Designated in 1919 as a forest reserve and in 1981 as a United Nations (UN) Biosphere Reserve, the Bosque Estatal de Guánica or, in English, the Guánica State Forest, has over 700 plant varieties including the Puerto Rican whip-poor-will, a.k.a. the Guabairo, a rare bird only found in Puerto Rico. It covers over 9,000 acres amidst a mostly arid terrain known locally as the Bosque Seco.
Some 250 trees and spiny bushes make up over 700 plant species, 48 of which are endangered. The bird species, meanwhile, number 150 and there are also numerous amphibians and reptiles like the native coquí or the species of small frogs endemic to Puerto Rico. Guánica State Forest is xerophytic, meaning it is a dry forest where the climate is even drier and rainfall is scarce.
Achieving and Maintaining Sustainable Development
Guánica State Forest, although not as large as most parks go, is the world’s biggest dry coastal tropical forest. While camping is not allowed in the forest, the Puerto Rican government allows access to it through 36 miles of trails. The reserve extends all the way down to Tamarindo Beach and Ballena Bay. If you’re in luck you might see Green and Leatherback Sea Turtles ashore when they lay eggs.
The reserve is used as a multi-purpose area to bring human activities and ecological integrity together supported by research, monitoring, and education to achieve and maintain sustainable development. Given that, Guánica State Forest is considered nature’s recreational center in this part of Puerto Rico for tourists as well as the more than 330,000 residents of eight municipalities near-by.
Because of the increasing number of visitors in coastal areas such as Guánica State Forest, the Puerto Rican government has strictly imposed rules and regulations regarding usage of marine and coastal ecosystems, especially after coral reefs underwent accelerated damage due to land erosion, related sedimentation, and anchorage.
Communities have become involved in conservation and sustainable development activities. On the other hand, stakeholders participate in the planning of various strategies and management of different projects – like the preservation of cactus, the beach grapes that are ubiquitous in the area — to benefit Guanica’s municipality in particular and the rest of the region in general.
No to Club Med
The majority of hikers take the trail known as Fuerte which leads to the historic Fort Caprón built by Spanish conquistadores as their lookout point during the Spanish conquest of Puerto Rico by Juan Ponce de León. They then follow different trails to get to stunning beaches like Cana Gorda, Playa Santa, Playa Jorabada, and Jaboncillo or head off to restaurants that serve Puerto Rican local dishes like mofongo and tostones.
Interestingly enough, resort chain Club Med tried to set up several luxury resorts on the beaches to take advantage of Guánica State Forest’s attraction to tourists. Local opposition, however, was strong because of apprehensions about the possible degradation of the environment and community there, including the possibility of local fishermen losing their livelihood to jet skiers, yachts, and surf boarders.