Vieques Island: Protection should be comprehensive!

Wed Nov 24 14:12:46 EST 1999

The coral reef list-server has once again provided an excellent, neutral
forum for sharing many perspectives and providing much useful information
regarding the controversial and emotional issues facing Vieques Island's
coral reefs and military use of this important area.  The dialogue to date
has been very instructive and informative to me and I would like to thank
the List-server providers and all of those who have shared their
perspectives on Vieques.  Here is one more:  

As ecosystem director for the Center for Marine Conservation (CMC), I was
approached both through the list-server and directly by the Commonwealth of
Puerto Rico, the law firm representing them, local NGO's from Puerto Rico,
and coral reef scientists with requests to sign onto a group letter
emphasizing the need to stop the bombing and get the military out of Vieques
due to its impact on coral reefs.  I also had the privilege of attending the
U.S. Coral Reef Task Force meeting in St. Croix and hearing several
excellent presentations on Vieques and discussing this with presenters and
attendees familiar with Vieques.  

CMC elected not to sign onto the group letter that was circulated due to its
sole focus on the bombing issue and our belief that any solution to
protecting Vieques' coral reefs would have to be more comprehensive and
long-term.  Instead, we sent our own letter (see below) together with EDF
that supported an end to the bombing and other military activities impacting
the island's coral reefs and other natural resources, but stressing that a
more comprehensive solution is essential, especially if the military pulls
out.  Our belief is that such a solution will need to include protected
areas on land and in the water and stringent conservation measures
applicable to those areas that are developed.  Designation of a National
Wildlife Refuge, as was done for Culebra and other former military lands,
may be a piece of this solution.  There are other approaches worth
considering and we don't believe a comprehensive solution need be
"Imperialistic", but must address issues other than bombing and military
activities and provide concrete protection with regard to other threats.
The list-server dialogue has strengthened my belief that the more
comprehensive approach called for in our letter is absolutely critical.  

Simply promoting "sustainable development", without defining what this means
will likely not protect Vieques reefs, other natural resources, or the human
community on Vieques for that matter.  Edwin Hernandez-Delgado indicated in
his email that a local Vieques NGO, Comite Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de
Vieques, has prepared an altenative sustainable development plan for a
Vieques Island free of the Navy.  We would like to see this plan posted or
at least have information on how to obtain it provided.  In our
conversations with those who were asking us to sign the group letter, those
representing the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and others voiced support for
more comprehensive protection, but were unwilling to state or commit to a
written position other than calling for an immediate end to the bombing and
withdrawal of the military.  This position concerns us, in that, if the
military does withdraw, development pressures similar to those that occurred
elsewhere in Puerto Rico and beyond may overwhelm good intentions with
respect to Vieques and its local community, unless there is already a
comprehensive protection plan in place for its coral reefs and other natural
resources.   The time to provide such protection is prior to any decision on
a military pull-out.  The letter we sent follows:
		November 16, 1999

President William J. Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

On behalf of the Center for Marine Conservation (CMC) and the Environmental
Defense Fund (EDF), we are writing to urge you to exercise all of your
relevant authorities to permanently protect the coral reefs and associated
tropical marine and coastal ecosystems on and surrounding the Island of
Vieques, Puerto Rico.  We encourage you to find a resolution to current
Department of Defense (DOD) activities that may threaten these systems and
the fish and wildlife that depend on them, and a long-term solution that
would provide comprehensive protection for these vital natural resources.
In particular, we ask that you (1) extend the current moratorium and secure
a permanent ban on all live fire military exercises and bombing activities
that threaten natural resources in the vicinity of Vieques; and (2) develop
and implement a strategy to fully and permanently protect the coral reef and
related ecosystems on and near Vieques, including development of a national
wildlife refuge, national park, or other appropriate protected area(s).

Vieques is home to some of the most extraordinary ecosystems on the planet,
including three of the world's seven surviving bioluminescent bays and some
of the healthiest and most diverse coral reefs found in U.S. Carribean
territorial waters.  The Island also provides important habitat for numerous
species protected under the Endangered Species Act including manatees, brown
pelicans, and green, hawksbill, leatherback, and loggerhead sea turtles, as
well as several endangered plants.  While naval bombing and use of Vieques
has resulted in some significant harm to the Island's fragile marine and
terrestrial ecology and raised legitimate concerns among the island's
population, the federal holdings on the island have also forestalled other
potentially harmful development and limited natural resource extraction that
may pose an equal or greater long-term threat to the island's natural
resources.  Any long-term strategy to protect Vieques' natural resources
must include not only a cessation of bombing, but also a comprehensive
approach that protects these sensitive systems from coastal development and
natural resource extraction.

Your Executive Order 13089 on Coral Reef Protection sets very high standards
for Federal agencies and the Nation to both prevent degradation and enhance
protection for coral reef ecosystems. Its stated policy requires all Federal
agencies to:

(1) "utilize their programs and authorities to protect and enhance the
conditions of such ecosystems" 

(2) "ensure that any actions they authorize, fund, or carry out will not
degrade the conditions of such ecosystems."

With regard to Vieques, continued live bombing of the island's coral reef
ecosystems appears clearly inconsistent with the no-degradation standard of
the Executive Order and to require implementation of an extended moratorium
and permanent prohibition.  However, addressing only the bombing issue would
fall far short of the Executive Order's stated policy regarding the
protection and enhancement of coral reef ecosystems.  DOD and all federal
agencies are also required to use their programs and authorities to protect
such systems.  Given the relatively healthy condition and importance of
Vieques' coral reef ecosystems, the policy requires that all agencies
maintain and enhance that level of protection.  In our view, cessation of
bombing must be combined with more comprehensive protection to fulfill the
letter and spirit of the Executive Order.  Development and implementation of
a national wildlife refuge or similar protective regime would be one way of
accomplishing this.


Jack Sobel, Ecosystem Director			Doug Rader, Senior Scientist
Center for Marine Conservation			Environmental Defense Fund

Jack Sobel, Director	
Ecosystem Program	
Center for Marine Conservation
1725 DeSales St. NW, Suite #600
Washington, DC  20036
Phone:  (202) 429-5609
Fax:  (202) 872-0619
Email:  jsobel at

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