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Puerto Rico - Coastal gentrification in Puerto Rico is displacing people and damaging mangroves and wetlands

As world travel rebounds after two years of COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions, marketers and the media are promoting Puerto Rico as an accessible hot spot destination for continental U.S. travelers.

The commonwealth set a visitor record in 2021, and it is expanding tourism-related development to continue wooing travelers away from more exotic destinations.

Tourism income is central to Puerto Rico’s economy, especially in the wake of heavy damage from Hurricane Maria in 2017. But it comes at a cost: destruction of mangroves, wetlands and other coastal areas. Puerto Rico is no stranger to resort construction, but now widespread small-scale projects to meet demand for rentals on platforms like Airbnb are adding to concerns about coastal gentrification and touristification.

As scholars who study anthropology and coastal communities, we believe it is important to understand what Puerto Rico is losing in the quest for ever-increasing tourist business. For the rural coastal communities where we do our research, habitat is tied to residents’ cultural identity and economic well-being.

For the last two decades, we have documented how many rural Puerto Ricans’ lives are inextricably linked to coastal forests and wetland habitats. These communities often are poor, neglected by the state and disproportionately affected by pollution and noxious industries. Decisions about the future of the coast too often are made without accounting for human impacts.

Once-scorned areas are now in demand

Estuaries and coastal forests are some of Earth’s most biodiverse and productive ecosystems. Millions of people rely on mangroves and coastal wetlands to make a living.

Around the world, these areas are under stress from climate change, tourism and luxury residential development. But these zones weren’t always prized so highly.

Read more.