Could bombing benefit Vieques reefs?
coral_giac at hotmail.com
Sat Nov 20 22:54:44 EST 1999
Dear Coral Listers.
This is in response to the comments of Dr. Doug Fenner (AIMS) regarding the
destruction of the coral reefs of Vieques Island (Puerto Rico) caused by the
bombing activities carried out by the U.S. NAVY and other NATO countries.
Dr. Fenner seems to defend the idea that it's better to keep the U.S. Navy
blowing out our coral reefs than to have Puerto Ricans developing Vieques
island. That view was also supported by Les Kaufman.
I agree with the idea that we can not allow Vieques to become another San
Juan(P.R.) or another St. Thomas (USVI), in terms of the model of touristic
development. As a matter of fact, the local Vieques NGO, Comite Pro Rescate
y Desarrollo de Vieques (Committee for the Rescue and Development of
Vieques) has already prepared an alternative sutainable development plan for
a Vieques Island free of the U.S. Navy. But, I completely disagree with
Fenner's point of view of keeping the U.S. NAVY in Vieques.
Vieques Island is part of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and has a
permanent population of nearly 10,000 residents. It is one of the most
important touristic destinations in the entire Caribbean. But at the same
time, it has been used as a target ground since 1941 by the U.S. Navy and
other NATO countries. 58 years of bombing!!! Bombing areas are located just
9 miles upwind of Isabel Segunda, the Viques downtown area. Sometimes, U.S.
Navy pilots have missed targets by up to 10 miles, dropping off bombs just 1
mile off downtown Isabel Segunda!
Residents of Vieques Island also suffer a 26% incidence of cancer, which is
way higher than the average for the main island of Puerto Rico. This means
that almost one of every three viequenses will die from cancer!!!!! Can
anybody has an explanation for that?
Furthermore, all of the most weird type of weapons developed by the U.S.
Navy have been tested in Vieques, including napalm, all kinds of missiles
and bullets with uranium casings!!!!! And what about biological weapons????
The U.S. Navy keeps residuals of uranium everywhere around the target
areas!!! And there is also a lagoon which has been used as a dump-site of
toxic wastes. It has been known for more than two decades that it is
severely polluted (Sanchez, 1978). Has anybody ever questioned if toxic
pollutants are leaching into the coral reefs and segrass beds in the area?
Are edible species incorporating toxics? Is this related in any way to the
high cancer rate in Vieques? That lagoon became flooded by the sea during
the 2-m storm tide and 6-m waves of Hurricane Lenny last Wednesday.
The U.S. Navy also smashes turtle nesting beaches by its amphibious
vehicles. What about all conservation agencies?
This is not only a matter of corals and fish, it's politics! And,
furthermore, it's about people!!! The U.S. Navy is slowly killing
Viequenses and just killed a civilian on April 19, 1999 because one of their
pilots missed the target (again) with a live bomb. Although a Puerto Rican
was blown out and split in two pieces by the U.S. Navy, nobody is in jail
But, let's get back to the reef problem and bombs!
Fenner cited (without mentioning them) the studies of Antonius (1982)
published in the Proc. 4th. Coral Reef Symp. Manila (1981), and probably
those of Antonius and Dodge (1982), which concluded that hurricanes are more
damaging to coral reefs than bombing activities. These studies focused only
on shallow reef zones (reef front and backreefs), which by the time of the
studies were just smashed by Hurricanes David and Frederick (1979), so their
conclusions were obviously biased. Moreover, these studies were requested
by the own U.S. Navy.
However, independent studies carried out by Rogers et al. (1978) and
Carrera-Rodriguez (1978) concluded that there was: 1) severe destruction
coral reef frameworks within the maneuver areas; 2) craters were abundant;
3) severe pulverization and fragmentation of coral heads; 4) damage by
sedimentation caused by blasting; 5) impacts from shock waves; 6) toxic
pollution from chemicals carried out in bombs (Lai, 1978); and 7)
significant solid waste disposal in the coral reefs, including, bomb
fragments, flare casings, shells, bullets, parachutes, and other military
In addition, according to Cintron (1980) and Vicente (1980), there was also
severe damage to seagrass beds in the area due to bombing and by being
smashed by amphibious vehicles.
Some of my studies in Vieques (Hernandez-Delgado, 1994; 1996; Chapter 2, 3
PhD Dissertation) have shown that Vieques supports coral cover values
ranging from about 5% in shallow flat eolianite reefs, to about 45% in
deeper reefs. It has been estimated, however, that shelf edge coral reefs
support coral cover values of approximately 50-90%. These supports one of
the most important reef-based fisheries of the region. So, coral reefs
outside of maneuver areas are still in preety good shape. But fringing reefs
along the northern Vieques shoreline are suffering the chronic effects of
touristic and housing development (Hernandez-Delgado, 1994, 1996, 1997),
including the construction of a
private resort. This is mostly caused by sedimentation and turbidity. But
bombing areas also suffer from severe run-off, which not only carry out
sediments to the coastal waters, but possibly toxic and radioactive wastes.
Regarding what is the condition of cratered reefs, there is no actual
information from Vieques. The U.S. Navy has never allowed independent
scientists to study the area, as pointed out by Juan Torres, from UPR-Dept.
Marine Sciences. Even, our Coral Reef Research Group tried to obtain a
permit to study that area, which recieved no answer.
But, I've been able to document in some way the status of former target
coral reefs of Culebra Island. Culebra is located 22 km north of Vieques,
and 27 km off eastern Puerto Rico, and supports a population of about 2,500
citizens. It was invaded in 1901 by the U.S. Navy and kept bombing the
Culebra arhipelago until 1975.
In summary, there is a striking difference in the coral reef epibenthic and
fish assemblages, when cratered reefs are compared to control sites.
Parameter Cratered Control
Coral species richness Low High
H'n Low High
Dominance Species Massive
adapted to corals
Coral cover <5% 40-90%
Recruitment of massive Absent Common
*There is coral recruitment within cratered areas, but the bottom was so
much demolished that it is highly unstable and only high-recruiting species
adapted to disturbance are common (i.e., Siderastrea radians, Porites spp.,
There is no net recovery of coral reefs that were severely demolished by
bombing activities more than 25 years ago. This suggests that it will take
several human generations to naturally recover these areas, if that can
Parameter Cratered Control
Fish species richness Low High
H'n Low High
Average biomass Low High
Average sizes Smaller Larger
Abundance of predators Lower Higher
Availability of shelter Rare/absent High
Fish communities are also severely affected more thatn 25 years ago because
of the lack of reef recovery, and because of the loss of the natural habitat
heterogeneity. Bombs are also known to produce massive fish kills (IDEA,
In synthesis, I agree with Fenner's view that Vieques Island coral reefs
must be protected from development, BUT SHOULD NOT BE CLOSED to Puerto
Ricans or viequenses. THIS IS AN IMPERIALISTIC APPROACH TO CORAL REEF
CONSERVATIONS AND WE, AS PUERTO RICANS, WON'T ACCEPT THAT.
There are several basic conditions that must be met by the U.S. Navy before
leaving: 1) Give back ALL lands to Puerto Ricans; 2) clean all toxic wastes;
3) remove all ordnance; 4) restore polluted areas, target areas, and
destroyed coral reefs and seagrass beds; and 5) provide for the sustainable
development of Vieques.
My recommendations regarding coral reef conservation in Vieques are: 1)
carry out a general assessment of coral reefs and associated habitats within
and outside of the target areas; 2) establish permanent monitoring stations;
3) evaluate the possibility of restoring damaged reefs and segrass bed
areas; 4) remove all unexploded ordnance; 5) evaluate the status of fish
communities in order to identify priority areas for conservation through the
designation as a Marine Fishery Reserve. A possible network of MFRs could
be an excellent approach to restore overfished stocks outside of the target
Fenner's intention of protecting coral reefs is excellent. But Puerto
Ricans, specially viequenses and culebrenses, are tired of the imperialistic
approach to conservation issues. We, as scientists, need to deal with the
reality that we are not dealing only with fish and coral, it's about
people!!!!!!! And there are a complex array of sociological and
political-historical issues that must be considered when conservation
approaches are proposed. Anything must be discussed with the people of
Fenner's last question was who will replace the Navy? It would have been
easier to recommend why don't the Australian government recieves our bombs.
They have plenty of reefs to destroy. Why don't they set a target ground 9
miles off Townsville, just as in Vieques? I agree with Fenner that we
should not allow weird developers to destroy what Viequenses have been
trying to rescue for 58 years. But to replace the Navy with the Navy
Edwin A. Hernandez-Delgado, M.Sc., Ph.D.C.
University of Puerto Rico
Department of Biology
Coral Reef Research Group
P.O. Box 23360
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00931-3360
coral_giac at hotmail.com
From: Doug Fenner <d.fenner at aims.gov.au>
Reply-To: Doug Fenner <d.fenner at aims.gov.au>
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: Could bombing benefit Vieques reefs?
Date: Wed, 17 Nov 1999 09:17:52
Regarding the petitions to stop the bombing of Vieques Is, Puerto Rico,
I seem to remember work some years ago reported in one of the
International Coral Reef Symposiums that looked at the reefs of Vieques, and
found that they were in better shape than the reefs of Puerto Rico. The
bombing had done surprisingly little damage to the reefs, and it had kept
people out of the area, so they hadn't destroyed the reefs as on Puerto
In Hawaii it has been said that the military are unwittingly one of the
islands' biggest conservation agencies, since the islands are dotted with
disused military bases where people cannot buy land and build resorts, etc.
Maybe it would be ideal to get the Navy to stop bombing and clean up
everything, but leave the live ordinance lying around to keep people out. If
you let people populate the Vieques as dense as the rest of Puerto Rico and
don't have very effective controls of sediment runoff, fishing, etc, the
reefs may be worse off than with the military there. What will replace the
Douglas Fenner, Ph.D.
Australian Institute of Marine Science
PMB No 3
phone 07 4753 4334
e-mail: d.fenner at aims.gov.au
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