As someone who was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, I always wondered how life differed on the beautiful Caribbean islands compared to a busy, crowded city like New York. It is a dream of mine to someday visit the beautiful island that my family originates from as I always heard stories about it and would love to visit family members that reside over there. During these troubling times, I find myself thinking more and more about what’s going on in Puerto Rico, especially as climate change progressively worsens, and the island repeatedly gets impacted by hurricanes and other natural disasters. As I conducted some research, some articles have popped up about the numerous ways climate change is affecting Puerto Rico.
Unfortunately, there are numerous ways that climate change is affecting Puerto Rico. According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the sea level “has risen by about four inches relative to Puerto Rico’s shoreline. The sea level is expected to rise anywhere between one to three feet within the next century as the oceans and atmospheres continue to warm. As a result, the rising sea level will submerge marshes, groves and dry land, as well as erode beaches, and exacerbate coastal flooding. Alongside that, storms are becoming more intense as the climate continues to warm. The EPA states that “Although warming oceans provide these storms with more potential energy, scientists are not sure whether the recent intensification reflects a long-term trend. Nevertheless, hurricane wind speeds and rainfall rates are likely to increase as the climate continues to warm.” As storms intensify, this puts cities, roads, and ports at risk of being vulnerable to impacts of wind and water. Greater wind speeds could result in damages that make insurance too expensive or difficult to obtain. Sea levels rising also put coastal homes and infrastructure more likely to flood as storm surges become higher. As a result, people living along the coast could expect a likely increase in flood insurance premiums as the sea levels continue to rise.
Another way that climate change has affected Puerto Rico is that the warmer waters have resulted in coral bleaching. Coral bleaching occurs when algae leaves the coral due to the warming waters, which leave the coral more susceptible and exposed to diseases, which in turn raises the risk of dying. According to Margaret Canty at Aksik.com, “Hurricanes Irma and Maria were particularly damaging to corals in Puerto Rico, leading many of them to be damaged.” This is important because the corals in Puerto Rico are a huge tourists attraction and make up a large chunk of the income for the island, bringing in about $1.1 million to the economy . Damaging unique ecosystems causes damage to the people of Puerto Rico because it’s the driving force of the economy and boosts tourism and support for local businesses. A third way climate change affects the island is through drought. Despite all the heavy rainfall the island receives during storms, the cumulative rainfall each year is becoming less and less due to anthropogenic climate change. Canty explains that “Such drought conditions have led to a decline in biodiversity on the island (Santiago & Gallon, 2018). The drought conditions in Puerto Rico have caused many citizens to have trouble finding clean water during times of major storms. Low rainfall is something climate scientists have predicted will happen more frequently with climate change, and the changing temperatures are affecting Puerto Rico’s overall precipitation. The droughts in Puerto Rico will have a direct impact on the people because of the lack of clean drinking water is a major health risk.” This is crucial because it affects the people during recovery periods after a natural disaster occurs. A big concern here is that as climate change progresses and ultimately worsens through time, the people of Puerto Rico will be extremely limited in resources that they will need to survive. This is especially true as there seems to be less concern and sympathy from the federal government for the island compared to the United States in 2017 as they responded faster and spent more money in restoration when Hurricane Irma hit Florida, and Hurricane Harvey hit Texas.
In conclusion, climate change seems to affect Puerto Rico more severely than New York. It doesn’t help that Puerto Rico is in an area where hurricanes likely form and form a path through. Puerto Rico is affected by climate change because increasing storm intensity, coral bleaching which affects the economy, drought, sea level rise, and more. The worse climate change gets, the more it affects the world.
“What Climate Change Means For Puerto Rico.” Environmental Protection Agency, Aug. 2016, https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/documents/climate-change-pr.pdf.
Canty, Margaret Marie. “Climate Change in Puerto Rico.” Aksik, 2020, www.aksik.org/node/3597