Protecting New Coral Reefs

For years scientist and conservationists have been extremely worried about the coral reefs surrounding Puerto Rico. The loss of vital ecosystems has left the fish that need coral reefs to survive in poor condition, and research projects by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been significant in the protection of existing reefs. A new federal funded project, in conjunction with the University of Puerto Rico, located in Mayaguez, has made an important discovery of a new and thriving coral reef, and now their efforts are focused on getting support to protect this fragile ecosystem.

The project recruited divers to sign up for a training course, which lasts for a year, and it was these divers who literally stumbled across the new reef. The divers are learning to dive to a depth of up to a hundred feet, but they located the reef at approximately five hundred feet. They first noticed the large predators that were hanging around and were then greeted by a breathtaking sight of healthy coral reefs, blanketed in blue sea squirts and a variety of other marine organisms, such as snappers, star coral, sponges, reef sharks and groupers. Richard Appledoorn, who is involved in the project and with the University of Puerto Rico, stated that protecting the reef and the waters surrounding it is vital to the survival of this ecosystem. Not only for the marine life that depends of the coral reefs for feeding but the fish that spawn in the nearby waters.

At present, only about twenty-two percent of the waters of Puerto Rico are protected, meaning that most of the marine life here is vulnerable. Coral reefs, like this new discovery, play a significant role in conserving various species, and protecting the reef will give other species a chance to re-establish their numbers and continue to provide a stable ecosystem. Appledoorn could not contain his excitement, commenting, “Any large fish is always neat to see, not having seen them on top of the platform for decades, or not at all.” Having the larger predators and fish returning to shallower waters is a positive sign for researchers that the reefs are able to provide ecosystems that lure larger fish to them, and are most certainly worth protecting if Puerto Rico wants to ensure the survival of their unique and magnificent marine life.