Environmental Research at Luquillo Experimental Forest

Consisting of more than 140 islands, islets, cays and atolls in the Caribbean Sea, the archipelago of Puerto Rico is a popular holiday destination offering a host of fascinating cultural, historical and natural attractions to visit. Among the natural attractions are numerous forest reserves, conservation areas and wildlife refuges offering eco-tourism opportunities. Puerto Rico is also home to the Luquillo Experimental Forest – one of the 26 sites run by the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network which conducts vital research on a variety of different ecosystems across the United States and Antarctica, with a view to understanding how climate change and land use affect the environment.

Located in the Sierra de Luquillo Mountains, southeast of San Juan, the Luquillo Experimental Forest includes both terrestrial and aquatic studies in four distinct zones – subtropical wet forest, subtropical rain forest, lower montane rain forest and lower montane wet forest. The area has been a center for forestry research for almost a century, while at the same time being a recreation site to more than half a million people every year. Long-term research in the forest has revealed that increases in global temperatures has a negative impact on the ability of tropical forests to remove CO2 from the air, and may even result in the release of stored CO2 back into the atmosphere, suggesting that humans cannot rely on tropical forests to deal with excess CO2 created by such activities as burning fossil fuels, and highlighting the responsibility we all have to reduce our personal carbon footprint.

Birding enthusiasts will particularly enjoy the Aguirre Forest Reserve on the island’s south coast. Consisting primarily of mangroves the reserve features a boardwalk allowing visitors access to places that would otherwise remain unexplored. It is also possible to hire a kayak and take a trip along the canal, enjoying the natural surroundings at leisure.

The Cabo Rojo Wildlife Refuge incorporates the area’s salt-laden estuaries, which are unique in the Caribbean region. The series of estuaries, each of which has a different level of salinity, flows into the sea. This area is a vital habitat for migratory shorebirds, while the coastline, sea-grass beds and offshore coral reefs are considered to be important aquatic sites. Among the 118 bird species recorded in the area are the snowy plover, peregrine falcon, brown pelican, yellow-shouldered blackbird and Wilson’s plover. Sea turtles are also known to lay their eggs on the beaches of Cabo Rojo.

These are just a few of Puerto Rico’s many nature reserves and protected areas you can enjoy when visiting this spectacular archipelago.