Saturday, August 6, 2011

A New Marine Debris Removal Project is Initiated

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Recently, the chapter of the Surfrider Foundation in Rincon was awarded a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program to spearhead another coral reef restoration and marine debris removal project in Puerto Rico.  This is the third award that the Rincon chapter has received from NOAA since the first project was undertaken in 2006.  That project, along with the second that was completed in 2008, removed more than 475 tires and copious amounts of other items such as derelict boat debris, cinderblocks, cable, and clothing that all negatively affected the health of the corals and other organisms within the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve.  In total, 150 individual corals were liberated of the smothering and detrimental marine debris.  Now, in 2011, the chapter is pleased to announce the title of its' third effort: Coral Reef Protection through Marine Debris Removal in 2 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs): Arrecifes de Tourmaline and Reserva Marina Tres Palmas.

The primary study site of this project is Cayo Ron within Arrecifes de Tourmaline (off Cabo Rojo) as depicted above.  The top image shows Cayo Ron, Elkhorn densities (colored circles), and the location of a large hull of a vessel (plus signs) that will be cut into pieces and removed.  (Figure M. Scharer and M. Nemeth)

The figure above depicts the secondary study site, RMTP (solid black line), previously marked marine debris, and the project extension indicated by the dotted black line.  The inset depicts the density of Elkhorn coral within RMTP. (RMTP Fiqure:  M. Scharer, M. Nemeth, and W. Merten)
With this project, the chapter will expand the reef area surveyed and serviced (~750 acres), increase the amount of participating community volunteers and schools involved in the outreach and education, and work with the municipalities of Rincon, Anasco, and Cabo Rojo to acheive the following objectives: restore and protect the health of Elkhorn coral dominated reef systems and associated organisms by removing large amounts of non-re-accumulating marine debris; initiate a strong marine debris prevention program through outreach and education by raising awareness about the importance of protecting reefs, the link between land-based activities and the health of the reefs, and how our everyday actions can have a direct impact on reef health; prevent debris from entering the ocean by working with the aforementioned municipalities to strengthen their recycling programs, establish an effective and consistent coastal trash pickup cycle, and to set standards to abide by when large activities are conducted on municipal beaches i.e. festivals, fishing tournaments, surfing competitions, and races such as triathlons that consistently occur in these areas.  Together, these objectives comprise the chapter's overall goal of improving the state of the health of the coral reef ecosystems occurring along the west coast of Puerto Rico.  

To read a more comprehensive summary of the project click here.  

The field work will be comprised of 20 boat days; 5 will be conducted at Cayo Ron and 15 in Rincon.  Field work at Cayo Ron will begin as soon as possible where the reef will be surveyed and the debris will be removed prior to arrival of any large storms.  The field work in Rincon will begin in October, weather permitting.  Certified divers and interested snorkelers should contact the project manager for details on how to reserve a spot on the boat for one of the field days. 

If you are interested in helping in this effort please feel free to contact the project manager, Wessley Merten, at (787) 436-8300 or wessley.merten@upr.edu for more information.  We need volunteers to accompany us in the field locating and removing debris, helping to install coastal trash cans, painting recycling bins and containers with students, and increasing the awareness about protecting our precious local resources. 


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