Approximately 20 acres of coastal fringing mangroves were restored at a variety of sites along 15,000 feet of shoreline on the island of Culebra. Culebra is the main island in an archipelago of 22 smaller islands that has been designated the Culebra National Wildlife Refuge due to its importance as a sanctuary for many common and endangered species of birds, fish and sea turtles. The mangroves of Culebra were severely impacted by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and they failed to recover naturally. Thus, this project–implemented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in collaboration with local government and community organizations–sought to help rejuvenate and restore this sensitive mangrove ecosystem. It is hoped that these mangroves will stabilize the shoreline and provide protection during future storms but more importantly, that they will nurture healthy coastal and marine ecosystems for the benefit of the wildlife that calls the Refuge home.
Culebra, Puerto Rico, 18.3081082, -65.30377390000001
Country or Territory:
Estuaries, Marshes & Mangroves
Area being restored:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Primary Causes of DegradationUrbanization, Transportation & Industry
In late 1989, Hurricane Hugo slammed into the Island of Culebra in Puerto Rico. The storm severely damaged or destroyed coastal mangrove forests in and around Puerto del Manglar. Initially, these mangrove forests were left alone in an attempt to allow them to regenerate naturally. However, after three years these trees were not regrowing and it was apparent that significant efforts would be needed to restore this important component of the Culebra coastal ecosystem.
Reference Ecosystem Description
More than 13 species of seabirds–including Laughing Gulls, White-tailed and Red-billed Tropicbirds, Brown Noddies, and Sooty, Roseate and Bridled Terns–find their way to the Culebra Refuge each year to breed and nurture their young. The largest breeding colony, numbering over 15,000 birds, is the Sooty Tern colony located on Flamenco Peninsula. While the majority of species nesting in the area are migratory and are present only from May to September, others breed throughout the year. These include three species of boobies and frigatebirds. The mangroves of Puerto de Manglar attract marine feeders such as Tri-colored, Little Blue and Great Blue Herons. They also serve as roosts and nesting sites for Cattle Egrets, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Scaley-naped Pigeons, White-crowned Pigeons and endangered Brown Pelicans.
Not only is the Culebra Refuge an important sanctuary for birds, three species of sea turtles–Leatherback, Hawksbill and Green–use the waters surrounding Culebra and nest on refuge beaches.
Restoration of this site was initiated in order to help maintain the ecological web of the area after Hurricane Hugo’s severe damage to the forests in 1989.
The project does not have a monitoring plan.
This project was planned and implemented in collaboration with local and federal government entities, as well as representatives from local educational institutions, local non-governmental organizations and members of the community.
Description of Project Activities:
In the transplant area, most of the dead trees were cleared, but some were left to serve as breakwaters for new trees and help them get established. Propagules were then collected from an unaffected red mangrove forest on the southwest coast of Puerto Rico and transplanted at the newly cleared site. Through the cooperative efforts of Coastal America partners, University of Puerto Rico personnel, and citizens groups, approximately 4,000 seedlings were planted at Culebra.
Ecological Outcomes Achieved
Eliminate existing threats to the ecosystem:
This planting effort helped to restore one of the most environmentally sensitive and important areas in Culebra. At the completion of the project, over 20 acres of fringe red mangrove, Rhizophora mangle, were restored and approximately 15,000 feet of the shoreline had been replanted.
Socio-Economic & Community Outcomes Achieved
Economic vitality and local livelihoods:
The restoration of the fringe mangrove forest will result in significant environmental benefits when the trees mature. Mangrove roots stabilize the shoreline, thus protecting inland areas during storms and hurricanes. Mangroves also prevent resuspension of fine sediments, thus improving water quality for sea turtles, fish and sessile organisms such as oysters, seagrass beds, and coral reefs. Furthermore, mangrove trees provide foraging, nesting, and roosting habitat for many important species of shorebirds. Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of the project was the educational experience it provided for the volunteers, students and employees involved in its implementation. The importance of these coastal mangroves and their relationship to the overall health of the aquatic environment was made apparent to a large segment of a small community that often takes its environment for granted.
Key Lessons Learned
Although the project could have been conducted by a single agency, the support and desire for its accomplishment by several agencies and individuals made the probability for success much greater and definitively enhanced the scope of the project.
Sources and Amounts of Funding
53,000 USD The project was funded by cash contributions, in-kind services and volunteer efforts. The federal partners provided $40,000 in funding, and the nonfederal partners provided $13,000. In addition, NOAA/NMFS and EPA personnel provided coordination and supervision of students from the UPR during trips to the site. Total time involved for preparation, planning, coordination and on site activities was approximately 17 staff days with an approximate value of $3,500. The Culebra Human and Social Services Center coordinated with USFWS staff and paid contract personnel to provide student assistance. The value of this in-kind nonfederal transfer was approximately $1,000. Finally, over 100 hours of volunteer labor helped make this project a reality.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Beverly Yoshioka, Coordinator for the Coastal Program in the Caribbean
Boquerón, Puerto Rico