Sunday, October 7, 2012

Marine Debris Removal 2011/2012 Project Summary

Coral Reef Protection through Marine Debris Removal in 2 Marine Protected Areas:  Arrecifes de Tourmaline and Reserva Marina Tres Palmas

2011/2012 - Project Summary

October 7th, 2012

On October 6th, 2012, the field work and outreach and education portion of this past years coral reef restoration project through the removal of marine debris came to a close. The field work began a year ago in September 2011. The project objectives were to remove a boat wreck off of a reef known as Cayo Ron, in a marine protected area called Arrecifes de Tourmaline, and more marine debris in the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve.  The field work was conducted with numerous community volunteers, stakeholders, agency officials, and students from the University of Puerto Rico.  Outside of the field work and in local schools and local communities, the outreach and education objectives were to build on the successes of previous educational campaigns to begin and/or enhance school-wide and municipal recycling programs, teach students and community volunteers about the importance of coral reefs economically for Puerto Rico, and to work together to protect them for generations to come by preventing more marine debris from entering our oceans.  We are happy to report that all of these objectives were accomplished.

Volunteer participation was a huge success. A grand total of 213 people volunteered their time contributing 1385.5 hrs to protect and restore Cabo Rojo's and Rincón’s precious coral reefs.  Volunteers ranged in age from 5 to 74 and not only came from Puerto Rico, but from 7 states including California, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Florida, New York, and Maine.  In addition, many of these individuals represented various agencies, universities, and businesses. For instance, we had individuals help us from the NOAA Restoration Center,  Puerto Rico's Department of Natural Resources, students from PRATT, the University of Puerto Rico, and the University of Puerto Rico’s Department of Marine Sciences Student Association, the Municipality of Rincón, the Municipality of Anasco, area middle and high schools, local fishermen, international businesses such as Ripcurl, Roxy, FCS, Nixon, and local businesses such as Taino Divers and Monaquatics. This type of support, and help, was what the project aimed to achieve. Every person, agency, and business was equally valued during their participation and were all equally as important. Thank you all for all of your help.

Field Work:  Cayo Ron- Arrecifes de Tourmaline - Cabo Rojo - Marine Debris Removal

Over the course of last year, SF Rincon worked with Monaquatics, Atlantis Diving Contractors, Reefscaping, and 50 community volunteers to remove a shipwreck off of Cayo Ron.  Cayo Ron is located roughly 5 miles off Cabo Rojo on the western insular platform in the marine protected area known as Arrecifes de Tourmaline.  Volunteers helped during 5 different outings to survey for marine debris, remove the debris, and restore Cayo Ron's back reef by transplanting corals that colonized a large portion of the boat hull and the rudder.  In total, around 60 corals were transplanted.  Recently, a trip was organized to monitor the status of the transplants and they are all doing well.  Below are figures and photos of the chapter's effort at Cayo Ron.

5 survey tracks

All the vessel associated shipwreck debris including renditions of the size and location of the boat hull and rudder

The debris field at Cayo Ron was concentrated on the northeastern back reef and consisted of an area roughly 3.2 acres in size. 

The boat hull was calculated to be roughly 57.8m^2

The rudder was calculated to be roughly 6m^2

The coral transplants are doing excellent after a year of growth on suitable substrate.  The corals were transplanted off of the boat hull and rudder which was on the reef since the early 90's some officials think. 

This is a before and after photo sequence looking at the starboard stern of the boat hull.  It will take many years for the newly opened substrate to be colonized but the process has certainly begun. 

This is a before and after photo sequence looking from the stern towards the bow. 

This sequence shows the starboard stern in a different perspective.  The photo taken on 9.2.2011 was taken a bit deeper than the photo taken on 9.12.2012 allowing for more soft corals to appear in the frame.

Individuals from Atlantis Diving Contractos, Reefscaping, NOAA's restoration center, and volunteers celebrate after removing the boat hull

Another group shot of volunteers happy and tired after a hard day's work at Cayo Ron

Students from UPRM enjoyed being a part of the restoration effort

Enjoying the crystal clear Caribbean waters after finishing the first day at Cayo Ron

Volunteers lift out large slabs that DRNA transported to a landfill

This photo gives a nice perspective of the size of the some of the boat slabs that were strewn across the reef at Cayo Ron.  This was actually not even close to the biggest one we removed. 

The commercial diving crew with Atlantis Diving Contractors was happy to help out with this project.  They commented on how beautiful a site it was to work at and was a nice change to the murky waters that most of their jobs are associated with. 

Field Work: Tres Palmas - Reserva Marina Tres Palmas - Rincon - Marine Debris Removal

Project coordinators conducted 10 boat days in the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve and adjacent areas to remove 75 tires and copious amounts of other types of marine debris such as boat debris, cable, pipes, clothing, etc.  Most debris items were discovered in decreased frequency since the last project in 2009/2010 except for boat debris.  This is great news and it is proof that the nearshore reef environments along Rincon's coastline are getting cleaner.  This is not only beneficial for tourism and the local economy but most importantly for the endangered species such as corals and sea turtles that live amongst these reefs.  Below are figures depicting the marine debris removal effort for 2011/2012.   

 Using a handheld GPS device, the daily survey boat tracks were logged to depict the area monitored in Rincon.

 Debris removed ranged from tires, corals smothered by debris (clothing, rope, fishing line), blocks, extensive areas of cable and rope, pipes, trash patches, and significant amounts of derelict boat debris.

Tires were significantly aggregated along the nearshore shelf stretching from Calle Surf to the Black Eagle Marina. Other tires, in decreased frequency, were discovered near Steps beach and north to Marias beach.  We removed 75 tires during this project (550 since 2008).  Tires were discovered in decreased frequency since the last project. 

Boat debris was discovered in increased frequency since the last project. 

Cable, rope, and pipes were discovered in decreased frequency since the last project. 

Clothing and plastic were discovered in decreased frequency since the last project.  Blocks were only discovered near the Black Eagle Marina.  There was only one boat battery discovered. 

The amount of volunteer effort we had in Rincon allowed project orchestrators, Captain Edwin Pauco’ Font a local Rincoeño fisherman and myself (Wessley Merten) a marine science graduate student from the University of Puerto Rico's Department of Marine Sciences, to expand outside of the marine reserve in search of more marine debris.  Tow-boarding and swimming were the principle methods used to locate the debris.  Nearly two times the area of the Reserva Marine Tres Palmas (~825,558 m2) was monitored and covered. During the arduous endeavor many objects were found and removed with the help of the volunteers.  We encourage you to browse through the project’s blog archive to the date that you helped to find your photo(s).  Some of the best volunteer photos are including below. 

The images above summarize the volunteer debris removal effort. Each item was removed by one of the individuals that helped throughout this project. Every item removed, including tires, clothing, rope, etc., were removed with a sense of satisfication knowing that the effort would help improve the health and quality of the reef. But, oftentimes when these items were found, along with miscellaneous objects such as car batteries, engine blocks, oil cans, gas cans, chairs, stuffed animals, and large pvc pipes feelings of dismay and sadness struck the volunteers and project coordinators. It was at these times that it was undoubtedly apparent that outreach and education towards increased reef awareness and protection needs to be a top priority in area schools and throughout the communities in order to to conserve the viability of nearshore reef ecosystems around Puerto Rico.

Outreach and Education - Marine Debris Prevention

In effort to protect the future health and quality of the reefs in Cabo Rojo and Rincón, multi-media presentations were given to local students about the severity of the problem of marine debris in our oceans and how it relates to ocean environments around Puerto Rico.  We worked in two different schools along the west coast of Puerto Rico, Jorge Seda Crespo in Rincon, and MAS Intergrated School in Anasco.  In total, over 600 students were exposed to this project through in-school presentation and outreach activities.  This effort wouldn’t have been made possible without the help of each school's administration, and teachers, for supporting this portion of the project and we are very grateful for your help.

Outreach activities included installing recycling bins at two beaches in Rincon.  We are happy to report that this pilot project, that is, attempting to start a recycling effort at beaches in Rincon, is working.  According to the Director of Recycling and Public Works in Rincon, 85% of the materials being put in the containers at Steps Beach are clean and ready to be recycled.  The Director thinks that this is due in part to the cooperation of a local business at Steps beach, Steps Quick Lunch, who is constantly reminding his customers to recycle their materials and make sure the materials are clean.  The other containers we installed at the marina are returning 50% clean materials with 50% consisting of trash. 

Jim and Steve install recycling bins on area beaches

Another outreach activity was done to paint the chapter's new marine debris container and recycling bins that were donated to area businesses.  The marine debris container was highly successful in keeping the debris we removed from the ocean organized and clean until we could schedule a pickup.  The containers we donated to local businesses are being used, but at times not always for recycling.  This is a problem that we will address in future projects.  The last community based outreach event was done to restore Rincon's recycling center to increase the amount of people in the community recycling.  Signs were put up on major roads to direct traffic to the recycling center and a beautiful ocean mural was painted at the center to remind citizens of what we are protecting when we recycle.  It also makes the trip to the recycling center more enjoyable knowing that you will get to admire the beautiful art.    

Art students from PRATT university, and MASIS, come together to paint our bins

Volunteers from PRATT University, AECiMa, and SF Rincon restore Rincon's recycling center

In the two schools that we worked in, we purchased recycling containers from AMEC PR, and began and/or enhanced the school's recycling program.  To begin each program, we had an activity at each school to paint their containers and then distribute them in the classrooms to initiate the program.  Each event was a huge success and the students really enjoyed personalizing their recycling bins.  Both schools received 4 big (95 gallon) containers, 30 small (14 gallon) containers, and a recycling corral for their parking lot.  The big bins were placed in the corral so the municipality could service their materials and all the little bins were used in each classroom.  Two bins were given to each classroom.  To spice things up, we charted the amount of materials that were being recycled and created a competition amongst homerooms to see which classrooms could recycle the most through the year.  The winning class won cool prizes from the surf industry including Ripcurl, Roxy, FCS, and Nixon, and a pizza party.  Below are photos from this effort. 

MASIS Recycling Program opening event

Jorge Seda Crespo Recycling Program opening event

Amount recycled between schools (#'s represent amount of full 95 gallon containers recycled)

Jorge Seda Crespo Pizza Party

MASIS Pizza Party

Lastly, for Earth Day 2012, St. Johns School in San Juan, invited myself over to give a presentation based on the reef restoration project and the research I'm doing as a graduate student.  The students loved the presentation and I was pleased to see the school's enthusiasm with recycling, conservation, and activism.  

Earth Day Presentation April 2012

The outreach component of this project will culminate in the short documentary about the project and the efforts we took in local schools to teach and inform students to prevent marine debris from entering our oceans.  This documentary will be finished in a few months and we hope it will ignite the passion of other schools in the area to join us in our fight to protect Puerto Rico's coral reefs.  Click here to see a prelude to this documentary in the form of an educational trailer. 

To conclude, this was another successful community based reef restoration project that the Surfrider Foundation Rincón hopes to expand upon in the future. We have already monitored other areas along the west coast, including La Parguera, Isla Desecheo, and Shacks reef for marine debris and began the dialogue with different schools in hopes that we can continue this work in the 2013.  We are very grateful for the help of all the volunteers, contractors, schools, and agencies that helped make this project a huge success.  Thanks for all of your support, time, and dedication to this amazing cause.

(All photos and figures:  W.Merten)

Posted by Wessley Merten
Marine Science Graduate Student
University of Puerto Rico
Department of Marine Sciences