Vieques Island: Protection should be comprehensive!

Potter at Island Resources bpotter at
Thu Nov 25 13:36:12 EST 1999

Jack Sobel and Doug Rader have presented an excellent statement of 
the need for US protection of the natural coastal and marine 
resources on the Navy gunnery ranges on Vieques, especially the reef 

Their message, however, ignores two important issues:
1)	The political issue of Puerto Rican "sovereignty" over 
"national" assets (a debatable concept, but one which needs to be 
acknowledged at some level to secure commitment to a resolution of 
the continuing conflict over the bombing);
2)	The economic issue of the need for ANY long-term resolution 
to address SUSTAINABLE USE of the natural resources of Vieques and 
adjacent waters to generate acceptable income for [at least] the 
people of Vieques. Given the intensity of resource use in the 
Caribbean, and the high rate of poverty in Puerto Rico, a resolution 
which ignores income generating needs is failure prone. (I'm not sure 
of the income levels of families in Vieques, but cutting back on Navy 
use of the island would obviously reduce employment and other 
business opportunities).
	I think the implications would be for low intensity tourism 
with a large component of diving activities and other marine and 
tourist services, but that's at the END of a long process of 
exploration of alternatives and development of those elements.

Much as I recognize the need to protect the reefs of Vieques, I would 
oppose any settlement which  fenced off the resources with no 
provision for income generating activities for [at least] local 
residents. The Sobel/Rader letter might lead to the unfortunate 
conclusion that local inhabitants are mostly significant as "threats" 
to the natural resources of the area.

bruce potter for himself .....


>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
> <<ViequesLetter.rtf>>
>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
>Attachment converted: Macintosh HD:ViequesLetter.rtf (RTF /MSWD) (0000A74F)

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