Meet Soledad Gaztambide

Title: Conservation Policy & Government Relations Coordinator
Affiliation: Para la Naturaleza
Interview Date: May 29, 2018
Interview Language: English
Spatial coverage: Puerto Rico

Topics Covered in this Interview:
– Old San Juan, planner
– drought, water efficiency
– conservation, climate change, long-term planning

Interview Highlights

On the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in San Juan
When we went outside it looked like winter. … It was defoliated, basically. Nothing. And of course the impact of trees on the floor, trees sideways, it was quite impressive. It was also interesting to see how quick green came back, especially in the tropics. And there was so much rain afterwards. …

The toughest thing for me was the no communication, no radio, feeling completely disconnected. From not knowing if my immediate family was OK. You know, it took a couple of days to make sure that we knew that everybody was OK. That was rough. …

And the other thing that’s important to highlight is that it was Irma and then Maria. So, we had a hurricane that was really strong that didn’t hit us as hard, but … it had already caused quite a lot of defoliage and damage to trees. And then Maria came and just took it to another level.

On living through Hurricane Hugo in 1989 as a child
I remember that my father left the door open until there was a tree that was basically sort of flattened out. Of course he did it to let us see enough to know the force of it before he would shut down everything and close off. And that’s an image that stayed in my head. And then I remember waking up at night and putting my feet down, and there was water all over. … I guess there was an air‑conditioning [unit] in the wall. And, I guess we hadn’t covered it enough. It was a tiny crack. You couldn’t even see anything. The water was coming in there. And then the eye of the storm passed. And, you know, there’s a calm. And our neighbors in had a sliding door that was right in the direction of the wind, and it had completely broken in. It was an elderly couple, they had stayed in the kitchen because it had no windows. So, all the neighbors came out and started taking out like closet doors and … just grabbing pieces of wood from everywhere. And in the time of the eye of the storm, they managed to, to nail up enough so that they wouldn’t be completely exposed for the winds, when they came back.

On going through the 2015 drought and planning for future extremes
It felt a little extreme, right? It went from, “Oh, you know, this is a worry” to, “OK, we’re cutting off your water two times a week and you only have water Monday to−”. So, you’d think that the in between is “don’t wash your car or don’t do this”, but when they finally take measures they’re basically shutting off your water during a certain time. That’s what happened in this last drought. … Basically, people would be without water for a couple of days and then they’d have water a couple of days and then they put the water back on, like that. For months. …

I think there’s a lack of long‑term planning in Puerto Rico on many levels. … I feel there is still an outdated mode [of thinking] where conservation is put as an opposite to economic development. … That’s my immediate thinking, the need for just an integrated watershed management approach at all levels. Not just for drought, but also for flooding. Because those are the extremes. Too much water, too little water, how do you prepare for that.

On planning for climate change
We’re definitely starting to [consider climate change in management planning]. We are going to incorporate it in the future into all of our management plans, at least some aspects of it. It’s a little bit hard because a lot of the spatial data that we have is old. Right now, I’m doing research on how I could maybe start modeling ecosystem migration and see where should we focus our conservation efforts considering climate change and considering maybe creating connectivity and that kind of thing. But it’s something that we’re really starting to do now. Definitely there, definitely in the planning.

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