In the satirical novel published in 1955, The Mouse That Roared, the tiny (fictional) European country, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, makes headlines when it declares war on the United States.
It seems to me that Puerto Rico is another “mouse that roared” in its recent and ongoing efforts to clean up its extensive urban estuaries.
The task is enormous and the resources to attack the problem are limited, but the resolve among a group of dedicated residents to return these waters to a once-pristine condition is absolute.
Most recently, a group of concerned volunteers and others came together on the lagoons around San Juan, on a Saturday morning in October, for the Mega Limpieza II — i.e. the second massive cleanup effort. I joined the first, historic cleanup event in the spring of this year, which in fact was the direct result of a Sport Fishing editorial that warned of the risks of losing these beautiful urban lagoons to trash and pollution.
But the real credit goes to men like Israel Umpierre and José Aponté for organizing and expanding the effort to clean up Puerto Rico’s lagoons. And, perhaps no surprise, both are enthusiastic anglers.
Both men realize that, so far, the tarpon fishery here remains one of the best in the world.
Both men understand how much the country has to lose if these estuaries are allowed to deteriorate further, and how much the country has to gain — in pride, in economic terms, in respect — if they are restored and maintained.
The cleanup attracted dozens of volunteers who collected more than 12,600 pounds of trash (including tires, TV sets, refrigerators and sofas). The effort has garnered the attention of important PR officials such as Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla, whose executive order will create a committee to oversee dredging the long Martin Pena Channel. That channel, a critical pathway to the ocean that once flushed and cleaned the lagoons, required a boat to cross. Today, it is so choked with debris that one can walk across it.
The cleanup also attracted the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (which has contributed generously); its executive director, Tony Fins, and Guy Harvey himself, rolled up their sleeves and joined in the effort.
And the effort certainly attracted the press. Associated Press coverage appeared in many U.S. major media outlets including the New York Times. That article does a fine job of pointing out both the monumental challenges to truly restoring these lovely urban wetlands and renewed hope that this might be accomplished, thanks to the dedication and relentless grass-roots efforts of many Puerto Ricans.