DNER signs administrative order to protect coral reefs

By John McPhaul

Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) Secretary Rafael Machargo Maldonado announced Thursday that he has signed Administrative Order Number 2021-10, which recognizes the threat to sea coral of the disease that causes a loss of hard tissue, and coordinates the response in the marine ecosystems of Puerto Rico.

“In the pursuit of efforts that provide conservation and protection initiatives, I signed this order that, among other steps, will promote concrete projects to support the health and recovery of coral reefs in the Puerto Rican archipelago,” Machargo Maldonado said in a written statement. “It is essential to promote rapid, strategic and comprehensive programs to preserve these systems, which are so important for the economy, tourism and for the heritage of Puerto Rico.”

The document establishes that, through the DNER’s Coral Reef Conservation and Management Program, agency officials and collaborators from environmental organizations will continue research with treatments of threatened corals that may be effective in stopping disease damage in the affected ecosystems, and will develop strategies, in coordination with state and federal agencies, to reduce and prevent pollution and sedimentation discharges in coastal waterways.

Additionally, scientific staff will collaborate with other jurisdictions in the United States to conduct activities, create educational efforts, and identify other locations of the coral-threatening condition.

Currently, biologists from the DNER’s Protected Species and Marine Ecology Programs support several projects around Puerto Rico to promote the health and recovery of reefs and, through their technicians, are using treatments on threatened corals, techniques that seek to determine how effective they are against the disease. Anyone who sees any condition or anomaly in the corals is encouraged to report it through the email

Puerto Rico has some 2,360 kilometers of submerged flat ocean bottom where coral reefs, seagrass beds, sandy bottoms and other habitats are found. Of this area, 245 kilometers are coral reefs inhabited by more than 40 species of hard corals. According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 93 percent of the coral ecosystems in Puerto Rico are classified as threatened, of which 84 percent are at high risk.

DNER data has established that hard coral tissue loss disease was reported in Culebra at the end of 2019 and is spreading to several reefs in the archipelago. It affects at least 22 species of hard corals and can kill hundreds-of-years-old coral colonies in just a few months. “If we do not take action, we increase the risk of irreparably losing the coral reefs, on which Puerto Ricans depend for the protection of the coasts, fishing and the tourism economy,” Machargo Maldonado said. “In addition, they help cushion the impact of the waves during storm surge events or hurricanes and serve as a natural laboratory for hundreds of scientists.”

Coral reefs form one of the most complex biological communities on the planet and are recognized as highly productive ecosystems that host hard corals, soft corals, sponges, fish, algae, among other marine organisms.

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