The demobilized naval bombing range at the eastern end of the Island of Vieques had potential as a marine protected area (MPA) to conserve marine resources. To help with the MPA site selection process, we conducted an ecological assessment of the island’s lagoons and insular shelf to identify areas of high biodiversity and habitat and recruit exploited species.
Why We Care
Coastal development and overfishing degraded many of Puerto Rico’s spectacular marine resources. Although the bombing activities inevitably damaged areas of Vieques, the presence of the range also protected many of the Island’s natural resources from the destructive pressures of development within the confines of the bombing exclusion zone. To capitalize on a conservation opportunity if an MPA was proposed, an assessment of the distribution of these resources was vital.
What We Did
Our surveys of shelf communities and coastal lagoons around Vieques revealed hot spots of biodiversity, with the highest biomass of exploited species occurring on the southern shelf. We completed a series of research cruises aboard NOAA’s vessel Nancy Foster to characterize and describe the distribution of natural resources. We used scuba divers to take sonar surveys of fish and benthic communities to determine features of the coral reef, soft-bottom, and coastal lagoon habitats.
What We Found
We determined that the shelf morphology and the presence of extensive lagoons and mangrove fringe on the south coast would provide a diversity of habitats and production systems conducive for supporting a vibrant marine community. We encountered unexploded ordnance in the lagoons and on the shelf. We shared the GPS coordinates of all items found with Navy personnel so the artillery could be safely removed; ordnance removal was completed in 2007.