The coral reef ecosystems of Culebra are some of the more pristine habitats within the northeastern Caribbean marine biodiversity (Hernández-Delgado et al., 2000). However, long-term monitoring has shown an alarming 5-11% annual decline in percent coral cover in Culebra since 1997 (Delgado and Sabat, 2015). Research suggests that the decline in coral cover may be associated with increased sedimentation resulting from recent coastal development (Ramos-Scharrón et al., 2012). Furthermore, unpaved roads have been identified as a principal source of erosion and sediment loads within the 2014 Culebra Watershed Management Plan (WMP).Because of the relatively small size of the island and the quality of the surrounding coral reef habitats, it is anticipated that LBSP threats can be effectively managed on Culebra to provide significant coral reef benefits. In addition, Culebra has been a focus for recent NOAA investments and a priority for the Territory (i.e., CRCP priority area for Puerto Rico, Caribbean Habitat Focus Area, Culebra WMP, investments to reduce LBSP and enhance coral reef populations through nurseries and outplantings). Through these efforts, NOAA and its partners have established relationships with key community stakeholders (e.g., mayor of Culebra, ACDEC, local non-profits, DNER, USFWS, USDA, and EPA) which provides the foundation for leveraging resources resulting in a cost-savings to NOAA. This project will build off the progress that has been made to reduce LBSP threats in the PR HFA while completing HFA Culebra Action 1. Through a combination of CRCP, RC, USFWS, DNER, and NFWF funding, 55% of the LBSP management priorities identified HFA Culebra Action 1 have been installed with over 90% of the priorities funded to date. Since CRCP’s initial investment in LBSP management practices on Culebra in 2011 we have been able to: stabilize 15.1 miles of unpaved roads, prevent approximately 51 metric tons of sediment delivery to the nearshore coast per year, train and employ Culebra municipal staff to maintain these roads at the cost of the landowner, develop unpaved road standards and guidance manual for the Caribbean, and alter Island-wide perception of 'unpaved road' construction so that private landowners are now requesting construction of roads that meet the standards that we have established for the island. This represents a complete paradigm shift for the island, which we need to continue to instill so we can assure long-term sustainability of this project. In addition, it is equally important to invest in a strategic monitoring framework to evaluate the performance of the LBSP management actions, inform the need for corrective actions, develop the most cost-effective approach to managing LBSP threats regionally, and better articulate the impact of our investments on coral reef habitats. This project will continue to make significant strides towards reducing the LBSP threat on Culebra while also identifying opportunities to leverage interagency support for LBSP management throughout Puerto Rico. Specifically, this project will: (1) support coordination with Puerto Rico’s Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) to install floating treatment wetlands at the Culebra Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP), (2) support monitoring to address key data gaps to provide a foundation to evaluate performance of management actions over time, (3) identification and implementation of corrective actions identified through the monitoring framework. This project will also be combined with: (1) interagency coordination to identify and leverage opportunities for LBSP management, (2) training opportunities for municipal and PRASA staff during construction to enhance local capacity for management long-term, (3) identification and training of local stakeholders interest in supporting data collection needs through a citizen science monitoring approach.
In coordination with other funded efforts, Since the initial submission of letters of intent, our partners (Protectores de Cuencas) have been able to secure funding to stabilize 3 miles of unpaved roads, resulting in a total of 28 miles of unpaved roads stabilized across the island. Subsequently, the funding approved for FY21 - 23 will be used to finalize an MOA with PRASA to install floating treatment wetlands (FTWs) at 2 to 3 of the 5 existing treatment ponds adjacent to the Culebra WWTP. Following installation, we anticipate a relatively quick reduction in nutrient concentrations within the FTWs, which will provide significant reductions in nutrient loads to the nearshore. During- and post-construction, demonstrations, and trainings will be provided to local municipal and PRASA staff to enhance the potential for future transferability of this type of project regionally and to assure long-term maintenance of the FTWs. Lastly, project funding will support routine maintenance of the floating treatment for the duration of the project period.This project will also provide base level monitoring to evaluate monthly fluctuations in nutrient load between the FTWs. This information will provide immediate feedback on the performance of the FTWs and will inform the need for any corrective actions. In addition, project partners will monitor nutrient concentrations and quantify pollutant discharge into the nearshore. Combined, this monitoring will allow us to quantify nutrient load reductions to nearshore habitats. This information will be vital to understanding the connectivity between LBSP management and resource management.Lastly, funding ($25,000) will be set aside to support the installation of corrective actions on unpaved roads. This year NOAA’s RC is investing in monitoring to evaluate the performance of BMPs at the practice and we anticipate this will assist in identifying the need for corrective actions. As we continue to evaluate these projects, it is reasonable to expect that small tweaks to the BMPs may be needed to improve their pollutant reduction performance. This funding would allow installation of these corrective actions.
Jursdiction Priority Sites:
Land-based Sources of Pollution (LBSP)