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Puerto Rico’s Coral Reefs and their importance on the island recovery

When talking about the recovery of PR we cannot forget the importance of our ecosystems. Today we speak about Puerto Rico’s Coral Reef and their importance on the island recovery.

Hurricane Maria was catastrophic for the island of Puerto Rico's ecosystems. Today voice of Puerto Rico shared the voice of Doctor Edwin Alexis Hernandez. Dr. Hernandez is a Marine Biologist with specialization in Coral Reef Ecology, and a Post Doctoral Training in Coral Molecular Microbiology. He is Catedratic at the University of Puerto Rico, and a Published International Researcher. Due to problems with signal in the island we were unable to record Dr. Hernandez Voice. This is the interview we conducted with him through social media. The pictures are from Dr. Hernandez personal collection.

Why Talking About this Ecosystem is Important?

Coral reefs in Puerto Rico are paramount for supporting nature-based tourism activities. They also support the economy of small coastal municipalities, including the islands of Culebra and Vieques. Coral reefs support multiple recreational activities such as SCUBA diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and fishing. They also constitute a natural barrier against hurricane waves and winter swells. They constitute the first line of defense against sea level rise, and because of they wave buffering role, healthy reefs are fundamental for the conservation of coastal resiliency and for sustaining community-based livelihoods. Reef also support a high diversity of species with multiple natural compounds with important biomedical activity. Reefs, like rainforests, are a natural pharmacy. Multiple experimental drugs against cancer progression, as well as antibiotics have been derived from coral reef organisms. Finally, reefs are fundamental sinkholes of carbon dioxide. Therefore, just like rainforests, coral reefs and its associated sea grass ecosystems are important buffers of greenhouse gases build up.

What is the major problem researchers like you are facing?

There was a massive decimation of shallow coral reef ecosystems, but there have been no resources to conduct a large scale assessment of impacts. Multiple corals were fragmented and dislodged, causing a severe destruction of important fish nursery grounds. There was a nearly total extirpation of coral 15 year-old coral farming units operated by NGO Sociedad Ambiente Marino in Culebra Island, resulting in the loss of 7,000 Endangered Speciad Act-listed Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) colonies. Also, another 20,000 out-planted colonies were also lost from restored coral reefs. There are no resources to support the rehabilitation of coral farms in Culebra Island. Also, stands of Endangered Species Act-listed Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) were demolished from multiple coral reefs. These areas constitute critical nursery grounds for a myriad of fishery target species.

What can be done?

Coral reefs are critical for supporting and recovering the economy of the people of Puerto Rico. Restoring its coral reefs will also foster an enhanced recovery of their food security and sovereignty. Supporting this recovery, either through the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources of Puerto Rico, Center for Applied Tropical Ecology and Conservation, Sociedad Ambiente Marino, would provide an opportunity to contribute to the overall recovery of its coral reef ecosystems and its economy.

Fuente original: Voices of PR

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