Rain Forest Wonder
El Yunque Rain Forest could be a seventh wonder of the natural world.
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
A popular field trip for students in Puerto Rico is a visit to the El Yunque Rain Forest, the only tropical rain forest in the United States National Forest System.
El Yunque is located in the Sierra de Luiquillo Mountains and gets more than 200 inches of rain every year. The forest covers 28,000 acres of Puerto Rico and has been nominated as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature Worldwide Campaign. Candidates in the official new Seven Wonders contest are natural sites that have neither been created nor altered by humans. El Yunque has been a Federal Forest Reserve for more than a century.
Ranier Nieves is rooting for El Yunque to win. He’s the Unit Manager of the El Yunque National Park.
"We protect a lot of animals in the rain forest and we teach school children and visitors from around the world about this beautiful natural park every day," Nieves told Scholastic News.
Nieves drives two hours each day to work at the visitor center in the rain forest because he thinks it is well worth the long drive. More than 17 biologists also work at the park and run environmental research and protection programs that help many of the rain forest species.
Visitors who walk along the park trails in the rain forest can hear what is known as the "kokee, kokee song" sung by one of the protected species in the forest, the Coqui frog.
Coqui is known as the little frog in Puerto Rico and is a protected species in the forest.
“There used to be 16 species of Coquis and now only 13 remain,” Nieves said.
Nieves hopes that the park programs will continue to protect the popular island native species which include the Puerto Rican Parrot and thousands of native plants, including 240 types of trees and 150 fern species. Many of these species can't be found anywhere else in the world.
The Puerto Rican Parrot, also known as the Puerto Rican Amazon, or Iguaca, is the only native parrot left in Puerto Rico. It is listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union.
The bird needs hollow tree trunks for nesting and lost its home when trees were cut down for building homes and farms on the island after Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989. Many of the birds were also killed by poachers. Now new laws protect them.
"We hope that one day school children will once again be able to see the parrots when they visit the forest," Neives said. He believes that the many species in the El Yunque National Park have helped the site make it to the list of 77 semi-finalists in the New Seven Wonders of Nature Worldwide Campaign.
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