NOAA Study: Vieques Marine Environment Contamination Levels Similar to Rest of Region

June 4, 2010

NOAA scientists are reporting in a newly published study that the health of the marine environment of Vieques, Puerto Rico - the site of military training activities from 1941 to 2003, which included live bombing exercises on the eastern side of the island, is comparable to the rest of the region.

Scientists are reporting that contamination of coastal sediments and corals is generally low and the condition of fish populations, coral reef ecosystem conditions, and contaminant levels around Vieques are comparable to those for other coral reef ecosystems in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Their condition appears to be shaped primarily by regional-scale processes such as nutrient enrichment and overfishing rather than local factors.

The majority of the affected land on Vieques, an island seven miles southeast of the main island of Puerto Rico, is now the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The land was formerly owned by the U.S. Navy.

Scientists tested the island’s near shore waters and inland lagoons for 162 contaminants, including heavy metals, explosives, pesticides, hydrocarbons and other pollutants. Only two contaminants, chromium and DDT, exceeded widely accepted sediment quality guidelines. Amounts of DDT, an insecticide banned in 1972 that is toxic to animals and humans, were above the guideline at four of the 78 sites tested. Chromium, a heavy metal which can be toxic to both fish and humans, was above the established guideline at only one site. There were no detections of explosive compounds such as TNT.

The study was completed by a team of scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science in consultation with the NOAA Office of Response and Restoration.
The full report, An Ecological Characterization of the Marine Resources of Vieques, Puerto Rico, can be found online.

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