ANTILLES, Puerto Rico. (April 21, 2022) - Just in time to celebrate Earth Day the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed Río Antón Ruíz, Humacao Natural Reserve restoration project that safeguards its ecosystem.
Construction of the project began in January and expected to be completed in April 2022. The main goal is to mitigate the intrusion of saltwater to Humacao Natural Reserve (HNR) to protect the Pterocarpus officinalis forest and lagoon which are freshwater systems. Intrusion of saltwater can lead to harmful impacts to the essential habitat of federally and locally listed protected species.
“The Rio Anton Ruiz Restoration project will further aid in the important purpose of protecting and preserving the remaining Pterocarpus forest, a unique and diverse ecosystem belonging to the Humacao Natural Reserve.” said Juliana Matiz, Project Manager, Programs and Project Management Division, Antilles Integrated Project Office, USACE, Jacksonville District.
Failure to protect the Pterocarpus forest could lead to critical impacts that will endanger an already fragile ecosystem. The project goal is to create a balance and safeguard the future of the HNR.
“The protection of the Pterocarpus forest by the Rio Anton Ruiz Restoration project is exciting because these forests, especially of this size, are becoming very rare.” said Jim Suggs, Jacksonville District Small Projects Program Manager (CAP & RI) Programs and Project Management Division Water Resources Branch, Water Resources Section USACE, Jacksonville District.
The HNR project consists of two sheetpile notched concrete capped weirs installed at the location of temporary Saltwater Intrusion Measures (SWIM) structures, thus limiting the saltwater intrusion into both the Pterocarpus forest and the lagoon systems. Each weir will have a 16 x 22 inch concrete cap and a 3 x 15 foot notch, allowing for continued vessel and fauna transit. The advantage of the design is that it can be adapted for sea level rise by constructing additional height uniformly across the entire length of the respective weir.
“We are really excited to implement construction measures to help our environment and protect our natural resources and endangered species” said Wilmel Varela, Resident Engineer, North Puerto Rico Resident Office, Antilles Area Office, Construction Division, USACE, Jacksonville District.
The Río Antón Ruíz, HNR system is critical to the area since it has unique features that support several native protected species. United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service plant database listed Pterocarpus officinalis as a plant that is not located anywhere in the United States except for Puerto Rico (USDA 2016). The Puerto Rican boa (Epicrates inornatus), a federally listed species, makes its home in the HNR and uses the trees for hunting and resting. Another federally listed species, the Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus), has been sighted in the HNR system. Additionally, the forest supports the only known nesting area in Puerto Rico for the locally endangered West Indian whistling duck (Dendrocygna arborea). Other locally endangered species include the white-cheeked pintail (Anas bahamensis), Caribbean coot (Fulica caribaea), ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis), and the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrins), all these species appear to be nesting and feeding in the HNR.
Currently the HNR is actively utilized as an education resource for teaching, research and for recreation activities.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is constantly working with its local and federal partners in finding solutions to preserve of our environment, our Job is to make everyday Earth Day.
(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District on the district’s website at www.saj.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/JacksonvilleDistrict and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JaxStrong.