Seeding Climate Resilience:

How the Social Ecological System 

of Culebra, Puerto Rico is Adapting to Climate Change

Joel Rader

College of the Environment Fellow 2021/2022

Wesleyan University 

Faculty Mentor: Professor Sadia Quraeshi Shepard, College of Film and the Moving Image


Made possible by the Wesleyan University College of the Environment (COE) Fellowship, this project explores Culebra as a Social Ecological System (SES), including the integral contributions made by small business owners, activists, scientists and environmentalists. The Project focuses in particular on the significant contribution that the nonprofit organization Sociedad Ambiente Marino (SAM) makes to ecological resilience efforts in Culebra, Puerto Rico.  S.A.M.’s efforts are not just important for the social-ecological system of Culebra, but could  be a replicable model for other island communities throughout the Caribbean that are among the most exposed to climate change impacts today.  Among S.A.M.’s important current projects is the restoration of endangered coral species that are important to this region of the Caribbean.


Project documentation consists of extensive photo and video footage of community resilience and restoration activities on Culebra as well as in-depth interviews of the scientists and volunteers working in an effort to save the  region’s threatened ecosystems. 


Isla Culebra (“Snake Island”) is an island off of mainland Puerto Rico and, as such, is part of the larger Spanish Virgin Islands. It is located circa 17 miles east of mainland Puerto Rico and has a population of approximately 1,800 people.   Severely impacted by Hurricanes Maria and Irma, the island has needed to be substantially rebuilt and continues to suffer from lack of local businesses as well as damaged water, transportation and electricity infrastructure. These challenges  affect tourism which is the main driver of the local economy. In addition to its beautiful beaches, tourists are attracted the the National Wildlife Refuge that occupies much of the island, including the diversity of birds, sea creatures, corals and other flora and fauna. 

Island of Culebra, Puerto Rico

Photo credits: Joel Rader and Juan Sanchez