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Baseline Assessment of Guanica Bay, Puerto Rico in Support of Watershed Restoration

Project Status: This project began in April 2009 and was completed in May 2014

We completed a baseline assessment of the environmental conditions in Guanica Bay, Puerto Rico, to help coastal managers identify the most appropriate restoration projects, and their effectiveness, in support of the area’s watershed restoration efforts. We mapped the ocean floor, surveyed the fish and other seafloor creatures, and measured contaminants in sediments and corals, nutrient levels in surface waters, and sedimentation rates at coral reef sites.

Why We Care
Coastal management groups are considering watershed restoration projects to reduce the amount of pollution reaching Guanica Bay. Pollution running off the land and into coastal waters threatens Puerto Rico’s coral reef ecosystems and fishery habitats. Watershed restoration projects, such as stream bank stabilization, lagoon restoration, wastewater treatment plant improvements, and enhanced agricultural management practices can help by capturing polluted water before it reaches the reef.  In addition to providing our restoration partners information to better understand where the contaminants are coming from and the potential impact of those contaminants to the reef, data from this project will provide a baseline against which to measure the success of the restoration effort.

What We Are Finding
Our preliminary data suggest that the watershed is a major source of nutrients to the Bay and offshore waters. Also at this point, we have found numerous contaminants in mustard hill coral tissues.

What We Are Doing
We’ve begun sampling the sediment inside the Bay and the nearshore areas and coral tissues for 162 contaminants, including heavy metals, pesticides, hydrocarbons, and other pollutants; sediment and coral tissue analyses are complete. Since 2009, we’ve been measuring surface water nutrients once a month, and we sampled sediment traps each month to assess the amount and characteristics of sediment being deposited on the reefs. In addition, we produced a new map of marine habitats, identifying features such as coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangroves. The map and associated products will be available in late 2012. As part of the project, we collected baseline information on fish communities and benthic organisms living in these habitats.

Next Steps
This assessment is ongoing. Field work will be completed in 2012 and final data products will be published in 2014.

Related Regions of Study: Caribbean Sea, Puerto Rico

Primary Contact: David Whitall

Research Area: Coastal Pollution 

Related NCCOS Center: CCMA

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