance of the northern karst region of Puerto Rico as “one of our most precious non-renewable natural resources, due to its geomorphology and the particular ecosystems that exist within it.”

The area is known for having limestone haystack hills called “mogotes,” towers, dolines, sinkholes, gorges, caves, aquiferous caverns, underground rivers and springs that have high geological, hydrological, ecological, historic, recreational and scenic value. The karst geography plays vital roles in the natural and social survival of the island. The karst region is home to a large number of species of flora and fauna. Enormous supplies of water are stored below the surface. Its land is excellent for agriculture. The karst region also has great recreational and tourism potential.

Puerto Rico also passed Law Number 111, known as the Puerto Rico Protection and Conservation of Caves, Caverns and Sinkholes Act of July 12, 1958. It also establishes the protection and conservation of these natural resources as a public policy, due to their archaeological, historical and scientific value.

Both laws set a series of prohibitions and fines, as well as incentives for controlling activities or development in the karst region that could affect its ecological integrity. The problem is that very little has been done to implement these laws and the required regulations have not been developed to comply with the laws. Both are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources.

The proposal to create a 39,370-hectare ecological mega-preserve in the area is a response to recognition of the value of the northern karst “province.” The bill, Law #4668 in the United States House of Representatives, called the Puerto Rico Water and Land Conservation Act of 2000, is currently under consideration by the Congress. The proposal was endorsed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and the Puerto Rican environmental organization Citizens of the Karst.

Pollution and elimination of permeable areas in the karst region due to urban development threaten huge swaths of the underground water system. The karst land can lose its resistance to pressure and the construction of highways and any other building has the potential to greatly affect the region. Environmental laws and regulations, and their enforcement, are vital for conserving the karst region.

Author: Prof. María Calixta Ortiz
Published: September 05, 2014.

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