NOAA Helps Protect Reefs That Boost Resilience and the Economy
A road improvement partnership on Puerto Rico’s Culebra Island lessens sediment and pollutants that harm this irreplaceable resource.
Puerto Rico’s coral reefs provide more than $183 million in economic and hazard-resilience benefits each year, but at Culebra Island, the reefs were in jeopardy. Runoff from 50 miles of unpaved roads was carrying 400 metric tons of sediment to the island’s coast each year. NOAA joined partners to make strategic fixes to 15-plus miles of unpaved roads, improving water quality and cutting the sediment that reaches the reef ecosystem by an estimated 13 percent island-wide. Start-up funds by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program spurred more than $830,000 in total NOAA financial and technical support, including onsite work by NOAA’s Restoration Center. That sum was matched by $900,000-plus in direct or in-kind support.
Project benefits extend to NOAA’s habitat focus area in Puerto Rico, where several coral species are listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Targeting roads in nine subwatersheds, the partners regraded roads, installed sediment traps, and replanted roadside vegetation to cut erosion and absorb and filter runoff. Their fixes also lessen hydrocarbons, heavy metals, septic system leakage, and other contaminants. Some unpaved parking lots, decimated by storm surge from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, needed full reconstruction.
The nonprofit Protectores de Cuenca played a leading role in building partnerships and getting agencies to collaborate. (2020)
More Information: Culebra Community Watershed Action Plan
Partners: Municipality of Culebra, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program and Restoration Center, Para la Naturaleza, Protectores de Cuenca, Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and local landscape architects, engineers, environmental organizations, and community members.