NOAA 2006-R480
Contact: Ben Sherman
NOAA News Releases 2006
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‘Threatened’ Coral Species Affected

Emergency restoration efforts are underway following the grounding of the 748-foot oil tanker Margara along the south coast of Puerto Rico. Scientists have identified 8,500 acres of impacted reef including a relatively large thicket of Acropora cervicornis, or Staghorn coral, which was recently listed as ‘threatened’ by the NOAA Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act.

The emergency restoration work at the site is focused on the time-sensitive task of securing the salvaged corals, rebuilding portions of the impacted reef and removing toxic anti-fouling paint from the site. These efforts began July 24 and are expected to continue for three to six months.

M/T Margara, flagged in the Cayman Islands, ran aground approximately two miles off the southwestern coast of Puerto Rico April 27. The initial grounding and subsequent vessel removal efforts crushed and buried a significant amount of reef and dislodged thousands of corals along the edges of the impact. No oil was spilled.

“Coral reefs constantly face threats, and it is of paramount importance that we protect and restore them through concentrated, skilled and informed methods,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, and NOAA administrator. “This reef and all the species that call this habitat ‘home’ will be here for years to come as a result of the cooperative work between NOAA and our partners in Puerto Rico.”

Rapid response by NOAA, the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, and the Responsible Party resulted in the salvage of thousands of pieces of hard and soft coral from the edges of impacted areas, along with more than 1,000 fragments of the ESA-listed Acropora cervicornis. An unusually high concentration of this species is present at the site.

Because of the size of the impact, the quality of the reef and the variety of species present, the Margara incident may be one of the most significant coral groundings ever in the United States.

“Due in large part to excellent and unprecedented cooperation between the trustees and the responsible party, we have seen significant progress in stabilizing injured corals,” said Craig Lilyestrom, director of the marine resources division of PRDNER. “We are underway with a significant effort to quantify and restore corals within the impacted area. We are confident that we will be able to achieve restoration of many of the important species that were damaged.”

This cooperative restoration effort among NOAA, PRDNER and Independent Maritime Consulting & Continental Shelf Associates is expected to save and restore many of the coral reefs that were damaged by the grounding. Primary and compensatory restoration may also be necessary in the future.

The Department of Natural and Environmental Resources of Puerto Rico is responsible for the management of 25 areas with marine components including Natural Reserves, a Commonwealth Forest and a Marine Reserve. The Natural and Marine Reserves are managed by the Natural Reserves and Commonwealth Forests Divisions of the Bureau of Reserves, Refuges, and Coastal Resources of PRDNER. Through the passage of Puerto Rican Law 147 (Coral Reef Conservation Act of 1999), the Commonwealth has elevated the concern for and protection of coral reefs as a natural and protected resource, vital to sustaining fish and biodiversity within state waters.

NOAA personnel collaborated on this case through its Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program. NOAA created DARRP to provide permanent expertise to handle injuries to NOAA coastal and marine trustee resources. DARRP is a multi-disciplinary team of NOAA scientists, economists, restoration experts and attorneys that works cooperatively with all affected interests to assess injuries and implement restoration.

Through its cooperative assessment process, DARRP regularly convenes industry, government and conservation groups to identify methods for improving resource damage assessment, reducing costs, and restoring resources faster and more effectively. The cooperative framework offers industry a practical way to resolve pollution liability while NOAA fulfills its responsibilities as a natural resource trustee for coastal and marine resources.

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

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