Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett today transferred the Las Cabezas de San Juan Lighthouse and Loran Station in Fajardo to The Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico in a ceremony at the lighthouse.
The Conservation Trust has leased the property from the U.S. Coast Guard since 1986. Under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, the Secretary of the Interior is charged with deciding which nonprofit or government entity is best able to provide permanent protection for lighthouses no longer needed by the Coast Guard.
“The beautiful lighthouse before us stands as a testament, not only to Puerto Rico’s rich maritime history, but also to the tremendous care that The Conservation Trust and its supporters have devoted to its restoration and reuse,” said Scarlett. “Situated at the highest point in the Nature Reserve—with a nature center and exhibits highlighting the flora and fauna of this special place, and with an observation deck that offers breath-taking views of El Yunque and neighboring islands— the lighthouse truly represents what Congress had envisioned for historic lighthouses when it passed the Lighthouse Preservation Act.”
The transfer of property title includes the lighthouse and Loran communications station on 17 acres, which can now be added to the surrounding 428 acres of land of the Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve for a total of 445 acres. The Trust has operated and owned the Nature Reserve since 1975.
“This is a historic occasion for Puerto Rico and for the Conservation Trust. It is the first time in Puerto Rico that the Federal Government has transferred a historic lighthouse property to a non-governmental organization (NGO) such as The Conversation Trust. For us it is a validation of the work we have done with the lighthouse since we rigorously restored and opened it to the public in 1991. Moreover, this transfer assures the integrity of Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve,” said Fernando Lloveras, Executive Director of the Trust.
Lloveras added that now that it has completed the integrity of the reserve, the Trust can pursue a vision of integrating the property to a wider platform of protected natural areas in the region that extends from Vieques and Culebra, Medio Mundo and Daguau in Ceiba (formerly part of Roosevelt Roads), El Yunque, and the North Eastern Corridor. “The ecological wealth represented by these areas offers Puerto Rico an incredible opportunity to carefully manage these resources and develop them as valuable ecological and economic assets within the Caribbean,” Lloveras said. “This is possible even if the properties are managed by different federal and state agencies and the Trust”.
“The transfer of this historic lighthouse, the second built on the island, to The Conservation Trust is an honor for Puerto Rico. As our NGOs develop the strength, the experience and the funds to manage projects such as Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve and Lighthouse we become a better society,” said Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá.
The Trust had initiated restoration of the Lighthouse in 1989 and opened the property to the public in 1991. Built by the Spanish government and inaugurated in 1882, the lighthouse receives approximately 40,000 visitors annually. Certified environmental interpreters guide visitors through the Reserve and its diverse ecosystems. The tour also includes historical and ecological exhibits at the lighthouse; one exhibit allows visitors to experience bioluminescence during the day. The property is also used for scientific research. Researchers can stay at the Loran and Reserve facilities that are equipped with 28 bunk beds. The Reserve is home to 2/3 of the reptiles and amphibians found in Puerto Rico and 17 species of birds.
Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve is one of the most biologically diverse coastal communities in Puerto Rico. It encompasses seven different ecosystems--offshore coral reefs, dry forest, rocky coast, one of the few bioluminescent lagoons in the world, a mangrove forest, a sandy shore and Thalassia Beds.