Jobos Bay Reserve + Boricorps = Win-Win

May 2, 2024

Nicole Pillot (center) with other BoriCorps members standing in the mangroves at the Jobos Bay Reserve. With funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and inflation Reduction Act, they’ve planted 4,000 mangrove trees in the Reserve.

Seven years after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the Jobos Bay Reserve bears scars from the storm. Dead mangroves and the blue tarp covering the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources’ office are just two reminders of the work yet to be done. It’s daunting, but true to form, the Jobos Bay Reserve is using the damage to do what Reserves do best: collaborate on solutions and create learning opportunities along the way.

Together with BoriCorps, a Conservation Corps for young Puerto Ricans, and The Ocean Foundation, they are restoring 695 acres of the Reserve’s mangrove forest. The effort is supported by $450,000 in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act and $1,200,000 from NOAA’s Office of Coastal Management via the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Natural Coastal Resilience Fund.

“BoriCorps was the perfect match for us at the perfect time,” says Aitza E. Pabón-Valentín, director of the Jobos Bay Reserve. “Corps members are maintaining the Reserve’s mangrove nursery, planting trees, and assisting all of the volunteers who come here. Drive by the Reserve and you’ll see a lot of new plants and migratory birds!”

Through BoriCorps, young Puerto Ricans help restore the island’s environmental and cultural assets and volunteer in hard-hit local communities. They also gain valuable paid work experience and connections to possible future employers—something many struggle to find.

“Maria was a wakeup call for a lot of people,” says Nicole Pillot, 23, who grew up nearby and serves as Field and Community Coordinator for BoriCorps South. Pillot joined in October 2023, after earning a bachelor’s degree in marine biology. She realized from the beginning, it would not be “just a job.” 

“I am grateful to be part of the Jobos Bay Reserve’s history and for it being where I gained my first work experiences,” she says. “I started as a volunteer and now I have the chance to continue gaining professional experience. All of this knowledge has made me realize that I want to work in habitat restoration and continue to be part of change.”

Two critical habitats in the Reserve were heavily damaged by Maria: mangrove forests and seagrass beds. Mangroves grow at the water’s edge where their submerged roots provide nursery grounds for fish and crustaceans. They also help protect the coastline from flooding by buffering wave energy. The mangroves and surrounding seagrass beds are home to many other species, including the beloved Caribbean manatee.

In October 2023, six BoriCorps members began restoring mangroves and seagrass beds in the Reserve. So far, they’ve planted 4,000 mangrove trees. They’ve also restored water flow to the mangroves and are monitoring mangrove growth and water quality. Organizing outreach activities with local students and scouts is an important part of the work.

“We’re planting mangroves for the health and protection of the community, so involving them in the process helps them understand what we are doing and makes them feel like they are part of it,” says Pillot. “Every student who comes here plants a seed in our nursery and keeps that memory in their heart.”

Planting mangroves.

BoriCorps members prepare to plant mangroves in Jobos Bay.

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ReservesJobos Bay, Puerto RicoJobos Bay Reserve + Boricorps = Win-Win