With the goal of maintaining, expanding and planting coral nurseries to enhance local populations of corals we are using in-situ nursery techniques known as “Floating Underwater Coral Array” (FUCA). A number of these arrays are seeded with Acropora cervicornis (Staghorn coral) and Acropora palmata (Elkhorn coral), at Magarita and at Las Coronas reefs in Cabo Rojo. The project involves volunteer divers trained to install underwater arrays that have generated 3,264 coral colonies (2,686 Staghorn and 578 Elkhorn) in a three year period. This approach builds upon the natural, asexual reproduction by fragmentation and rapid growth of Acropora corals to produce colonies from small fragments (watch video).
Assessing the Tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) Population at the Boquerón Wildlife Refuge (BWR)
Resource management (ongoing since 2011)
Tarpon are an important sport fish species in Puerto Rico. In this study data is being generated on the population parameters of tarpon in the Boquerón Wildlife Refuge (BWR). Their spatial distribution and habitat use patterns can be used to aid management decisions regarding this resource. Two established remote data collection stations and continued tagging of tarpon will help elucidate the actions needed to maintain and restore this sport fish species. Water quality measurements are now being collected continuously in the field and will also provide data regarding the main resource affecting the tarpon habitat and population connectivity in the impoundment. Finally, the project has served to develop an educational outreach campaign that integrates recreational and commercial anglers in the sustainable use of the sport fish species of the BWR.
We designed, and installed an artificial reef at Escambrón beach, in northeast Puerto Rico. The artificial reef consists of 200 Taino reefs modules distributed in a corridor design with hard corals transplanted to the modules. It was designed to provide substrate for naturally recruiting corals, sponges and other sessile invertebrates. This newly created habitat will also provide refuge for fish and motile invertebrates. The end product will provide educational opportunities to incorporate people to reef environments.
Condado Underwater Trail
Condado Lagoon Underwater Trail (2008-2012)
This project was developed in collaboration with the San Juan Bay Estuary Program. The reef trail is part of the Condado Lagoon coral reef restoration project. We designed, constructed and implemented an underwater interpretative trail consisting of 30 “Taíno Reef” modules. These modules will help enhance the aquatic habitats of the area, increasing the aquatic biodiversity and acting as an underwater corridor connecting the habitats of the Atlantic Ocean with those of the Condado Lagoon. We would like to thank Condado Plaza Hilton for their unconditional help in this project.
Isla de Ratones Restoration Efforts
Isla Ratones Ecological Restoration (2002-2007)
In the aims to restore coastal habitats to help reduce the impacts of the progressive erosion of the Cayo Ratones’ shoreline in Cabo Rojo we designed, constructed and deployed 45 “Taíno Reef” modules in the back reef lagoons. These modules served as breakers which dissipated wave energy and promoted a suitable habitat for red mangrove seedlings to grow. This project was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through the environmental NGO Caborrojeños Pro Salud y Ambiente Inc. in 2006.
This project was developed in collaboration with the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Caborrojeños Pro Salud y Ambiente Inc. in southwest Puerto Rico. Our goal was to develop effective methodologies for the culture and propagation of several coral species. We successfully cultivated and harvested the staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) which has been designated a threatened species by the US Federal Government.
Coral Restoration Techniques
Pilot Project (1998)
In this project we re-located massive coral colonies on concrete structures. This pilot project demonstrated that this technique could be applied in the restoration and creation of coral reefs in sandy areas where these are rare. The development of these corals can be observed in the photo time series.
Hawksbill, green and leatherback sea turtles are all species threatened with extinction, which arrive to nest on the beaches of the Puerto Rican archipelago. Nesting has been documented on beaches from Mona Island in the west to Vieques and Culebra in the east, as well as the main island of Puerto Rico. After months of incubation, the eggs hatch and emerge from the sand towards the sea to embark on a long migration towards the Sargasso Sea. Our team currently monitors the nesting activity of sea turtles on the beaches and offshore keys of Guánica and Guayanilla on the south coast of Puerto Rico. Daytime patrols of four main nesting beaches are conducted in order to determine the number of nesting activities per species by examining the tracks the turtles leave behind. Each nest is geo-referenced so that later it can be revisited and provide an estimate of hatching success.
Gorgonian Coral Reef Study
Coral Reef Study (2010)
Research on mass mortality of gorgonians due to a Cyphoma gibbosum (Linnaeus) population outbreak at Mona Island, Puerto Rico.
Research on Elkhorn coral distribution and condition throughout the Puerto Rican archipelago. This study monitored protected areas and assessed the corals current distribution, abundance and condition. This information sets a base line for a demographic monitoring program.
Two coral nurseries (at San Cristobal and west of Margarita Reef) were successful in growing colonies with good sized corals for replanting. There have been 643 colonies, of which 260 are ready to harvest and use in several projects including reef restoration, reintroduction of the species on nearby reefs or to be spread in situ. Partners from USFWS, UPR-Aguadilla, HJR Reefscaping and volunteers conduct routine maintenance activities and relocation of growing platforms.
Marine Protected Areas Conservation Project at Mona Island, PR
MPA Conservation Project (2011)
The purpose of this project was to prepare educational materials including written and audiovisual resources about Mona Island and its protected status. Published material included guides to protected fish species and maps of protected areas.
Buoys establishing manatee inhabited areas and speed limits for visitors are being installed along the coasts of Puerto Rico. These buoys help prevent injuring manatees and increase awareness of the coastal environments they frequent. A total of 150 buoys will be installed, of these, 100 have already been placed at their sites. This project has been developed in collaboration with US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Natural Resources of Puerto Rico.
Biological Monitoring Program Plan
BMPP (ongoing since 2011)
Since 2011 we have been collaborating with EcoEléctrica, a Puerto Rican energy generating corporation, to monitor coastal areas near their water discharge sites. We sample and monitor marine seagrass and coral reefs in the area to assess EcoElectrica’s impact on the coastal environment.
Guardiantes de María Langa
Guardianes de María Langa (ongoing since 2012)
María Langa is a small mangrove island off the coast of Peñuelas, on the southern coast of Puerto Rico. It is frequented by local anglers and tourists, because of its location, clear waters, sandy beach, and nearby reefs. However, the island in the past, had a problem with pest control. Guardianes de María Langa is an ongoing project to help restore, manage, and protect the island. We have established a poison-free rat eradication protocol, and continuously monitor the fauna and flora of María Langa. We have monitored coastal environments and created benthic habitat maps that help with the islands management efforts. Guardianes de María Langa also has an educational component to help manage the use of the island and garbage disposal.
Guardiantes de María Langa
Peltophryne lemur breeding project
Specialized structures were designed and built for the Puerto Rican crested frog (Peltophryne lemur) breeding project in "Finca Gabia", Coamo, Puerto Rico. This project is managed by the Puerto Rico DNER as part of the "Banco de Mitigación Desarrollo Urbano y Agrícola" in Coamo and Santa Isabel. These structures were built to function as refuge for frog juveniles, and designed to serve as natural guides for frog juveniles grown in the artificial ponds in Coamo.
An integrated monitoring of coastal ecosystems was conducted to determine the condition of seagrass habitats in south Puerto Rico. Water quality (chemical and bacteriological) and ecological parameters of seagrasses (productivity, growth rate and percent cover) were sampled repeatedly along the coast of two study sites, Ponce and Guánica. The algae bloom event was not related to any of the water quality parameters measured. The results of this study highlight the importance of incorporating spatial and temporal monitoring of the coastal waters of Puerto Rico. With this approach two point sources of bacteriological contamination were identified, Guanica Bay and Matilde River, Ponce.
Reef Emergency Response Team
Developed a protocol to establish the methodology for recruiting, training and coordinating members of the "Reef Emergency Response Team". Established the training procedures and materials used and dictate operations and support to the agencies during emergency responses related to coral bleaching, disease outbreaks, and other ecological surprises (harmful algal bloom, massive die-off of marine organisms, etc.). This project was developed in collaboration with the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER).
Puerto Rico Coral Reef Emergency Response Post- Hurricanes Irma & María
A damage assessment of 28 shallow (<7m) coral reef sites was conducted after the passage of Hurricanes María and Irma in Puerto Rico. With this information a collaborative effort was successfully implemented around the island by highly experience and capable teams (scientists and volunteers) to restore coral reefs impacted by both Hurricanes in September 2017 and subsequent historic swells in February 2018 (Grant by National Fish & Wildlife Foundation).
An estimated 3,415 coral colonies, most of threatened species, were rescued and cemented on suitable habitats in coral reef systems. Past experience in coral restoration and out-planting techniques resulted in the survival of 90% of colonies. Based on this and other efforts, a protocol will be developed for future emergency restorations after natural disasters in coral reef ecosystems. Community outreach and education efforts, mainly in areas with nearshore coral reefs (Rincon, Vega Baja, Culebra), included public forums, social media, press articles, participation in government meetings and interactions at all levels within the community were key outcomes of this project.
Sustainability and Recovery of Groupers in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands (2015-2018)
The goal of this project was to conduct research on the timing, connectivity and status of multi-species spawning aggregations of groupers currently under fishery management or conservation plans in the US Caribbean. The status of the fish spawning aggregations (FSA) is a key source of information to assess if the fishery is sustainable. Many species of grouper are part of the small-scale artisanal fisheries of the Caribbean, hence knowing the condition of their reproductive events is critical to provide information to managers and fishers. Groupers provided an important landing value in local fisheries, but some species have been protected from fisheries due to their population declines over the past 30 years. The main reason for these declines has been their historical capture during reproductive periods at FSAs where hundreds to thousands of individuals aggregate to spawn at predictable sites and times. Regulations to safeguard FSAs from the impacts of fishing became necessary because of the vulnerability of grouper during this critical life phase.
This project assessed multiple grouper FSAs simultaneously in Puerto Rico and the USVI that are currently under some type of protective measures. With the information generated by researchers the results provide information to evaluate these management strategies, namely: seasonal closures, seasonal areal closures, and permanent closures. However, this study is limited to grouper FSAs and not a population or stock assessment. Nonetheless the information on the presence and abundances of groupers as well as the variability of these numbers at FSAs provide timely information regarding these populations.
Specifically, the project studied FSA sites previously documented at Mona Island, Bajo de Sico in Puerto Rico and the Grammanik Bank in St. Thomas during 2016 and 2017. Species that are more common in the region and were assessed for this project include:
The abundance and size structure for groupers at the aggregation site was determined using a combination of diver-based underwater visual census techniques (surveys) with closed-circuit rebreathers (CCR) or SCUBA sometimes assisted with video cameras with laser calipers to accurately determine the total length of each Nassau grouper. The presence of spawning fish at the FSA was studied during two years and correlated with the sounds produced by each species that was simultaneously recorded with passive acoustic monitoring (PAM).
The sounds produced by each grouper species during their reproductive behaviors are recorded with an instrument called DSG and hydrophone during six months over 24 hrs. (20 seconds every 5 minutes). The recordings of the ambient sounds at FSA sites are analyzed manually and with latest technology speech recognition algorithms that can provide a detector that is species specific. This is a non-intrusive method that provides a high-resolution indication of reproductive activity with minimal effort. Examples of the sounds produced by grouper species.
At two sites Nassau grouper were also monitored with internal tags detected with an array of acoustic receivers to document the habitat use during the FSA. Local connectivity patterns were assessed by documenting patterns of movement of tagged grouper after the FSA when they migrate towards their home ranges. At least one Nassau grouper was detected near El Seco, Vieques after aggregating at the Grammanik Bank south of St. Thomas, a distance of at least 17 nautical miles (map).
As part of this project tissue from the fins of Nassau grouper was collected at both FSAs (Puerto Rico and USVI) to determine the genetic connectivity of the only two known spawning aggregations in the region with the latest molecular techniques, genome skimming. A complete Nassau grouper annotated genome (a genetic map) is currently being assembled based on one of these samples collected at the FSA in St. Thomas.