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Caribbean Coral Reef Institute

Issue

Shelf edge spur-and-groove reef
Shelf edge spur-and-groove reef
Photo by Emmanuel Irizarry, UPR-M

Coral reefs, one of the most valuable and spectacular environments on earth, are also one of the most productive and diverse marine ecosystems. Coral reefs are also valuable assets that contribute to a healthy economy by providing food, jobs, and protection from storms. They create habitat for many fish and invertebrate species with commercial value, support tourism and recreational industries, and shelter coastlines from storm disturbance. Coral reef related activities provide a significant economic benefit for many regions of the United States and the rest of the world.

Scientific evidence indicates that coral reefs are deteriorating rapidly worldwide. Symptoms of this decline include the loss of hard corals, an increased abundance of algae, and conspicuous bleaching episodes and disease outbreaks. Scientists and managers still lack critical information about many of the causes of coral decline, but evidence points to stresses caused by a variety of human factors (see inset above). Human impacts act separately and in combination with natural factors such as hurricanes, high water temperature, and disease to stress corals and degrade reef systems.

Puerto Rico possesses exceptional and beautiful coral reefs. With a linear coastline of 620 km, it is surrounded by over 5,000 km2 of easily accessible (< 20 m depth) coral reef ecosystems. However, high population density and intense land uses have resulted in adverse impacts to the reefs, including sedimentation, eutrophication, and pollution. The effects of overfishing and algal growth further compound these adverse impacts. As a result, there is an ever-increasing need to strengthen resource management capacity through timely, state-of-the-art science and monitoring activities to ensure the long-term sustainability of Puerto Rico's coral reef ecosystems.

Approach

The Caribbean Coral Reef Institute (CCRI) is a Congressionally-directed program administered by NOAA's Center for Sponsored coastal Ocean Research that funds scientific research and monitoring of Puerto Rico 's coastal reefs. The goal of CCRI is to engage in research and monitoring activities that are applicable to improvement of coral reel management strategies and that will help build management capability within Puerto Rico . CCRI also aims at fully utilizing the resource base of the region when implementing its activities.

This core strength of this program is that its research and monitoring activities will be run as a competitive selection process in a partnership between the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez (UPR-M) and the Commonwealth's Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER). Within this framework and to achieve its objectives, yearly priorities for the annual proposal competition are set through a consultative process between the two main partners and other related agencies and organizations with interest in Puerto Rico 's coral reef resources. This process will provide resource managers with timely, highest quality scientific information. Presently, CCRI is focusing in five major areas of activity:

  • Basic assessment of resources
  • Understanding of reef processes
  • Enhancing MPA process
  • Impacts of water quality on coral reef health
  • Dynamics of coral diseases and syndromes
Data Collection along a reef transect
Data Collection along a reef transect
Photo by Hector Ruiz, UPR-M

In FY2005, Congress appropriated $500K to continue the work of CCRI-RP for year-2. CSCOR requested from UPR-M a proposal to implement these funds, and has vetted it through its rigorous peer-review process, and the CCRI team has addressed reviewer comments. The proposal has been recommended for funding and will be sent to NOAA's Grants Office for processing. In the FY2005 proposal, CCRI has continued to focus in the same five areas identified earlier.

Management and Policy Implications

CCRI's partnership between the UPR - M and the DNER will ensure that state of the science information is made available in a timely manner to the agency responsible for the protection of coral reefs in Puerto Rico . The close collaboration in CCRI between scientists and managers will result in scientifically sound management strategies and policies. Finally, CCRI will also provide a mechanism through which management practices can be evaluated and modified as necessary in order to maximize their effectiveness.

Accomplishments

FY2004 was the first year of CCRI. For year-1, CCRI funded 10 individual projects addressing four of its five focus areas. These projects were continuations of priorities previously set by DNER through its Puerto Rico Coral Reef Monitoring Program or new studies proposed by local scientists. Results from these studies are due soon, some are still undergoing, while others are waiting for permitting necessary for implementation.

Current Projects

  • Habitat mapping of the west coast of Puerto Rico
  • Selective monitoring of Puerto Rico coral reefs
  • Monitoring of the marine ornamental fishery in Puerto Rico - Phase II
  • Mona reef community structure and function for MPA design
  • Testing strategies for the effective development and implementation of MPAs protecting coral reefs
  • Determination of reef fish spawning aggregation sites in Puerto Rico
  • Cyanobacterial and algal epizoic growth on corals
  • The extent of clonality in selected species of hermatypic corals in Puerto Rico
  • Coral settlement and early post-settlement survivorship: Experimental studies of factors that affect recruitment success
  • Remote instrument array support for NOAA's La Parguera Natural Reserve CREWS station

Related Links

For More Information

Felix Martinez
NOAA / NOAA Ocean Service / NCCOS / CSCOR
301-713-3338 x.153

Note: CCRI is a Cooperative Agreement between the University of Puerto Rico/Mayaguez and NOAA's Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research (CSCOR). CCRI is a core component of NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program.