Over the millennia, the tropical woodland known today as El Yunque National Forest has been pummeled by rains and rocked by hurricanes. But the prized 28,434-acre (11,506-hectare) forest in northeast Puerto Rico took a particularly savage beating in late September from Hurricane Maria, whose 155-mile-per-hour winds and torrential rains, toppled trees, triggered landslides and stripped the leaves from virtually all vegetation.
El Yunque, the United States’ only tropical rainforest, and its Luquillo Mountains have long been a site of beauty, ecological importance and income for Puerto Rico, thanks to its 250 species of trees, and its abundance of birds, bats, reptiles and frogs. Some 25 miles from the capital city of San Juan, the park draws some 1.2 million tourists annually and its rivers and streams supply around 20% of the island’s drinking water.
But in the wake of Maria, the woodland has been utterly transformed. Trees have been uprooted, birds lie scattered on the forest floor and the typically thick forest canopy, host to a rich array of wildlife, has been shredded, prompting forestry and wildlife specialists to wonder what the long-term effects will be.
READ MORE from Ecoamericas >>