June 14, 2021

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Coquí Project: protector of the national symbol


Of the 17 species of coquíes identified on the island, three have already been lost in recent years: the Palmeado, the Dorado and the Coquí de Eneida.

Photo: Rafael Joglar

A famous Christmas song proclaims that the coquí will stop singing, if we do not preserve the tradition.

Its destiny, however, is much more linked to our actions and omissions, since this small and indigenous amphibian, a national symbol of our culture, survives threatened by the deforestation of its habitats and forest fires, among other reasons.

Of the 17 species of coquíes identified on the island, three have already been lost in recent years: the Coquí Palmeado, the Coquí Dorado and the Coquí de Eneida. Another four species face serious survival problems and just under half of all could disappear in 50 years.

“They disappeared before my eyes and between my fingers. With them, three voices of the Puerto Rican night were silenced and three evolutionary stories that will never be repeated on this planet were lost forever, ”said Dr. Rafael L. Joglar, a professor and researcher at the Department of Biology at the University of Puerto Rico. in Río Piedras.

“My daughter is not going to be able to hear those voices. My students are not going to be able to hear or see those species. Sometimes I think that I did not do enough for those three species and many others that are in serious trouble, “he continued.

“The Puerto Rican, despite the fact that he loves and is passionate about the coquí, yearns for it, dreams of it, feels it and listens to it, the reality is that he knows very little about this figure or these species… and I have tried to change that in recent years 47 years, ”he added.

Dr. Joglar has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Biology with a concentration in Zoology from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus, a doctorate in Biology with a specialty in Systematics and Ecology from the University of Kansas, and is co-director in the Greater Antilles of the Group Amphibian Specialists of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN / SSC).

Discovery by accident

Joglar explained that he discovered by accident that the coquíes were in serious trouble.

“That was almost an accident. When I returned to Puerto Rico in 1986 to continue my doctoral studies that had to do with evolutionary relationships with amphibians with other species of coquíes in the Caribbean and with their relatives in Central and South America, I realized that these species of coquíes that I’m looking for, to do something else, it was part of another study, they weren’t where they were before. Some species were missing. Other species that were abundant in some areas in the past, were no longer so in the present, “he said.

The UPR professor had surveyed these places years before, in a simple way.

“I write down everything that is around me, what is within the reach of my sight and my ears. Those notes are saved, archived, and compared in the future. I have a simple record of evidence of what was in a place at a certain time. Upon returning to these sites again and not finding those species, I realize that there is a serious problem, “he added.

The effects of the various species of amphibians on the island are a sign of severe environmental problems, such as deforestation and pollution.

“Amphibians are what we call bio-indicators. It is a living organism that gives us information about the state of health of the environment where they live. If we have lost three species of coquí, it is a red flag, rather three red flags, because they are saying that there are serious environmental problems there ”, explained Joglar.

In addition to the effects caused directly by humans in the habitat of the coquí, they are also affected by climate change and a fungus that lacerates their skin.

Mission: protection of the coquí

For all this, Joglar decided to found in 1986 the Coquí Project, a non-profit organization whose mission is the conservation of biodiversity, through scientific research, habitat protection and environmental education.

“The Coquí Project was incorporated under the State Department in 1991, but it was already working actively since 1986. In that year, I returned to Puerto Rico after studying abroad for two years and began to work at the UPR of Río Piedras. Once there, I realized that that group was needed. At the university one can do some things from there, rather the part of teaching, teaching and research. But the part of defense of the environment, the part of environmental activism, that was not possible from that platform. We had to create another platform that could do those other things, ”explained Joglar.

And the main collaborators in the organization are its students.

“My work group are mostly Natural Sciences students. I have been able to surround myself with dedicated and intelligent young people. In addition to stealing part of their youth, without them realizing it, I train them and give them the techniques, the space and the preparation for them to continue the work I have done. Some have done masters or doctorates with me. But, usually the students spend some time with me and then they go on to pursue their careers that are not regularly related to Biology. I am still interacting with many of them on a scientific and personal level, ”he said.

Support the Coquí Project

After Hurricane María, Joglar has taken on the task of surveying the country’s forests, to compare them with the species inventories he made 30 years ago. Although it has presented proposals at the national and federal levels, it has not received funds for such an important and momentous task.

For this reason, they have already embarked on a campaign to seek financial resources that allow them to encourage students and continue with the research. Anyway … to save the coquí.

To help the Coquí Project:

  • Buy some of the seven books in Spanish about the coquí, published by Dr. Joglar on the digital platform www.libros787.com
  • You can donate directly to the organization, through ATH Móvil, searching in business for the name / ProyectoCOQUI.
  • Until Three Kings Day, $ 1 will be donated to Proyecto Coquí for each order of the book Un coquí de borinquen con los reyes a Belén and other products that are purchased through www.AdoptaUnCoqui.com.

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