Maritza Barreto Orta-La erosión de las costas de Puerto Rico
by Suzanna Engman
Puerto Rico is shrinking. Not in population, but in size. The ocean is reclaiming parts of the coast, and erosion can cause loss of beaches and homes, lower prices for land, and disturbance of the whole ecological system. The question is, can this trend be stemmed?
University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus Professor of Geology Maritza Barreto Orta collects baseline data—the location, amount, rates, and causes of erosion—needed to address the question and create a plan of plan of action.
Barreto Orta’s beach profiles document how Puerto Rico’s coastlines have shrunk significantly since 1960, and her sea bottom assessments have identified the coastal sources of Puerto Rico’s losses, mostly from the northern part of the island. The professor received training to use remote sensing to assess sea bottom sediments as a NASA fellow at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The project she worked on to assess the sea bottom sediments in Puerto Rico made it possible to identify not only the sediments, but their sources, and a possible transportation path. “If we can identify the sources, we can identify plans to try to prevent erosion in the areas,” she says.
Barreto Orta explains that some erosion is to be expected and it is not necessarily a bad thing. “Erosion is a natural process. But when the coastal system starts to be affected by manmade activities, coupled with extreme natural disturbances, such as hurricanes, the coast loses more material than it is supposed to, and it creates a lot of problems in terms of loss of infrastructure.”
The professor has identified the causes of erosion—storms, wave action, swells and human activity—rates of erosion, and how the rates have changed over the years. For example, from aerial photos and other geomorphic physical data, she determined that from 1960 to 1970 the beaches lost about a meter a year, mostly because of storms. The erosion rate slowed down from 1970-1987, except in some areas where human activity around Combate, Arecibo and Piñones caused higher erosion rates. Now the tide has turned again and erosion rates have increased from 2000 until now.
One of the main culprits of erosion is sand extraction from the dune system. In the 1950s, for example, sand was extracted from Isla Verde and Loiza to construct Puerto Rico’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. Barreto Orta and other researchers have found that some parts of the Isla Verde coastline have never recovered from this sand loss, and the area suffers from floods caused by waves and swells. Sand is also extracted to construct buildings and often the infrastructure is built too near to the beach.
Barreto Orta’s most recent NSF funded work, an intercampus project with the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico as the Principal Investigator, focuses on the coastal geomorphology of Hacienda La Esperanza, the site of a sugar mill ruin in the municipality of Manatí that is now a nature reserve. The professor’s hypothesis, based on preliminary observations, is that extratropical swells (waves coming from low pressure systems located in the Atlantic area) are causing significantly more erosion in many beach sites than that caused by storms. Barreto Orta’s research is used by the DNER, US Geological Survey, NOAA, and local planning offices to develop coastline management plans. Her work has been funded by NASA, NSF, NOAA and the Office of the Dean of Graduate Studies and Research.
María Isabel Quiñonez -The Subtleties of Contemporary Violence
by Lara I. López de Jesús
translated by Zachary Romansky
In wake of the terror incited by the genocides of the late 20th century and onset of the 21st century, how can the right to life be defended? Is it possible to sustain an ethics based on a philosophy of “love thy neighbor” at a time when people seek happiness in consumer goods? How do sensationalized acts of violence correlate with the scattered everyday aggressiveness that translates into rejection of those who are different, hatred toward immigrants, and suspicion of strangers? And how are the diverse manifestations of violence felt in present-day Puerto Rico? These are some of the questions María Isabel Quiñones-Arocho, anthropologist at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, poses and aims to answer through her latest anthropological book-length study of contemporary violence.
Quiñones-Arocho links several ethics-related matters with the most recent reflections of renowned psychoanalysts, anthropologists, historians, sociologists, philosophers, and culture theorists that define the place of violence in contemporary culture.
“Anthropology is a discipline that studies how violence, a central topic of research, is expressed through ritual and how the individual—by way of ritual violence—becomes part of a culture. This is a distinct way to conceive of violence, since it does not condemn it. As a symptom of our times, violence nonetheless manifests itself in other ways and could perhaps be a response to the dismemberment of the space and times we live in,” she explains.
For Quiñones-Arocho, people are defined nowadays less by their birthplace and place of residence and more by their dealings with the global market. Violence could then be a response to the fear of “Others,” who, in a globalized world, live nearby and are constantly depicted in media images as terrorists, illegal immigrants, war refugees, or drug traffickers.
Quiñones-Arocho explores violence, not through extreme phenomena, such as terrorism and genocide, but from discourses and practices that feed and make possible those extreme manifestations, for instance: the cultural industry that feeds upon violent images to sell products; state policies that feed both the fear of crime and the struggle against the “common enemy”—almost always portrayed as a foreign figure, a queer, or a terrorist; or the persistence of interventionist humanist philosophy that conceives the human being fundamentally as a victim and, without setting out to do so, degrades human existence to mere biological life. “Violence is also a product of our own submission to an all-powerful technology—an empire of networks and programs—that promotes violence as a spectacle,” she adds.
In each chapter of her book, Quiñones-Arocho will give examples of the expression of this violence in contemporary Puerto Rico. She already has studied some areas of gender violence insinuated in various reggaetón song lyrics, and she has reflected also on the transformation of the urban environment as people flock to gated communities, which in turn, has created a fear of city life,” she explains.
In her research, the anthropologist attempts to demonstrate that while violence may very well arise from the despair of the poor and humiliated, it also stems from those who have been privileged by globalization. “People’s tendency to distance themselves from the fate of the community—whether it be through religion, diet, or aesthetics—to ensure their own private happiness is, in itself, a form of cultural violence. The goals of my project include upsetting the terms that frame the discussion on violence and promoting an ethics based not only on responsibility for our own lives, but also for those of others,” she concludes.