Make A Difference
The Christian Science Monitor Weekly|April 16, 2018

Hurricane Maria Upended Puerto Rico – And Its Fishing Industry. Raimundo Espinoza Chirinos Is Helping In An Innovative Way.

Whitney Eulich

NAGUABO, PUERTO RICO Raimundo Espinoza Chirinos leans over the side of a fishing boat and points at a dark blur rising up slowly beneath the choppy water. “Here he comes. He’s got something,” Mr. Espinoza says, as fisherman Julio Ortiz breaks the surface of the water. Mr. Ortiz, wearing a short-sleeved wet suit and small circular mask, treads water as he heaves up a contraption made of red plastic milk crates fastened together with rope.

It’s a fish trap – an illegal one given that it’s made of plastic – that was lost when hurricane Maria tore across Puerto Rico last year. The estimated hundreds of traps that were swept out to sea in September are not only capturing and killing lobster and fish but also potentially seeping chemicals into water and the seafood people eat.

“There are no markings on the surface [for these lost traps], which means only someone under the water every day is likely to find them,” says Espinoza, founder of Conservación ConCiencia, a nonprofit supported by The Ocean Foundation that works on sustainable fisheries and climate resilience here.

When hurricane Maria crashed into Puerto Rico the morning of Sept. 20, 2017, the entire population suffered. Six months later, tens of thousands of families are still without electricity, and evidence of the homes and livelihoods swept away by the rain and ferocious winds litters communities – and the ocean floor.

Espinoza launched Conservación ConCiencia in 2016, first leading a trip to Cuba for Puerto Rican fishermen to focus on conservation and fishing practices, and later starting Puerto Rico’s first shark research and conservation program. But in the aftermath of the storm, he realized he needed to change gears.

“Everyone kept asking, ‘How’s the ocean? What’s the damage?’ ” Espinoza recalls. “And it became clear that no one knew. Everything was in crisis [on the island], and no one was looking” at the fisheries.

He received funding from a Puerto Rican organization to help replace lost fishing gear, although only items that are considered sustainable and safe for local fisheries. He also teamed up with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to launch an emergency relief project. That’s what he is doing out on the water today with Ortiz, the fisherman.

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