New Reefs in Puerto Rico

Rebekah Gordon

For decades, Puerto Rico’s ecosystem has suffered tremendously, with species dying out constantly. But recently, divers stumbled across these reefs during a federally funded mission to conduct research on deep-water corals, according to the U.S. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The reefs were found off the southwestern side of Puerto Rico, where the ocean floor plunges to reveal the reefs at a depth of up to 500 feet, over a span of 12 miles long.

Lettuce coral, star coral, and several different species of sponges, along with grouper, snapper, and reef sharks, inhabit the beautiful underwater landscape. Fish species that thrive at a deeper depth can help replenish stock in more shallow reefs, which means that this reef’s existence helps us believe that other struggling, shallow ecosystems in the U.S. Caribbean Territory may possibly have a better-than-believed chance at survival. “Any large fish is always neat to see, not having seen them on top of the platform for decades, or not at all,” says Richard Appledoom, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico.

This discovery has been a great opportunity for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, since the two islands are seeking to create the Caribbean Regional Ocean Partnership to NOAA, who financed the mission that led to the discovery of the reefs in the first place. The CROP is an endeavor that aims to better coordinate the use of the coastal waters and implements conservation programs for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The proposed goal is to create a zoning map of the waters around the two islands, which would designate certain areas for recreation, conservation, or commercial purposes.

Ernesto Diaz, director of Puerto Rico’s Coastal Zone Management program, said the partnership would eventually include the Dominican Republic and the British Virgin Islands in the nearby future. Until then, scientists are beginning to explore reefs off Mona, a nearby island just west of Puerto Rico that is sometimes the unintended final destination of migrants from Cuba and the Dominican Republic.