[Coral-List] Response to Dr. Alina Szmant regarding nutrient pollution methods

Hernandez Edwin coral_giac at yahoo.com
Wed Aug 6 11:32:18 EDT 2014

Dear Alina: 
Hola! Although I totally agree with you that high
sensitivity required for nutrient testing of “normal” oligotrophic coral reef
waters should have deserved the use of highly sensitive, expensive
instrumentation, and probably higher expertise in nutrient lab analyses
(probably a marine chemist), I respectfully do not concur with you conclusions.
The situation we are bringing in to the scientific
community through our humble contribution in this paper is a criminal act being
recurrently done by government personnel in Puerto Rico which deliberately open
and close sewage pipes that illegally empty raw sewage to the beach. One of
these effluents empties directly into an Acropora
palmata reef, which is supposed to be protected by the State Coral Reef Law 1999 and by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. 

There are also multiple houses literally within less than
20-30 meters off the reef, with septic tanks at sea level, which have serious
seepage problems. There are also overloaded sewers across the adjacent
community within less than 300 meters of the shoreline that also send sporadic sewage
pulses to coastal waters. These are recurrent pulse violations of the U.S.
Clean Water Act and the U.S. Endangered Species Act which still undergo
unattended as we speak about methods.
The high variance (95% confidence intervals in the paper’s
graphs) that you question implying that it was due to the lack of sensitivity
of the instrument and methods was actually the result of the pulse behavior of
the criminal activity of intentionally polluting coastal waters by opening and
closing the effluents at someone’s discretion. We sampled periods with and
without raw sewage discharges, which contributed to the higher variation.
The methods and instrumentation we used, although cheaper
than higher sensitive equipment and techniques, are all U.S. EPA approved, even for
use in marine waters. Our analysis always involved the use of blanks with
deionized, ultra-pure water and never had any issue of weird readings of any
negative control blank sample. Further, our analyses were always extremely
consistent to show higher pollution levels in waters either adjacent to known
raw sewage pollution sources (when effluents were opened) or adjacent to Cibuco
River mouth. Also, instrumentation gave consistent exceptionally high readings
(which required serial dilution) at Caño Cabo Caribe which is a very small
creek that receives the nearly raw effluents of the Vega Baja downtown
malfunctioning primary sewage treatment facility, which in turn empties into
the Cibuco River mouth, and from there it crosses through adjacent reefs.
Our basic message in the paper was to tell the world here
we do still have one of the most outstanding A. palmata stands across the northeast Caribbean, but lack of
governance and negligence by government officers are literally killing the reef
due to land-based source pollution in the form of illegal raw sewage
discharges. Pollution there is non-sustainable and the government agencies are sending a very wrong message, in one hand "protecting" corals under E.S.A. and in the other hand allowing this to happen. And the worst, there are also increasing sea surface warming issues that are also interacting with pollution to make things even worst for local reefs.

Alina, the level of pollution around Vega Baja is so
daunting and so high that we were totally confident that even using
instrumentation with a bit lower sensitivity for standard oligotrophic reef
conditions we were going to have a very consistent and clear picture of the
extension of the pollution gradient, its magnitude and its effects across local
remnant A. palmata reefs. And for the
record, personnel from NOAA’s Coral Disease Consortium led by Dr. Cheryl
Woodley, Dr. Craig Downs, and Dr. John Fauth have conducted research there at Vega Baja about
toxicity in coral tissue and sediments in which I have collaborated. So
probably any of them could provide additional opinions and information about the
pollution levels across the zone and the precautions they had to take to dive
into those areas.
Alina, I agree with you, there is an absolute need to
establish a sound, solid, consistent water quality monitoring program there
with proper instrumentation and methods. If you read the paper beyond the
methods section you will see that this was one of our recommendations. But the
situation there was so alarming that we had to use what we had available at
that moment to rise a red flag. We do not have the funds at this stage to increase our sensitivity level and get the proper instrumentation for the type of analysis you suggest. And NOAA does not think Vega Baja is a priority either to provide funding for such continuous analyses. There have never been regular programs of water quality analysis for coral reefs in Puerto Rico. This was only a modest effort to rise a flag. Now the ball is on the Municipal, State and
Federal government side of the court and they will have to decide if they will
finally take care of the situation.
Thanks for the interest and bringing in this topic into
With respect,

Hi Edwin:

With all due respect, I do not think that the methods 
you report using to measure nutrient concentrations would yield usable 
data for marine waters.  The concentrations you report (and the 
variance) are excessively high and the La Motte system you report using 
would not be used by any knowledgeable marine nutrient chemist:  Just 
not sensitive enough for this application.  It is difficult and takes 
considerable expertise and equipment to do nutrients in tropical marine 
waters.  If you think I am incorrect, I would appreciate it if you could
 send me some of your raw data including your blanks and standards for 
me to review.  


"Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." Eleanor Roosevelt

"The time is always right to do what is right"  Martin Luther King

Dr. Alina M. Szmant
Professor of Marine Biology
AAUS Scientific Diving Lifetime Achievement Awardee
Center for Marine Science
University of North Carolina Wilmington
5600 Marvin Moss Ln
Wilmington NC 28409 USA
tel:  910-962-2362  fax: 910-962-2410  cell: 910-200-3913

Edwin A. Hernández-Delgado, Ph.D. 
Affiliate Researcher 

University of Puerto Rico 
Center for Applied Tropical Ecology and Conservation 
Coral Reef Research Group
P.O. Box 23360
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00931-3360

Tel (787) 764-0000, x-2009 
Fax (787) 764-2610

e-mail:      coral_giac at yahoo.com
                edwin.hernandez13 at upr.edu



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