Sunday, October 28, 2007

Finalization of the Primary Survey and What lies ahead

The Primary Survey

Since hitting the water on June 30th, the initial survey and clean up has amassed 31 days on the water. During that time, the project has surveyed over 210 acres of the reserve and marked and removed 291 debris locations, including the removal of a staggering 250 tires, and over 20 pieces of clothing and other articles wrapped around Elkhorn corals. These statistics do not include a significant amount of clothing pulled off the coral by DRNA's Robert Matos during a site visit at the beginning of the project, and several other pieces removed during reconnaissance after the passage of Hurricane Dean.

Click to enlarge images

Tire located but not removed due to delicate nature of its positioning during a portion of the swim survey.

The final map detailing locations of all encountered debris. Notice the proximity to the shore and public access points as Steps Beach and Calle Surf.

The culminated tire collection at Rincon's Public Works and students from la Escuela Superior Manuel García Pérez de Rincón participating in an education and outreach project.


For accessibility reasons the reserve was worked in three methods; swim surveys near shore, tow surveys in mid-water areas, and SCUBA transects in deeper water. The coverage for these methods:

      • Swimming (red): 17 acres
      • SCUBA(blue): 27 acres
      • Tow (green): 165 acres

Survey work done as part of the project. The red flags represent the four corners of the RM3P.


18 volunteers contributed 28 volunteer days totaling 156 hours of total work. Volunteers were involved in all aspects of the project with activities including:

  • Snorkel transects of shallow water reefs
  • Free-dive towboard surveys
  • Deep water SCUBA transects
  • Boat side photography
  • Debris removal and retrieval

Education and Outreach

Surfrider Field Manager Leon Richter discusses PSA design with Sra. Cardona's Environmental Studies Class.

As part of educational activities, members of the project teamed with a local high school, la Escuela Superior Manuel García Pérez de Rincón. The project challenged Sra. Brenda Cardona’s Environmental Science class to do a Public Service Announcement (PSA) Project dealing with the accumulation of debris and the state of the Rincon shorefront. The students were told of the project and shown a slideshow of the work that was done in the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve. Pauco Font also delivered a spirited address of how their everyday actions affect the health and future of the coastal communities for everyone. The students then were given cameras and took pictures of the accumulated tire piles at the Public Works yard. They voted on the best photos and worked on a message which was turned into posters and distributed throughout the Rincon community. One student prepared a small video highlighting the issue that was immediately posted on the Surfrider website:

The final PSAs are displayed below.

Letters of invitation to participate were also mailed to different offices of the municipality in hopes of fostering a greater investment in coastal well being by the political structure of Rincon. As of this the completion of the primary survey, the invitations had not been accepted, but there is hope of a greater inclusion of municipal volunteers for the spring monitoring aspect of the project. However, plans with the Rincon Sports and Recreation Department were in line to do a presentation of the project and a snorkel tour and beach clean up of the RM3P.

What Lies ahead…

The finalization of initial survey and clean up does not signal the end of project, or the end of debris based threats to the coral resources of the RM3P. Currents and beachgoers will introduce more debris, winter’s waves will uncover more tires, land development with unmitigated grading will introduce sediments and natural processes like hurricanes will continue to threaten the Elkhorn corals found in and around Tres Palmas.

As a continuation of the original project, there will be a monitoring effort in the spring of 2008. This effort will resurvey heavily impacted areas and areas of great debris accumulation to discern the patterns of debris introduction to the reserve and to document the recovery of areas where debris was removed. Hopefully this knowledge will be used to design a future continuation of this year’s project as funding allows.

The continuing health of the Elkhorn and Staghorn reefs of the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve ultimately depends on the residents and visitors of Rincon. If the residents can come together to realize the natural treasure that they have in their backyard, and take pride and ownership of this resource, the future will look a lot brighter. This could be as simple as beachgoers just grabbing a few pieces of trash on their way back to their car, regular scheduled pickups of beachside trashcans, and just having the nerve to tell other beachgoers not to litter. The mindfulness of the community can lead to the continued health of the coastal resources. And this isn’t limited to just what happens directly at the beach or in the water, but extends throughout the entire watershed, from the mountains to the ocean. Our actions and future choices can impact the future health of the coastal ecosystem, both positively and negatively.

For more photos from the project and information please visit:



Public Service Announcements designed as part of an outreach project with Sra. Brenda Cardona’s environmental science class at la Escuela Superior Manuel García Pérez de Rincón.

Friday, August 3, 2007

One Month Update


As easy as ....

1. Divers tow through the water surveying the bottom to locate debris.

2. GPS waypoints and data are taken and then a diver ties off to the debris.

3. One of the many tires hauled into the boat 'Mi Familia'.

4. Transportation back to the boat ramp.

5. Storage in the locked container provided by Obras Publicas.

The project hit the water June 30th for a test mission to allow Pauco, Leon and I the opportunity to run through the protocol and test out the new equipment. The day was a relative success as all three of us were able to take a turn tow-boarding and we located three debris objects, removing two of them.

Since that first day we have accumulated 18 days on the water, working with 9 different volunteers and have removed a startling 240 tires and tire pieces! In hindsight I guess I was naively thinking there would “only” be in the ballpark of 60 tires, we surpassed that our second day in one of the “tire gardens”. The tow-progress is also progressing nicely covering roughly 95% of the towable area of the reserve already. Areas left to survey include the shallows adjacent to shore, too shallow and close to coral to work via boat, and the deep Northwestern corner of the reserve that will be worked by Scuba diving transects. The effort will continue through mid-August and volunteer opportunities are still available.

Word has spread of our work in the Reserve and on July 18th, a local paper, El Nuevo Dia ran an article on our project, (
fronting an article on the pending finalization of the RM3P Management Plan. A banner day for the reserve.

As the initial survey begins to wind down, the education and outreach part of the project will begin ramping up. Our goal is to reach out into the community, to the various Departments and Municipality of Rincon to try to get them out on the water and let them experience the reserve and the clean up and threats to coral first hand.

Special thanks to all of our volunteers who have come out and helped survey and remove debris, especially Dr. Jose. Also, thanks to all at Obras Publicas for making the container for the tires readily accessible at the marina.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Project Overview

Survey plan for the RM3P.

Two tires rest together as part of a "tire garden" where up to 20 tires are visible at a time.

(Click to Enlarge Photos)

The Tres Palmas Marine Reserve (RM3P) Debris Survey for Elk-horn Coral Restoration is a project that aims to alleviate some human pressures on Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) and the surrounding marine environment. Elkhorn coral, recently listed as a threatened species, is a remarkable branching coral that thrives in the shallow coastal waters and is readily accessible to snorkelers just a few fin strokes off of Steps Beach, Rincon, Puerto Rico. Marine debris poses a threat to corals and the living substrate as wave and current action act to force the debris over the fragile bottom breaking the delicate branching corals and scouring the substrate. This project aims to strategically survey for, and then to remove debris to restore the reef areas to a more pristine state.

There are three distinct phases to the project.

  • a large-scale survey to census, document, and remove tires, clothing and other marine debris in the RM3P. Census and removal work are to include extensive manta tows and snorkel surveys
  • establish or resurvey “clean zones” to examine debris accumulation rates and recovery at sites where debris was removed
  • Perform education and outreach work for the schools and various groups and administrations of the community

The need for the project came from the observations of “tire gardens”, areas of high accumulation of tires readily visible to snorkelers in front of Steps Beach. The Surfrider Foundation spearheaded by Rincon chair Leon Richter and Environmental Director Chad Nelson, took action and applied for funding made available by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The awarded grant allowed for the project to take place by donating funds to run the project. This funding went towards the chartering of the Mi Familia captained by local commercial fisherman Edwin “Pauco” Font and the availability of a(n) internship(s) to assist and run the project and its outreach. One intern, Sean Guerin (yours truly), has prior experience in Hawaii as part of NOAA’s Marine Debris program surveying for and removing derelict fishing gear from the Main and Northwest Hawaiian.

The initial survey and clean up is planned to take place from mid-late June until mid-late August. The monitoring and resurveys will be designed and take place following the initial survey. Education and outreach will be developed and provided as the project proceeds. Volunteer opportunities will be available in all three stages of the project. For volunteer inquiries, or further information or questions, feel free to email me at the link provided via this blog.

Elkhorn Coral

Acropora Palmata