New fellows' collaboration on op-ed leads to reported piece on iguanas

New Switzer Fellows Christina De Jesús Villanueva and Luis Alexis Rodríguez-Cruz recently collaborated on publishing an op-ed in El Nuevo Día, the newspaper with the highest circulation in Puerto Rico. The op-ed, about the impact of green iguanas on agriculture, resulted in a reported piece.

The article and op-ed were written under the support and guidance of the Puerto Rico Science and Policy Action Network (PR-SPAN), an initiative of the 10k+ member Ciencia Puerto Rico, focused on providing Puerto Rican scientists resources and space for them to get involved in science-based policy and decision-making processes. Luis is the co-chair PR-SPAN.

The impact of the green iguana in agriculture remains unattended

In her op-ed, Christina De Jesús Villanueva calls upon the local government in Puerto Rico to recognize the problems the green iguana is causing the agricultural sector. What’s more, Christina demands that the community at large take note of the agricultural losses the green iguana causes as an additional threat to the island’s food security. She points to the glaring absence of a management plan for the green iguana on farms, and notes that the only plan created is one that was written by the local Department of Natural Resources and the Environment and then left without implementation. She mentions that it is unsurprising that the DRNA has not been able to implement a management plan, as they have the smallest operational budget and are left with all the responsibilities of this multi-sectoral problem. She then compares Puerto Rico to the Cayman Islands, where the government took a hands on approach to the management of the green iguana and incentivized a government sanctioned hunting program to reduce the population, an effort that in one year saw over 1 million green iguanas euthanized. She finishes her article, by urging local government to take note of the magnitude of the problems green iguanas can be and by calling upon local farmers to participate in her work which seeks to quantify the impact of invasive green iguanas in Puerto Rico.


Iguanas halt agriculture's upturn

In this article, Dr. Kevin Alicea highlights the potential impact of the invasive green iguana on the agriculture sector in Puerto Rico. He points out that the green iguana could be yet another obstacle for farmers who are still recovering after Hurricane Maria.

Dr. Alicea goes on to interview several farmers and other experts about how the green iguana has affected the farming community. For one farmer, on her first attempt at cultivating crops green iguanas came to her Cabo Rojo farm and quickly ended her effort. A second farmer lost 2,000 dollars and six weeks of time because green iguanas ate all of his pumpkin seedlings. A third farmer has now added biweekly hunting to his list of tasks to try and protect his crops from green iguanas. A fourth farmer mentioned that he has lost between 50% to 90% of his crops to green iguanas to point out the severity of the problem. A concerning effect mentioned by the farmers is that some farmers chose to retire because of the magnitude of problems the green iguana caused.

In his interview with 2020 Switzer fellow, Christina N. De Jesús Villanueva, Dr. Alicea begins to explore what is being done to measure the extent of the problems associated with the green iguana. Christina’s study is highlighted as the first in the world to try and quantify the crop loss, the resources spent to manage the problem and to identify to  agricultural regions in Puerto Rico most affected by the green iguana. The article urges farmers to participate in her ongoing study by answering a questionnaire on the level of impact they may or may not have due to the effects of green iguanas on their farms. The end goal of Christinas study is mentioned, she was to be able to present these data to governmental agencies in support of having the green iguana recognized as the problematic issue it appears to be.

Finally, Dr. Alicea interviews Department of Natural Resources and the Environment biologist, Ramon L. Rivera Lebrón who mentions that his division, terrestrial resources,  doesn’t have projects in place to control exotic animals like the green iguana. Mr. Rivera Lebrón points to the lack of information on the species as a challenge for its management. 



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