A pilot project was carried out from August 19 to August 23, 2013 as part of efforts to develop a Watershed Management Plan for the Municipality of Culebra (a small island off the coast of Puerto Rico). It is widely known that the degradation of coastal water quality as well as rising sea surface temperatures have caused a decline in the populations of coral reefs. This phenomenon is mainly due to the lack of sustainable management of sediment/bare soil, excess nutrients from agriculture, stormwater runoff and sanitary sewer leaks and overflows which are some of the main causes of the degradation of the marine ecosystems.
After several meetings with strong community participation, Playa Tamarindo was selected as the highest priority location due to concerns generated by erosion and sedimentation and impacts to the natural beach berm vegetation and high use. It was also possible for motor vehicles to illegally enter the beach and to impact the beach berm area. The beach berm was no longer vegetated and hence the loss of an important buffer from stormwater runoff. This was resulting in sediment and pollutant transport into this important marine ecosystem. The NGO (nonprofit) CORALations helped to select the site and provided an educational component by coordinating the participation of students from the Ecological School of Culebra in reforestation and coordination of irrigation of the restored vegetation.
One of the goals was to address runoff from the adjacent roads and bare soil areas prior to being discharged to the marine environment. Another organization that assisted in the project in site selection and prioritization for restoration is the Society of Marine Environment (SAM) and its Student Chapter (CESAM) were able to demonstrate adverse effects on marine sedimentation and reefs from Playa Tamarindo over the years impacting their successful efforts to restore coral reefs in the area through its coral farming and out- planting efforts.
This project is also part of the Sustainable Forestry Network, Department of Natural and Environmental Resources Bureau coordinated through the Forest Service and Program initiatives Coastal Zone Management of Puerto Rico. The effort also has the endorsements of the Municipality of Culebra Conservation and Development Authority of Culebra (ACDEC). The latter is responsible for maintaining the facilities provided as part of the restoration as the vegetated areas. The project also had the endorsement of the Tourism Company of Puerto Rico. Funding for this project came from the Coral Reef Conservation Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The project was designed and implemented by nonprofit organizations Protectores de Cuencas, Inc. and Ridge to Reefs, Inc., with the cooperation and active participation of the community. Much of the labor for the project came from Culebra. The project received technical assistance from the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and NOAA. The DNER provided the trees planted as part of reforestation program and provided accommodation for the team in their facilities Culebra.