A group of students from the Conservation Society visited Puerto Rico to make a documentary about coral reef conservation efforts. We were based in Culebra, a small island off the east coast of Puerto Rico's mainland that relies on coral reef-generated tourism for 90% of its income. We interviewed academics and conservationists, who were trying to measure and repair the destruction from hurricanes Irma and Maria and to engage local children in the coral reef protection efforts. We also used an underwater drone to capture footage of the coral reefs and sea turtles for the upcoming documentary. Our interviewees had endlessly-interesting things to say about the complexities of the challenges they were facing. Of particular note was the island's reliance on the Puerto Rico government, the US federal government, and tourists from the US mainland, none of whom were doing enough to understand and counteract the dangers faced by coral reefs.


  • We were all surprised not to hear more about climate change, having learned beforehand that coral reefs were extremely vulnerable to rising ocean temperatures. Ultimately, Puerto Rico is too small to focus on climate change; even if it led the world in sustainable practices, its coral reefs would still suffer from larger countries' damaging habits.
  • As well as learning about the challenges facing Puerto Rico's coral reefs, we were also exposed to their urgency: most of the coral reefs we saw were bleached, with only small pockets teeming with characteristic color and life. We were also lucky enough to swim with sea turtles, an experience that is, we were told, getting less and less common.