Flamenco’s white sands and turquoise water surrounded by hills and vegetation on the tiny island of Culebra have enticed hundreds of thousands of visitors over the years. Yet, two hurricanes in a row played havoc with the beach and its public facilities, severely damaging the island’s main attraction and revenue source.
“For years Flamenco Beach has ranked as one of the world’s best beaches, we knew we had to do everything in our power to restore the beach with a ‘Built Back Better’ focus,” said Dennis Rivera, President of the Foundation for a Better Puerto Rico. Dennis explained that unemployment in Culebra, prior to the passage of the hurricanes in 2017 was at 2 to 3%, the lowest in Puerto Rico. After the hurricanes, the situation was so critical that the municipality had to furlough its employees for two to three months.
Dennis, as a resident of the island after many years as union leader in New York City, knew that the Foundation would have to rush to clear the debris and stabilize the beach to avoid a prolonged absence of visitors that would severely affect the livelihood of the nearly 2,000 residents. Any attempt to restore the beach and its facilities needed to be sustainable.
Thus, an ambitious master plan has been developed that includes rebuilding the public bathrooms, an area for food kiosks that can include a diversity of food options, concessionaires for paddle boards and other amenities, common facilities in the camping grounds and a new area for glamping, as well as an amphitheater for outdoor performances. In total, the project covers approximately 22 acres. “When we complete the project, we will have the most complete (beach) facilities in the Caribbean.”
Moreover, the Foundation for a Better Puerto Rico has partnered with Para la Naturaleza and Sea Grant, two nonprofit organizations focused on preservation and the sustainability of ecosystems, to address the health of the ecosystem. For example, the dunes are being preserved with appropriate vegetation as part of the landscape design by a renowned beach landscaper.
The work is well underway thanks to an initial $100,000 grant from Unidos por Puerto Rico that served to stabilize the beach, clean the debris and reopen the bathrooms that dated from 1981. “Unidos por Puerto Rico’s grant has been crucial,” according to Dennis as it served to anchor other support, including The Boston Foundation, the Hispanic Federation, the New York Community Trust, private donations and even $30,000 donated by people who have either camped at the beach or visited the beach after the hurricanes. A group of 250 volunteers has also been on hand to help with the restoration project. Dennis said that the grant allowed the Foundation for a Better Puerto Rico to hire the two architect firms that are working on the project.
And, it is not only about creating top facilities and amenities but also about the people, said Dennis. The Foundation for a Better Puerto Rico sees there is opportunity to train people who work in the beach operation to provide the best service possible. Culebra’s natural charm and way of life will be enhanced with the training opportunities envisioned by the Foundation. As the project takes off, the Foundation for a Better Puerto Rico has also worked to provide the island with a quality health center that can adequately provide primary health services and emergency care to the population as well as visitors since the island is 17 miles from the main island of Puerto Rico. In addition, the Foundation is supporting the work carried out by Para la Naturaleza to restore the historic lighthouse in Culebrita and provide hiking trails for visitors.
The work to restore and enhance Flamenco Beach should be completed by the end of the year. For more information on the Foundation for a Better Puerto Rico, visit https://betterpuertorico.org/ and Unidos por Puerto Rico https://unidosporpuertorico.com/.