Community Engagement in Marine Debris Removal, Coastal Conservation, and Recycling in Loiza, Puerto Rico

Volunteers at a removal event in Puerto Rico. (Photo Credit: Scuba Dogs Society)

The NOAA Marine Debris Program partnered with Scuba Dogs Society to remove marine debris from the Loiza shoreline and to implement an education and recycling station program to reduce marine debris at its source and promote stewardship of local marine habitats.

Project Dates: August 2015 - May 2017

Who is involved?
Scuba Dogs Society, a non-profit organization in San Juan, Puerto Rico, led the efforts in removal, education and outreach, as well as the recycling station program, with support from a NOAA Marine Debris Program Community-based Marine Debris Removal grant.

What is the project and why is it important?
Over the course of 12 to 18 removal events, Scuba Dogs Society removed 10 metric tons of debris from 500 acres of habitat. These efforts focused on the coastal areas of Piñones, located in an ecologically important area in the San Juan Bay Estuary system and encompassing the Piñones State Forest Nature Reserve, the Piñones and La Torrecilla Lagoons, and approximately 5,493 acres of mangroves and 5,079 acres of herbaceous wetlands, all primarily impacted by land-based debris associated with local businesses and tourism. Efforts also focused on the outfall of the Rio Grande de Loiza, a site where there is not only an accumulation of inland debris from upriver, but which is also used as an illegal dump for mid- and large-scale debris such as home appliances, furniture, and car parts.

About six-hundred volunteers donated about 2,400 hours of time to this effort. They were trained to use Ocean Conservancy data collection methodologies and filled out data cards at cleanup events to quantify the marine debris they collected. The data was then entered into the Ocean Conservancy marine debris database, which was used to highlight the severity of the local marine debris problem during the education and outreach portion of the project. These education and outreach efforts were brought to local schools and communities through Scuba Dogs Society’s “Trash Fish” educational campaign. Through the campaign, more volunteers were trained to organize and run coastal cleanup events according to Ocean Conservancy protocols and to become “Scuba Dog Society Coastal Captains.” Students and community members were encouraged to become environmental stewards through this education campaign as well as through the installation of at least five recycling stations within the Loiza community.