Southeast & Caribbean Region

NE Culebra

NE Culebra
Photo Credit: NOAA & USFWS

Overview

The proposed Northeastern Puerto Rico Habitat Focus Area encompasses the watersheds of the Northeast Ecological Corridor and its related marine areas (including Arrecifes La Cordillera Reserve and Canal Luis Peña Reserve), and the watershed and catchment basin of Culebra.  It includes an estimate of 19 terrestrial square miles (4,125 acres), and 102.47 marine square miles (65,582 acres).  This area is home to coastal forests, wetlands, a bioluminescent lagoon, seagrass beds, shallow and deep coral reefs, and miles of pristine beaches.  Leatherback sea turtles nest in these beaches.  The humpback whale’s migration in the Caribbean is through the channel between the NE Reserves and Culebra Island.  Manatees, green and hawksbill turtles and bottled nosed dolphins are frequent sights.  A diversity of coral species, including those protected under the Endangered Species Act, can be found, as can the diverse fish species that depend on these valuable habitats.   The fish assemblages support recreational, subsistence and commercial fisheries.
The geographical area is a combination of urban and protected lands.  The urban proximity is cause of a significant impact on the marine ecosystems from land based sources of pollution.  It is also where 75% of the recreational vessels are found, with seven marinas in the area, causing a direct impact on the reef and marine mammals.  This area is also of great economic value, mainly through tourism and fishing.

 

NE Puerto Rico Map

NE Puerto Rico Map
Photo Credit: Antares Ramos, CRCP/NOS/NOAA

Proposed Habitat Conservation Objectives

  • Protect and enhance coral reef ecosystems and near-shore habitats and the NOAA trust resources that depend on them by implementing priority restoration, management, and monitoring actions identified in watershed management plans and marine management plans.
  • Protect biodiversity through maintenance or restoration of habitat connectivity, and avoid further habitat, ecosystem and landscape fragmentation
  • Improve quality of surface waters, wetlands, and coastal waters by reducing pollution.
  • Strengthen local and federal agency collaboration and partnerships.
  • Increase sustainable tourism and economy of the area
  • Actively involve community in habitat conservation efforts.

Potential to Fulfill Habitat Blueprint Outcomes
This area includes two of CRCP’s geographical priorities in Puerto Rico.  It is an area of high priority for the Government of Puerto Rico.  Cross federal partnership has recently been established for conservation efforts in this area.

  • Jurisdictional support for science and management
  • Existing NOAA capacity for restoration, ecological monitoring and assessment, social-science approaches, providing tools to support jurisdictional training
  • Existing partnership opportunities to enhance restoration and management options as well as community involvement

NOAA’s Role

  • CRCP – NCRMP, Watershed Management Planning and Marine Management Planning, Benthic Mapping, BMP Implementation, Personnel
  • CZMP – Governance study for NEC, Culebra Community Climate Change Adaptation Plan, E&SC training in NE PR
  • CELCP – Purchase of 600 acres to be included as part of the Northeast Ecological Corridor Reserve
  • RC –NRDA settlement, purchased 152 acres to be included as part of NE Ecological Corridor Reserve, Coral nursery and outplantings on Culebra; baseline monitoring on Culebra; BMP implementation.
  • NMFS SEFSC – in partnership with UPRM is researching the viability of historical reef fish spawning sites
  • ROP – Work carried out in this area contributes to Caribbean Regional Ocean Partnership efforts as established together by Puerto Rico and the USVI
  • IOOS – A new buoy was placed in this area in 2013; currents and tidal information is being used for larval connectivity studies in the marine corridor and for watershed best management practices prioritization
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