Puerto Rico Moves to Limit Coastal Damage From Hurricanes and Other Threats

New plan will protect wetlands and prioritize nature-based solutions to safeguard communities

Navigate to:

Puerto Rico Moves to Limit Coastal Damage From Hurricanes and Other Threats
The walls of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, stand between the city’s historic district and the encroaching sea. Under a newly approved federal plan, island officials are turning to natural barriers such as mangrove forests, dunes, and reefs to protect vulnerable coastal communities from storms and sea-level rise.
Atlantide Phototravel

Puerto Rico is taking steps to restore and enhance its coasts and make communities more resilient to storms in a new plan recently approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Environmental leaders on the island, which has been battered by hurricanes in recent years, laid out a coastal management strategy for the next two years that prioritizes protecting vulnerable areas and underserved communities. Some of the priorities include shoring up natural features, such as mangroves, beaches, and dunes, that can help absorb storm surge, and building other natural barriers, including living shorelines—reefs sometimes constructed from oyster shells—that can absorb wave energy and help reduce flooding. And the plan calls for enhancing habitats for fish and wildlife, a move that is proven to make ecosystems healthier and stronger.

NOAA’s approval of the strategy means that Puerto Rico will receive federal money to help implement the plan and is also now eligible to apply for federal grants and technical assistance.

The Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources developed the new coastal management strategy for 2023-25 as part of the island’s participation in the federal Coastal Zone Enhancement Program, which encourages states and territories to identify needs and opportunities for their natural coastal areas.  

The department developed the strategy over the past year using scientific data, expert advice from researchers, and public feedback collected from a survey and interviews.

The plan gives a big boost to the island’s coastal management efforts by creating the Coastal Resilience Program to address three priorities:

  • Protecting wetlands. The habitat can help safeguard coastlines but faces threats including pollution, poorly planned coastal development, filling or excavating for coastal structures, and altered water flow patterns.
  • Reducing coastal hazards. Nature-based solutions such as living shorelines can help reduce erosion and lessen some of the impacts from storms and floods.
  • Lessening cumulative and secondary impacts, such as poorly planned development or damaging human activities on beaches, dunes, wetlands, and barrier islands. Restoration of these areas could help mitigate loss, fragmentation, or degradation of habitats such as mangroves and wetlands.

The department will make rule changes, conduct research, and develop plans for projects that fall under these five main components:

  • Provide adaptive restoration guidance. Standardize best practices for the design, construction, monitoring, and maintenance of successful restoration projects that maximize habitat and resilience benefits.
  • Promote natural and nature-based infrastructure. Identify the effectiveness and suitability of projects. Landowners, planners, coastal engineers, and others will use the guidance for projects to reduce coastal flooding and storm surge, erosion, and flooding from runoff.
  • Pursue regulatory changes. Explore removing regulatory impediments to permitting nature-based infrastructure and prioritize its use.
  • Explore mutually beneficial partnerships. The federal and Puerto Rican government and nongovernmental organizations should outline shared goals and priorities.
  • Identify funding sources, namely the most promising grant opportunities.

Puerto Ricans rely on their coasts to sustain the island’s vibrant culture, environment, and economy. This new comprehensive plan will help protect all of that and prepare Puerto Rico for a future that is almost certain to include more extreme weather and other challenges to coastal communities.

Yasmin Vélez-Sánchez manages The Pew Charitable Trusts’ work to conserve marine life in the U.S. Caribbean.

Spotlight on Mental Health


In Puerto Rico, Flooding and Loss of Habitat Are Top Concerns

Quick View

Puerto Rico’s residents say flooding, erosion, and loss of wetlands and other coastal habitats are among the most important threats the island’s government should prioritize in coastal resource planning, according to a survey by the island’s Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER).

Conserving Marine Life in the U.S. – Caribbean

Quick View

Conserving Marine Life in the U.S. – Caribbean


Along America’s Coasts, Little-Known Law Has Potential for Big Impact

Quick View

Fifty years ago, millions of gallons of crude oil fouled the waters off California’s Central Coast in what was then the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Public outcry over the spill and other environmental problems helped drive adoption of several federal laws, including the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA).

Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

Pills illustration
Pills illustration

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

Quick View

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.

Explore Pew’s new and improved
Fiscal 50 interactive

Your state's stats are more accessible than ever with our new and improved Fiscal 50 interactive:

  • Maps, trends, and customizable charts
  • 50-state rankings
  • Analysis of what it all means
  • Shareable graphics and downloadable data
  • Proven fiscal policy strategies


Welcome to the new Fiscal 50

Key changes include:

  • State pages that help you keep track of trends in your home state and provide national and regional context.
  • Interactive indicator pages with highly customizable and shareable data visualizations.
  • A Budget Threads feature that offers Pew’s read on the latest state fiscal news.

Learn more about the new and improved Fiscal 50.