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Using Art to Keep Oil off Reefs A Reef Resilience Network Success Story

Isla Verde Marine Reserve, Puerto Rico

Isla Verde is a popular tourist destination in Puerto Rico, complete with idyllic white sand beaches and crystal blue water. Located next to Puerto Rico’s largest and most populated city, San Juan, the marine waters and shallow coral reefs off the coast of Isla Verde feel the pressure of urban development and tourism. One pressure includes sanitary overflows, where wastewater, storm water, and other sewage material spills over into the streets and drains into nearby waterways and coastal waters due to outdated infrastructure and blocked pipes. As sanitary overflows began occurring more frequently in San Juan's coastal communities, water quality started to decline, directly impacting the health and productivity of coral reefs in the Isla Verde Marine Reserve.

Meet the Manager

Paco Lopéz, Arrecifes Pro Ciudad

Paco Lopéz is an active board member of Arrecifes Pro Ciudad, a community-based organization, located in Isla Verde, Puerto Rico, that is dedicated to marine life conservation through a collaborative agreement with the Department of Natural Resources. Arrecifes Pro Ciudad prioritized their conservation efforts towards improving water quality and planned to address this issue by reducing the amount of cooking oil disposed of through sewage drains. When cooking oil is washed down kitchen drains, it slowly builds up overtime and blocks sewage pipes from carrying wastewater to treatment plants, resulting in spills and leakage in the streets and on the beach.

OUR CULINARY CULTURE INVOLVES LOTS OF FRYING. - PACO LOPEZ

Before becoming a board member of Arrecifes Pro Ciudad and marine conservationist, Paco's main area of focus was in graphic design. Paco began using his graphic design skills to educate residents about the harmful impacts cooking oil has on coral reefs by creating fun and informative visuals. As he got more involved in the Isla Verde Marine Reserve's educational and outreach programs, he found it important to increase his knowledge in coral reef management and conservation to strengthen the message behind his art.

Reef Resilience Network Support

In 2015, Paco participated in a 15-week online course and a 5-day in person training hosted by the Reef Resilience Network. These trainings covered topics such as local and global stressors affecting coral reefs, guidance for identifying coral reef resilience, and design principles for resilient marine protected area (MPA) networks. Paco applied the concepts and tools from the course and in-person training to his work on developing a cooking oil recycling program for condominiums in Isla Verde to reduce sanitary drain blockage. By the end of the training, Paco worked with experts and Reef Resilience trainers to complete a plan for implementing the cooking oil recycling program in Isla Verde.

Reef Resilience Training in Puerto Rico 2015

The Reef Resilience Network provided additional support to Paco by funding the creation of a graphic manual, which is used to educate residents on the damage uncollected cooking oil causes to coral reef ecosystems, coastal communities and the local tourism industry. The 12-page educational manual tells the story of how efforts on land play an important role in coral reef health and he hopes that it will inspire residents to participate in the cooking oil recycling program. The manual also informs residents on how the program works and includes a visual step by step on how to properly collect and dispose of cooking oil after it has been used. The cooking oil recycling program installs large collection containers for every floor of the condominium where residents can dispose of used cooking oil. Once the collection containers are filled with used cooking oil, they are collected by the company Crease the Grease at no cost to the residents. After the used cooking oil is collected, it is then sold and used as an ingredient in animal feed.

THE SUPPORT FROM THE REEF RESILIENCE TRAINING WAS SO IMPORTANT TO ME AND IS WHAT REALLY SPARKED THE COOKING OIL RECYCLING PROJECT. - PACO LOPéZ
Images from graphic manual Paco Lopéz created with seed funding

Successes and Next Steps

Paco attended eight community meetings at different condominiums, where he presented his graphic manual to the residents and described how they can take action in their homes to improve water quality with no associated costs. He identified these condominiums as top candidates for the cooking oil recycling program because they are located next to the Isla Verde Marine Reserve. In addition, oil recycling was still a new concept to residents and most used cooking oil was disposed of down the drain. After each meeting, all eight condominium complexes were eager to adopt the program. To estimate how much cooking oil was being diverted from drains after the program was implemented, Paco measured the amount of used cooking oil collected from one condominium. He found that over two and a half months, one condominium produced 30 gallons of cooking oil!

From left to right: Paco Lopéz presenting to Isla Verde condominium residents. Visual from graphic manual of how to recycle used cooking oil.

The community meetings and educational materials helped residents of Isla Verde to see the importance and value of collecting used cooking oil. To ensure that sanitary overflows are addressed as soon as they occur, citizens now report overflow incidents to Arrecifes Pro Ciudad and local enforcement. In addition, Paco intends to further promote the cooking oil recycling program through newspapers and radio stations. To determine the long-term impact of the cooking oil recycling program, the Environment Protection Agency has offered support to Arrecifes Pro Ciudad by providing monitoring equipment to collect water quality data in the Isla Verde Marine Reserve. The monitoring project is in the first year of data collection and will take place for over the next eight years. More recently, the cooking oil recycling program has expanded throughout Isla Verde and been implemented in old San Juan. In addition, Paco is working with the municipalities of San Juan and Carolina and expects the program to be adopted throughout both regions in the near future.

PACO’S PROJECT HAS BEEN EXTREMELY SUCCESSFUL AND WITH A SMALL AMOUNT OF FUNDING HE WAS ABLE TO START A PROJECT THAT HAS A HUGE IMPACT ON THE NEARBY CORAL REEF AND THAT IS NOW BEING CONSIDER FOR OTHER AREAS OF PUERTO RICO. - AURORA JUSTINIANO, THE NATURE CONSERVANCY PUERTO RICO

Credits:

Photo Credit: Paco Lopéz. 

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