[Coral-List] Margara Oil Tanker Grounds on Coral Reef in Puerto Rico

Todd Barber reefball at reefball.com
Thu May 25 08:29:38 EDT 2006

Hi Iain,

Sadly, TBT is used commonly on these very large oil tankers...as you said, 
they can't practically come out of the water often for a bottom servicing. 
It is my understanding that silicon-based paints are excellent 
environmentally, but that users find they are not as effective as TBT.  (I 
don't know enough to comment if that is because of performance or costs).

I should point out that the bottom paint I recovered is suspected to be TBT, 
but it has yet to be tested to prove this.  To my knowledge, there has been 
no denial from the ship owners that TBT was indeed used.  (I still have the 
sample if anyone on the list is interested in testing it).

The main problem I encountered with the Margara grounding was that it 
pointed out the lack of resources and planning that goes into responses to 
groundings.  It seems that when there is a "responsible party"...i.e. the 
boat was insured and flagged in a country where we have reciprocity that our 
public agencies move in quickly to document and assess the damage but the 
restoration efforts can lack adequate timelines to rescue injured animals 
(the corals) since litigation is deemed more important than restoration. 
Additionally, the technololgy used for the restoration is mixed, rarely cost 
effective and usually does not include the local community.  On the other 
hand, when there is no clear bucket of money, our agencies tend to ignore 
groundings....such as the Sperchios grounding which was nearly identical 
circumstances in Puerto Rico at the same port to which no restoration effort 
has been made.  There are thousands of recreational boating groundings every 
year on coral reefs that also rarely are treated.

In other countries, I find many similarities so this is not just a US based 
problem.  Recent groundings in the Bahamas (Lyford Cay), and Malaysia 
(Sipadan Island), for example, will likely go untreated.

There are many members of the scientific and NGO communities that are not 
just willing, but edgar to help.  And many have shown that they can respond 
faster, cheaper and often better than public agencies.  However, there is 
currently no formal route to engage these organizations providing timely 
access to emergency permits or emergency funding.

Perhaps it is not a fair analogy, but just like Katrina it is likely that 
most governments are not really prepared for coral disasters.  If they 
ignore the problems facing coral reefs, the world will continue to see this 
valuable fragile ecosystem destroyed at an alarming rate.  If they try to do 
it all themselves, not enough will ever get done.  It just points out 
further (and re-enforces Deevon Quriolo's statements) that as a world 
community, we need to all work on a variety of strategies to step up our 
efforts to conserve coral reefs. That is going to mean more 
public/private/scientific/ngo interactions, and engagement.


Todd R. Barber
Chairman, Reef Ball Foundation
3305 Edwards Court,
Greenville, NC 27858
941-720-7549 Cell
252-353-9094 Direct
Skype Toddbarber
MSN messenger reefball at hotmail.com
reefball at reefball.com (email address)

----- Original Message ----- 
From: Iain Macdonald
To: Todd Barber
Sent: Thursday, May 25, 2006 1:15 AM
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Margara Oil Tanker Grounds on Coral Reef in Puerto 

Dear Todd

It is sad to read that TBT is still used for antifouling paint given the IMO 
convention on antifouling systems that will ban their use from 2003! 
Unfortunately not enough states have ratified this convetion to bring it 
into force but when they do it will be backed dated. A preventable 
environmental impact burdens a fragile ecosystem but hopefully that will 
change soon - like so many other problems.....

If you want a replacement to TBT there are many options, for such a large 
vessel as you indicate (no tonnage mentioned) that wouldn't be sitting 
around anywhere for too long silicon-based paints may be the best option.

A bit of horizon scanning and alien species from ballast water will be an 
issue for the lawyers to get busy with. But we've known about this issue for 
about 100 years...

Todd Barber <reefball at reefball.com> wrote:
Hi All,

This is an informational only email...this has not been reported well in the
international press and I thought it might be useful for the scientific
community to be aware of the grounding:

The Margara is a 748-foot oil tanker that ran aground over a diverse coral
reef three miles south of Tallaboa, Puerto Rico, at 1:15 a.m. Thursday,
April 27th.

The vessel is reported to have been navigating "by site" using land based
lights to determine their position and did not request a local pilot.
Given the time of the grounding, fatigue may have been another contributing
factor. However, it is inconceivable after historic incidents such as the
Exxon Valdez, that a large oil tanker would be navigating near coral reefs
without utilizing modern GPS systems and the aid of local pilots. The
Margara grounded just over a mile away from the channel designated for use
by the tankers entering the busy port.

The Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and
CORALations (A local NGO) assembled an internationally experienced team to
do a rapid assessment of the coral reef impacted by the groundings. The
Department was aided by reef restoration experts from the Reef Ball
Foundation, CORALations, the Marine Environmental Studies Association, known
as SAM by its Spanish acronym. The preliminary site visit was conducted on
Monday May 1.st

The investigation indicated that while the double hulled vessel apparently
spilled no oil, the grounding decimated an estimated 7410 cubic meters of
diverse coral reef over an estimated area of 3,000 square meters of sea
floor. There were at least 14 separate impact scars. As a result of the
finding of the initial assessment, NOAA and the DNR are following up with
additional formal site assessments and should have a much more accurate
survey. A significant amount of the highly toxic tributyal tin (TBT) paint,
used commercially to prevent the growth of marine organism on these vessels
was documented in the impact scars. A species of coral, Acropora
cervicornis or Staghorn Coral, now listed as a threatened species, was
documented within the impact scars.

Significant damage to the reef was caused during removal, which involved
several failed attempts. The heavy vessel rotated on the reef decimating
coral reef in multiple areas. Cables employed in the removal caused
additional damage to reef as well. It was reported that some agency
advisors recommended the use of floating lines in advance of the removal due
to previous lessons learned with other groundings. This significant
additional damage to the reef may have been prevented by more effective
de-grounding oversight.

This is the second oil tanker to destroy coral reef in this area within a

For more information please contact the Puerto Rico DNeR.


Todd R. Barber
Chairman, Reef Ball Foundation
3305 Edwards Court,
Greenville, NC 27858
941-720-7549 Cell
252-353-9094 Direct
Skype Toddbarber
MSN messenger reefball at hotmail.com
reefball at reefball.com (email address)

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