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Research Spotlight: Dr. Carlos E. Ramos Scharrón

Cumulative Effects of Land Use on Soil Erosion and Marine Habitats- A Case Study from Western Puerto Rico

Posted: July 1, 2013
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Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries the land use history of Puerto Rico was characterized by rapid changes. Extensive use of the land was initially sparked by market-driven opportunities for the widespread production of sugar and coffee during the 19th and early 20th centuries and was later driven by a national-level economic plan in the 1950s which promoted industrialization at the expense of agricultural production. Our study area comprises the Río Grande de Añasco, the fifth largest watershed on the island draining westward into Bahía de Mayaguez and home to about 87,500 residents. Although the land use history of the research area follows the general island-wide trends, here agriculture still remains an important economic activity. For example, census data being compiled by undergraduate research assistant Alexa Chally (UT-Austin) shows that about 55-60% of the coffee being harvested in Puerto Rico is grown either within or near the confines of this watershed.

A present-day land cover map generated by Dr. Mario Cardozo (UT-Austin) is being used in combination with other data sources to quantify the effects of urbanization, agriculture, cattle grazing and other activities on soil erosion and sediment yields based on the application of the SWAT hydrologic model. In collaboration with Prof. Fernando Gilbes (GERS Lab- University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez) and Damaris Torres-Pulliza (Sinoptica Solutions), this project is also documenting the behavior of Río Grande de Añasco’s sediment plumes as they enter the Bahía de Mayaguez in western Puerto Rico through remote sensing analyses. Non-point sources of pollution such as terrestrial sediments represent some of the major stressors affecting the coral reef systems of Puerto Rico and the entire Caribbean Region. The results of this study will identify the particular reef systems in the Bahía de Mayaguez affected by the Río Grande de Añasco and will help guide erosion mitigation strategies within the watershed that are of interest to the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, NOAA’s Coral Reef Restoration Program, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, among other agencies and stakeholders.

Funds for this study are being provided by the University of Puerto Rico’s Sea Grant Research Program and are being handled by the Island Resources Foundation.  Prof. Carlos Ramos-Scharrón (Geography and the Environment & LLILAS) is the project’s Principal Investigator. 

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