18 April 2024

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Reconnecting with Puerto Rico through Wildlife Conservation

Written by: Luis Diaz Hernandez

As I reflect on my recent journey with the Region Four Infrastructure Management Division of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, one phrase comes to mind: "A trip down memory lane." Born and raised in Puerto Rico, returning to my homeland as part of a project with the National Wildlife Refuge was a remarkable experience that allowed me to reconnect with both my roots and my passion for conservation. 

Accompanying one of the project managers, I had the privilege of exploring two of Puerto Rico's stunning refuges: the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge and the Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge. From the moment I set foot on the islands, I was greeted with a sense of familiarity and excitement. 

One of the highlights of my trip was meeting the dedicated staff members who work tirelessly to protect and preserve these natural havens. Being able to communicate fluently in Spanish added an extra layer of connection, allowing me to delve deeper into conversations about the importance of conservation efforts in our shared language. 

The flight to Culebra provided a breathtaking aerial view of the coastline, showcasing the pristine beauty of the island. It was a reminder of the diverse ecosystems that thrive within Puerto Rico's borders and the importance of safeguarding them for future generations to enjoy. 

As I immersed myself in various projects aimed at enhancing accessibility and conservation efforts, I couldn't help but feel a sense of pride and fulfillment. In Culebra, I witnessed firsthand the rehabilitation of access to mangrove areas, providing more opportunities for people to learn about and appreciate this vital ecosystem. In Cabo Rojo, the serene Laguna Cartagena served as a bustling hub for wildlife, from colorful Gallinules to graceful egrets. Observing shorebirds nesting in the Salt Flats was a window to the interconnectedness of all living beings within these delicate habitats. 

Despite the brief duration of my visit, it served as a reminder of the beauty and resilience of Puerto Rico's natural landscapes. It also provided an opportunity for introspection, allowing me to appreciate the journey that led me from my homeland to the mainland in search of new opportunities. Yet, through my current role in conservation, I can bridge the gap between my past and present, reaffirming my identity and commitment to my Puerto Rican heritage. 

In the end, no matter how far I may go, I will always carry with me the spirit of being "boricua." My trip down memory lane served as a testament to the power of reconnecting with one's roots and the profound impact that conservation efforts can have on preserving the places we call home.

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