A new technical report and updated map of the protected areas of Puerto Rico

Río Piedras, Puerto Rico, September 30, 2019 - The Protected Areas Conservation Action Team (PACAT) published a technical report with the USDA Forest Service International Institute of Tropical Forestry: A Comprehensive Inventory of Protected Areas and other Land Conservation Mechanisms in Puerto Rico and announce the third update of the map of Protected Natural Protected Areas (NPAs) of Puerto Rico. The report includes information on the methodology used to establish a shared definition of protected areas, an updated map and database of protected areas, and additional information about conservation mechanisms. Currently 340,461 acres of land (1,378 km2) are protected, representing approximately 16% of the island, and an increase of 0.2% from the previous inventory.

Map showing the terrestrial and marine protected areas of Puerto Rico in 2018.

Image CaptionMap of protected areas produced by the interagency group. The marine areas are 27% of the 9 nautical mile limit surrounding Puerto Rico. Terrestrial protected areas are 16% of all land in Puerto Rico, including Vieques and Culebra. This 16% includes public and private forests and reserves (9%), the Karst Conservation Zone (7%), and conservation easements (<1).

"This represents two valuable achievements," said William Gould Director of the USDA Caribbean Climate Hub and researcher at the International Institute of Tropical Forestry. “The report describes an integrated system for the conservation of nature in Puerto Rico. The concept includes protected natural areas, laws and regulations governing species and habitats, and land use policies, incentive programs, and efforts of community groups and individuals as valuable mechanisms for conservation. It also represents a long-term commitment to technical collaboration in data management among the principal agencies that designate, manage, and support protected natural areas in Puerto Rico.”

The shared database of protected areas serves as a baseline to compare future plans and designations that arise over the course of time.

“For the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER), this report is very important as we participated in raising the database to update and development in general of the inventory of natural protected areas. Now, entities can seek collaborative management strategies for the holistic conservation of all protected natural areas on the Island,” said Tania Vázquez Rivera, secretary of the DNER.

“Para la Naturaleza has proposed the conservation 33% of Puerto Rico by the year 2033. We are halfway there. The challenge we face now is twofold. We must double the amount of protected land without losing an acre that now enjoys some degree of protection,” commented Fernando Lloveras San Miguel, President of Para la Naturaleza.

This new version of the map of protected areas includes improvements and corrections to the data and the integration of the Finca Colón to the official boundaries of the El Yunque National Forest. This is a result of its official transfer from Para la Naturaleza to the USDA Forest Service. The map also contains expansions to the Hacienda La Esperanza Nature Reserve (Manatí) and the protected natural areas of Sierra La Pandura (Yabucoa / Maunabo), Las Lunas (Caguas), and El Conuco (Cabo Rojo).

The organization Para La Naturaleza has established the Picaflor conservation easement (Ponce) and new protected natural areas thanks to land donations, including Río Jacaboa (Patillas), Quebrada Janer (San Lorenzo), Hacienda Margarita (Lares) and Cerro Felíz (Culebra). Additionally, the Río Hondo Community Forest, whose acquisition was supported by a grant from the International Institute of Tropical Forestry State and Private Forestry Program, has been included. It is a forest co-managed by the Municipality of Mayagüez and the Agro Eco Tourist Project of Barrio Río Hondo. Also, two areas of the San Juan Ecological Corridor added include the Bosque Los Capuchinos and the Arboretum de Cupey.

Finally, it documents the transfer of the Rio Piedras Old Aqueduct natural protected area from the Authority Water and Sewer Authority to Para la Naturaleza. Para la Naturaleza is working on the recovery and restoration of this important historic district which is also part of the San Juan Ecological Corridor.

These new protected areas each have a wide range of ecological, historical and cultural values. As an example, the Río Hondo Community Forest provides green spaces, educational activities, and a community garden. Areas for research and monitoring have been included as well through a collaboration with the University of Puerto Rico. Likewise, the Río Jacaboa natural protected area provides habitat for vulnerable amphibians and reptiles threatened or in danger of extinction, including the guajón, melodious, and mahogany coquis, and for the Puerto Rican boa.

Hacienda Margarita is and will continue to be used for the cultivation of coffee under shade and contains structures of high historical and cultural value. Additionally, Cerro Feliz has great potential for ecotourism. Some of these areas are considered Key Areas for Biodiversity according to Bird Life International, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Download the Technical Report and Database

Suggested citation: Castro-Prieto, Jessica; Gould, William A.; Ortiz-Maldonado, Coralys; Soto-Bayó, Sandra; Llerandi-Román, Ivan, Gaztambide-Arandes, Soledad; Quiñones, Maya; Cañón, Marcela; Jacobs, Kasey R. 2019. A Comprehensive Inventory of Protected Areas and other Land Conservation Mechanisms in Puerto Rico. Gen. Tech. Report IITF-GTR-50. San Juan, PR: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, International Institute of Tropical Forestry.161 p.

Press Contacts

USDA Forest Service International Institute of Tropical Forestry

William Gould, Director, USDA Caribbean Climate Hub

Phone: 787-764-7830, 787-402-9955



Jessica Castro-Prieto

Phone: 787-764-7156


Para la Naturaleza

Yazmín Solla Torres

Phone: 787-942-1694

Depto. de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales

Sra. Ana María Ramos, Directora de Prensa


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Miguel A. García-Bermúdez,Fish and Wildlife Administrator

Phone: 787-396-5943

Fundación Alma de Bahía

Miguel A. García-Bermúdez,Fish and Wildlife Administrator


Additional Information:

About the Protected Areas Conservation Action Team (PACAT)
The PACAT is a joint effort among entities responsible for managing and conserving protected areas in Puerto Rico. They include the USDA Forest Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Para la Naturaleza, the Alma de Bahía Foundation, the Puerto Rico Planning Board and the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources.

In 2015 the partners created a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate in the development, description, documentation, and dissemination of information related to protected natural areas and other conservation mechanisms. The PACAT developed a shared definition of Natural Protected Areas following parameters established in several countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, the United States, and by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The methodology established by the PACT allows evaluating whether areas with different protection mechanisms, both public and private, meet the necessary requirements to be considered as protected areas under the definition accepted by agencies, federal entities and the state. Through this collaboration, current conservation initiatives are documented, an open access database is created, and strategic conservation is promoted through outreach.

The PACAT proposes the establishment of an Integrated System for the Conservation of Nature that, in addition to the Protected Area Network, includes land use policies, special designations (e. g., critical habitats), laws, incentive programs, and other mechanisms that promote the conservation of biodiversity on public or private lands. Within this system this system, we documented current initiatives created a shared database, and promote strategic conservation.

About the Karst Conservation Zone
In 2015, the group published a map of protected areas where a significant increase in the percent of protected areas in Puerto Rico was announced. This doubling of the protected percentage was due to the adoption of the shared definition, which allowed the inclusion of areas not previously considered, including the Restricted Zone of the Plan and Regulations of the Karst Special Planning Area (PRAPEC).

The physiography of the Karst area covers one of the regions with the greatest biodiversity in Puerto Rico. It constitutes the habitat of several endemic and endangered species. It includes the largest aquifer on the island and the large portions of mature forest, coastal wetlands, estuaries, and underground cave system across the island. For different reasons, lands zoned for conservation are usually not considered protected areas because they generally do not meet the long-term conservation criteria. However, the zoned lands for conservation in the Restricted Zone comply with the purposes of Law 292 known as the "Law for the Protection and Conservation of Karstic Physiography of Puerto Rico." In compliance with said law, the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources identified the karst areas that should be restricted from mining and other high intensity activities such as urban development.

Zoned land for conservation in the Restricted Zone occupies 7.2% of Puerto Rico and, like many protected natural areas, includes public and private land. The rigorous protection of this area is the result of a series of legislative, community, academic and administrative efforts carried out by several NGOs, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, the Planning Board, as well as judicial decisions.

The PACAT proposed to name this area as the Karst Conservation Zone (ZCC), a place where nature conservation can coexist with other activities (e.g., sustainable agriculture and ecotourism) that do not harm the ecological characteristics of the area in public and private lands. This type of area with multiple uses is recognized by IUCN as a protected area for the Conservation of Terrestrial and Marine Landscapes (Management Category V). In these areas the interaction between humans and nature has produced an area of defined character with an important ecological, biological, cultural and landscape value, and where safeguarding this interaction is vital to protect and sustain the area, nature conservation and other values.

The Institute's mission is to develop and disseminate scientifically-based knowledge that contributes to the conservation of forests, wildlife, and watersheds of the American tropics in the context of environmental change.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains world-renowned forestry research and wildland fire management organizations. National forests and grasslands contribute more than $30 billion to the American economy annually and support nearly 360,000 jobs. These lands also provide 30 percent of the nation's surface drinking water to cities and rural communities; approximately 60 million Americans rely on drinking water that originated from the National Forest System.

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Page last modified: 10/04/2019