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Deep Dive: Puerto Rico

Welcome to our Deep Dive Blog Series. Throughout this series, we will look at different locations around the globe to analyze some of the aspects that make them ideal candidates for the installation of our seasteading communities. These seasteads will be designed to withstand different forces and pressures from natural and man-made environments. Each location has been identified by Arktide as a place that would be strategic and fundamental in connecting our seasteading communities to existing global networks.

With that being said, let us introduce you to Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico is a large Caribbean island of roughly 3,500 square miles located in the West Indies. It’s the easternmost island of the Greater Antilles chain. It lies approximately 50 miles (80 km) east of the Dominican Republic, 40 miles (65 km) west of the Virgin Islands, and 1,000 miles (1,600 km) southeast of the U.S. state of Florida. After centuries of Spanish rule, Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States in 1898 and has been largely self-governing since the mid-20th century. It has a population of some 3.4 million people and a vibrant culture shaped by a mix of Spanish, United States, and Afro-Caribbean influences. Both Spanish and English are official languages in Puerto Rico, which remains a predominantly Spanish-speaking society. Many English words have been added to the island’s popular lexicon. English is also widely understood, and about one-fourth of Puerto Rican adults speak English fluently.

The island is largely composed of mountainous and hilly terrain, with nearly one-fourth of the island covered by steep slopes. Although Puerto Rican relief is relatively low by continental standards, the island is less than 100 miles (160 km) south of a precipitous depression in Earth’s crust known as the Puerto Rico Trench, which descends to more than 5 miles (8 km) below sea level. None of Puerto Rico’s rivers is large enough for navigation, but several northward-flowing rivers are harnessed for municipal water supplies, irrigation, and hydroelectricity.

Puerto Rico’s economy was dominated by agriculture until the mid-20th century. Under Spanish colonial rule, the island was largely neglected because of its limited mineral resources. However, the harbor at San Juan prospered as a major link in Spain’s oceanic trade routes. When the United States acquired Puerto Rico in 1898, following the Spanish-American War, it found itself in control of a poor island whose inhabitants were mostly involved in small-scale coffee and sugarcane production. Extensive U.S. markets were opened up for sugar as North American companies took over and expanded many of the island’s sugarcane operations. The manufacturing sector is no longer as competitive in labor-intensive industries because U.S. minimum wages also apply in Puerto Rico. Services, including trade, finance, tourism, and government work, have become the dominant and most dynamic force in Puerto Rico’s economy, accounting for about half of the GDP and as much as three-fourths of employment on the island. Trade is facilitated by the island’s inclusion in the U.S. Customs system, and Puerto Rico’s most important trading partner is the United States. The island also carries on significant trade with Singapore, Japan, Brazil, Ireland, and other European countries.

Puerto Rico has become a major vacation destination because of its fine year-round weather and air and sea transportation links. Between one and two million visitors register each year at Puerto Rico’s hotels and inns, and vast numbers of cruise ship passengers stop here annually. San Juan’s international airport, located 5 miles (8 km) outside the city, handles most passenger and freight traffic. Another airport (formerly a U.S. Air Force base) also handles international flights near Aguadilla in the northwest. The city is also a major commercial port for transatlantic and regional shipping.

Puerto Rico has a tropical climate with little seasonal variation, although local conditions vary according to elevation and exposure to rain-bearing winds. The average daily temperature in the lowlands is about 78 °F (26 °C), but relatively high humidity makes daytime temperatures feel warmer. Highland temperatures average a few degrees lower. Hurricanes develop in this region between June and November and occasionally traverse the island. Northeast trade winds bring heavy rainfall to the north coast, while the south coast is in a rain shadow. San Juan receives about 60 inches (1,525 mm) of precipitation per year, whereas El Yunque Peak farther east receives 180 inches (4,570 mm), and Ponce on the south coast receives only 36 inches (914 mm).

Puerto Rico has limited natural resources. Tropical rainforests cover parts of the north side of the island, and thorn and scrub vegetation predominate on the drier south side. Most of the island’s original vegetation was removed through centuries of agricultural exploitation. The mountainous terrain that dominates much of the island’s surface considerably handicaps agriculture. Only clay, silica sand, and stone are found in economically significant quantities. The river courses on the south coast are dry most of the year, carrying water only after rainfall. Agriculture, forestry, and fishing account for a relatively tiny amount of the gross domestic product (GDP) and employment.

Due to historic overfishing, current fishing pressure, coastal storms, and habitat changes queen conch numbers have declined. To combat this decline, a partnership in Puerto Rico is working to farm conch for release into the wild and sustainable seafood production. Culturally, conch has deep roots in Puerto Rico dating back to the indigenous Taino who ate conch and used its shell for art, decorations, and the famous ‘Guamo’ the conch shell trumpet. Through the grant, NOAA is supporting the renovation, installation, and operation of The Queen Conch Hatchery located in Naguabo. Providing accessibility and restoring an ocean-based economic opportunity allows local communities to remain working on the water while using the conch harvest skills passed down through generations. Like many other aquaculture projects, queen conch aquaculture is working towards providing sustainable seafood, improving economic opportunities in coastal communities, and increasing aquaculture literacy.

Puerto Rico offers a great opportunity for seasteading to help restore some of the vital infrastructure lost during previous weather events. It also provides Arktide with the opportunity to develop and expand existing aquaculture. Most importantly Puerto Rico is a strategic location to help connect with other Caribbean and Central American nations as well as international trade routes.

Sources

https://www.britannica.com/place/Puerto-Rico/Cultural-institutions

https://www.history.com/topics/us-states/puerto-rico-history

https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature-story/queen-conch-aquaculture-partnership-puerto-rico-supported-noaa-fisheries-grant

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