In the summer of 2023, I conducted preliminary fieldwork in Puerto Rico for my dissertation project, focusing on environmental justice movements and climate change issues. This entailed an examination of the rationale behind beach privatization, motivations driving anti-privatization movements, and concerns regarding coastal erosion and storm surges. My aim was to explore the historical and contemporary aspects of the environmentalist movement striving to preserve public beaches and its alignment with climate change discourse, specifically rising sea levels.
During my stay, I interviewed community leaders from the northwest region of the island and analyzed environmental articles from El Mundo and Claridad newspapers dating back to the 1970s. In the conversations with community leaders, they identified climate-related hazards and community needs, such as mitigation strategies for erosion, accessible public transportation, food security, etc. My archive review led me to conclude that the fight for preserving public and undeveloped beaches, which originated in the 1970s, was initially driven by nationalist and anti-colonial ideals. In the present, this cause is further supported by the evidence of coastal erosion (around 60% of the island’s coasts experiencing this phenomenon) and its life-threatening implications. Additionally, during my stay in Puerto Rico, I conducted field visits to coastal areas in the island's northwest region experiencing erosion.
The RCI grant allowed me to establish connections with key stakeholders and potential dissertation committee members. I’m thankful to the Rutgers Climate Institute for funding my Puerto Rico fieldwork, enabling critical insights into environmental fights and climate change struggles on the island.