• The San Juan Daily Star

Governor declares ecological emergency over loss of coral

By John McPhaul

Faced with the spread of the disease causing tissue loss that is afflicting hard coral on Puerto Rico’s coasts, which represents a direct threat to the environment and the economy of the island, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia declared an ecological emergency on Monday and ordered the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) to take the necessary measures to check the spread of the disease.

“We have to put this situation in the context of the natural disasters we have had, the economic crisis and the pandemic,” the governor said in a press conference. “All of this has prevented an adequate response to mitigate the rapidly spreading stony coral tissue loss disease. It should be noted that corals are essential to our marine life and guarantee an ecosystem for fish and other species that support our food security.”

He noted that during his years as resident commissioner he established a project to protect corals from bleaching and secured funds from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to support the actions of the DNER and environmental organizations on the island.

In Executive Order 2021-66, Pierluisi said, he authorized the Disbursement Supervision Committee, created last year, to assign $1 million to the DNER from the $10 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act that was provided for conservation and natural resource initiatives.

The governor announced other measures in favor of the environment such as an agreement for the conservation of the ecosystems of the island’s coast and the allocation of another $1 million in federal funds for the DNER, in conjunction with environmental non-profit entities, to take action on the planting and maintenance of trees.

“Corals represent a necessary protection to minimize the vulnerability of our coastal areas, which have been so affected by climate change and hurricanes,” the governor said. “Also, our coral reefs are an integral part of our tourist attraction, which has economic development implications. As you can see, there are many implications from the loss of our corals, so taking action is necessary.”

Pierluisi also thanked University of Puerto Rico marine biologist and microbiologist Dr. Edwin Hernández Delgado for his recommendations and collaboration.

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