This lesson is an examination of some big themes on a special landscape. The landscape will be the Island of Vieques, which is part of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. This landscape will enable us to study: island biogeography, Caribbean culture and ecology, land use conflicts surrounding military bases, environmental contamination from military activities, national wildlife refuges, and sustainable tourism.
Island biogeography is a particular study of conservation biology that looks at the ecology of islands. The peculiar importance of islands was discussed as early as Charles Darwin’s trip to the Galapagos in the 1830s as chronicled in his book, The Voyage of the Beagle. It gave a title to seminal textbook, Island Biogeography, by Robert MacArthur and E. O. Wilson. At the core of island biogeography is an explanation of species colonization, extirpation, evolution, and richness. Thinking back to our early lessons looking at landscape ecology, it is important to note that principles from island biogeography can be applied to landscape ecology of large land masses.
The Isla de Vieques is an interesting case study for our interests in landscapes that are coupled natural and human systems. There are islands which are nearly purely conservation hotspots, like Isla de Mona and others that are nearly all developed. Vieques, through a twist of history, is about one-half national wildlife refuge and one-half private. It is rapidly developing a tourist industry. Now of course we have the 2017 Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Back-to-back storms that battered Vieques and Puerto Rico. This takes a landscape we are intensely interested in already and makes it a teachable moment.
So our specific objectives are to study the landscape system by understanding the following key concepts.
Caribbean ecology and conservation
Impacts of BRAC (Base Realignment Commission)
Conservation on former military bases
Bombing as a keystone process
Isla de Vieques landscape system
Isla de Vieques. Vieques is the larger of the inhabited islands in the group known as the Spanish Virgin Islands, the other being Culebra. It lies to the east of Puerto Rico of which it is a part. In fact a nickname for Vieques is Isla Nena. Further to the east lie the United States Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix). The population stands at around 10,000 and was rapidly growing until the storms. Half of the island is a U.S. National Wildlife Refuge.
Case study warning: this is a part of the United States that Google Streetview has not reached! (Tigre, Argentina, no problem — but Vieques, PR, no chance.)
…If you watch Caribbean Life on HGTV, folks are often house hunting on Vieques. Here is one: http://www.hgtv.com/shows/caribbean-life/episodes/a-couple-moves-from-cold-new-england-to-the-island-tropics-of-vieques-puerto-rico
For this case study, I will provide some background resources so you can be efficient with the big picture. Start by reading the Arbona article. It discusses a pivotal moment in the island’s history and dispels some claims about the island’s past.
see materials provided
Some Websites of Interest:
Vieques Sustainability Task Force
http://www.cbuilding.org/vstf (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.
Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. There isn’t a lot of information on this site but there is a tourist map.
Vieques Tourism Office
Global Sustainable Tourism Council
Island Biography. This site is about a project on spiders in the Caribbean.
Old but Interesting News:
1. Isla de Vieques: The future landscape
Vieques as an island landscape has a complex history. It became more complex with the arrival this summer of two devastating hurricanes. This is a teachable moment — what happened to Vieques? What condition is it in now? What does Vieques teach us about island resilience? I mean this in both the landscape ecology and human ecology of the place. This is intentionally an open ended question. I would like you to study all the resources in this case study and think about the future of the landscape. Feel free to touch upon one aspect of the landscape (say contamination or biodiversity for example) or look at the holistic system.
2. Isla de Vieques: Questions to Facilitate Dialogue
Write a Discussion question that will facilitate a dialogue about predictions and prescriptions for Vieques. Think about what questions would help the planning and management of the island. The creativity here is going into the question-writing itself.