The archipelago of Puerto Rico is home to over 800 miles of beaches and 1,200 distinct beaches, among which there are some that are world renown, such as Flamenco beach and Playa Sucia. Today, one of them is being threatened by investors trying to erect a $39 million hotel and beachfront property: Playuela, in the northwestern coast of Aguadilla.
The Christopher Columbus Landing Resort is a $39 million mega hotel complex that will be built in 121 acres in the Playuela Sector of Barrio Borinquen in Aguadilla. The mega project is set to contain 300 hotel rooms, a 17,000 square-foot casino, a 160 condo-hotel, 240 apartments, and 100 villas near the Aguadilla International Airport. This project will affect nearly 4,000 feet of beaches that include Punta Borinquen, Wishing Well, Wilderness, El Mix, and Pressure Point—all of them hotspots for surfers worldwide.
The establishment of the Christopher Columbus Landing Resort would dramatically alter the ecological balance and appreciation promoted by the surfing community. “This [project] will demoralize its surroundings and the community of Playuela not only spiritually, but even psychologically... it will lose its beauty and splendor just to be replaced by a concrete structure for the rich,” expressed a surfing neighbor, who didn't want his name disclosed, of the Playuela community.
True value of La Playuela
Surfing in Puerto Rico is not only a sport, but a lifestyle which, in turn, leads to economic growth. Surfonomics, a science born in Rincón, the legendary surf town of Puerto Rico, estimates a value to surf waves. In a study conducted by Duke University Economist, Chad Nelsen, they found that surfing was having a huge impact in the economy of the town generating a “conservative” estimate of $51.9 million per year. Aguadilla could not only benefit from the surfing community through the sustainable development of the location, but also from the historical and anthropological value of the site.
The community of La Playuela also contains two sites of archeological importance identified by the State Department of Puerto Rico and the Culture Institute of Puerto Rico. In 1979, the archaeologist Luis Ortiz Sepulveda described a “small cave on a rocky area with rock art,” and he suggested a more profound investigation. To date, it is the only known example of petroglyphs in the town of Aguadilla. The second one is an area next to the petroglyphs containing small ceramic pieces and coral bits in the last recorded inventory done of the area.
In a recent survey conducted by Asociación Estudiantil de Ciencias Marinas (AECIMA) at UPRM, they found that in the area of Peña Blanca and El Mix, there is a rich marine environment that houses three endangered coral species including the Elkhorn coral and multiple reef building corals. Along with the corals some animal species such as the nurse shark, hawksbill turtle, rays, and sea urchins. According to neighbors in the area, another endangered species, manatees, have been sighted in the area.
Camping as a resistance
In the entrance of the Christopher Columbus Landing Resort construction site, there is a concentration of people that includes both neighbors and people from around the island fighting to stop the construction of the hotel. “The main goal of the camp is education, to make the people aware of the struggle that has been happening here since the 1990s” said camper Gerardo Lebrón, creator of Olita clothing line and supporter of the Playuela camp.
“The protection of this area is not only of local importance but of national importance,” commented Armani Cabán, a UPRM student working with the local residents. The camp is functioning around the clock and with the help of neighbors, it constantly received supplies and water, but since one of the neighbors was attacked, local help stopped its support. Now the camp is sustained by public donations."
The people of Puerto Rico will stop at nothing for Playuela to be safe. This is our nature at risk when it should be a safe haven, especially to all the species inhabiting it. The resort will only destroy one of the most beautiful natural treasures in Puerto Rico. Our beaches are not for sale and surely not to be messed around with—destroyed. Let's all come together, to make our voices heard, and save our nature. ¡Vellón, peseta, Playuela se respeta!
*Pictures taken from the Movimiento Playuela Facebook page.