Fw: Could bombing benefit Vieques reefs?

Bob Endreson bob at westpacfisheries.net
Sun Nov 21 11:57:48 EST 1999

Why not consider the same plan for Vieques Island  as Kahoolawe here in
Hawaii.   The Navy returned it to the State and created a Marine Protected
Area.  No fishing, no development just an education center and a living lab.

Bob Endreson
-----Original Message-----
From: Edwin Hernandez-Delgado <coral_giac at hotmail.com>
To: d.fenner at aims.gov.au <d.fenner at aims.gov.au>;
coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>;
eco-isla at earthsystems.org <eco-isla at earthsystems.org>
Date: Saturday, November 20, 1999 7:51 PM
Subject: Re: Could bombing benefit Vieques reefs?

>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
>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
>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
>9 miles upwind of Isabel Segunda, the Viques downtown area.  Sometimes,
>Navy pilots have missed targets by up to 10 miles, dropping off bombs just
>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
>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
>damaging to coral reefs than bombing activities.  These studies focused
>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
>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
>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.
>Epibenthic communities
>Parameter                  Cratered      Control
>Coral species richness     Low           High
>H'n                        Low           High
>Dominance                  Species       Massive
>                           adapted to    corals
>                           disturbance
>Coral cover                <5%           40-90%
>Recruitment of massive     Absent        Common
>coral species*
>*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.,
>Millepora 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
>Fish communities
>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
>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
>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
>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
>and outside of the target areas; 2) establish permanent monitoring
>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
>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
>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
>Vieques first.
>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
>itself?  Please!!!!!!!!
>Edwin A. Hernandez-Delgado, M.Sc., Ph.D.C.
>Research Associate
>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,
>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.
>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
>military?  -Doug
>Douglas Fenner, Ph.D.
>Coral Biodiversity/Taxonomist
>Australian Institute of Marine Science
>PMB No 3
>Townsville MC
>Queensland 4810
>phone 07 4753 4334
>e-mail: d.fenner at aims.gov.au
>web: http://www.aims.gov.au
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