Reef Study Intensifies Rift Over Vieques

jo_lopez jo_lopez at
Fri Apr 27 08:12:28 EDT 2001

-----Original Message-----
From: Vieques Libre [mailto:viequeslibre at]
Sent: Thursday, April 26, 2001 6:06 PM
To: List Member
Subject: Reef Study Intensifies Rift Over Vieques

Vieques Libre -

Reef Study Intensifies Rift Over Vieques


The Hartford Courant 
April 26, 2001 

A neglected scientific study, left to gather dust while the
administrations of then-Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Rossello and President
Clinton negotiated over military training on Vieques, is fueling the
fierce drive to halt bombing practice on the island. 
The study - commissioned by Rossello in 1999 but only recently made public
by his successor - supports the position widely held in Puerto Rico that
U.S. naval maneuvers on the populated island are damaging the environment
and threatening public health. 

The Navy challenges the research, saying it distorts the nature of the
training done on Vieques, examines only a tiny portion of the sea area
around the island and has not been scientifically reviewed. The Navy says
its training complies with federal environmental standards. 
The study was directed by James W. Porter, a professor of ecology and
marine sciences at the University of Georgia who examined the waters
immediately south of the Navy target range at the east end of Vieques in
November 1999. 

Among other things, Porter said he found unexploded ordnance leaking toxic
TNT on and around the reefs and more than 1,000 deteriorating barrels and
cylinders of unknown chemicals. 

Porter said further training, even with inert or "green" ordnance, could
trigger further environmental and potential health problems by disrupting
unexploded bombs and sunken chemicals. 

Porter said on Wednesday that he is concerned that damage to the marine
environment could lead to human health problems if toxins are shown to
have entered the food chain through fish. As part of his research, he
measured concentrations of TNT in diseased corals that are eaten by some

"The link between public health and environmental health is the most
difficult to prove," Porter said during the interview. "But questions
about this link on Vieques are coming fast and furious." 

He declined to elaborate on his concern Wednesday. "I'm trying to stay
away from that because I feel the science has become very politicized, and
when that happens, everybody loses," he said. 
The future of naval training on Vieques, which is within sight of the U.S.
Virgin Islands, has dominated politics in Puerto Rico since April 1999,
when a Marine Corps jet killed a civilian security guard with two
misdirected 500-pound bombs. 

A savage political debate has spawned a dizzying array of studies
purporting to show that naval shelling causes everything from cancer to a
thickening of the lining around the human heart. 

Navy spokesman Jeff Gordon said Porter's work has become a political
weapon for critics of the Vieques target range. What's more, he said,
Porter has ignored requests from the Navy dating back at least a year for
a copy of his research. 

"It's lamentable," Gordon said. "It's the same hit-and-run tactic that
we've seen - to make an allegation and then not send the report to the
Navy or a third party for a scientific review. ... And the Navy has had
two years of such reports that have not held up in a court of law or not
survived scientific peer review." 

A majority of Puerto Ricans want the Navy to discontinue live-fire
training on Vieques. But naval officers have called the island range their
most important training area. The Navy's allies in Congress are resisting
any effort to close the Vieques target range. 

In a development Wednesday, a federal judge delayed ruling on a request to
stop the Navy from resuming bombing exercises on Vieques. Puerto Rican
officials had filed a lawsuit this week asking the court to issue a
temporary injunction against the shelling of the training ground on the

The Rossello government, which left office in November, hired Porter in
the spring of 1999, about the same time the Clinton and Rossello
administrations began negotiating in an attempt to defuse the volatile

Porter's research was to be part of a lawsuit the Rossello administration
hoped would stop naval bombardment. But observers said this week they
believe the suit was dropped and Porter was instructed not to disclose his
study results out of concern that critics could have used the research to
undermine a Clinton-Rossello agreement on Vieques. 

The new administration of Gov. Sila Calderon, who was elected on her calls
for an immediate end to live-fire training, recently discovered Porter's
study and is working to disseminate it; coverage appeared in the San Juan
press last week. Calderon is a critic of the agreement ultimately reached
by Clinton and Rossello, saying it does not get the Navy off Vieques soon

Clinton and Rossello reached an agreement in January 2000. It calls for a
November referendum among Vieques residents on whether to ban further
training. If local voters end training, the Navy must leave the Vieques
target range by May 2003. 

In the meantime, the agreement permits the service to continue practice
with inert bombs and artillery. The Navy has notified the government of
Puerto Rico that it intends to begin another round of training maneuvers
as early as Friday. 

Gordon, a spokesman for the Navy in Puerto Rico, said Wednesday that
Porter's research is not representative of what the service does on
Vieques. "Dr. Porter is talking about less than 1 percent of the sea area
around Vieques," Gordon said. "The area he is talking about is immediately
south of the target zone on Vieques, which encompasses 3 percent of
Vieques' land area. He is talking about a few hundred meters of reef." 

Porter was circumspect Wednesday when describing his work. But when
sending his findings to the Clinton administrationin late 1999, he
described the Vieques reefs as "a highly significant global natural
resource" and suggested that damage to any part of them was troubling. 

"The necessity to protect Vieques' coral reefs grows all the more urgent
as coral reefs elsewhere in the region exhibit accelerating rates of
decline," he said.

To access/download Dr. Porter's photographs, go to:

Click on the link to: Vieques

Type username: vieques

Password: puertorico

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