P. O.

Box 750 Isla de Culebra, PR 00775 (o) 787-556-6234 SKYPE: coralations YouTube: PuertoRicoCoralation

email: info@coralations.org November 15, 2013 Dr. Mark Schaefer Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Conservation and Management National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 1401 Constitution Ave, NW Room 5128 Washington DC 20230 Re: 30th Meeting of the US Executive Coral Reef Task Force Dear Dr. Schaefer: CORALations is a coral reef conservation organization, founded in Puerto Rico in 1995, and due to mounting concerns regarding the collapse of Caribbean coral reefs. We first presented to the US Executive Coral Reef Task Force on St. Croix, in 1999. At this time we were excited to present, and filled with the hope of more meaningful agency oversight that Clinton’s new Executive Order and the Coral Reef Task Force could provide. Executive Order 13089, 1998 states as policy: All Federal agencies whose actions may affect U.S. coral reef ecosystems shall: (a) identify their actions that may affect U.S. coral reef ecosystems; (b) utilize their programs and authorities to protect and enhance the conditions of such ecosystems; and (c) to the extent permitted by law, ensure that any actions they authorize, fund, or carry out will not degrade the conditions of such ecosystems. Unfortunately, since its inception, the task force has meant little to improve agency oversight. We have had to sue the Commonwealth and EPA to upgrade Puerto Rico’s coastal water quality standards, then based on uncritical adoption of standards from New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico’s EPA region. We had to sue to implement Puerto Rico’s unenforced antidegradation policy. While through task force channels we pushed for the creation of a community based management plan for the first No Take MPA in Puerto Rico’s waters, the process was ultimately moved in a top down fashion, and this resulted in no implementation. The management plan is now being updated in a similar top down manner, that through no personal fault of the on ground administrator involved, will likely fail again. First and foremost, if today’s task force was truly interested in community participation, it would allocate more than just 30 minutes for all community comments.

-------------------------------Coastal Clean Water and Puerto Rico In 1990, EPA Region II conducted an internal audit concluding the agency procrastinated in either granted or denying Clean Water Act waivers for seven primary waste water treatment plants, pending waiver decisions sine 1982. As of our 1999 presentation to the task force, six primary plants were currently discharging without waivers. The Loiza plant that abuses the coastal waters of the community of Piñones, discharged for 12 years without benefit of industrial pre-treatment. While that plant was supposed to connect the people of Loiza, it served instead to provide infrastructure for industrial development in Carolina. Corners were also cut on the construction of many of the underwater diffuser tubes, and, with the exception of the Ponce plant, all discharge in shallow, physically homogenous, coastal waters. We litigated against the Ponce plant to prompt their reparation of diffuser leaks that area fishermen would call “el monstro del mar,” as the inky black sewage rose to the surface at night of these coral graced waters. In 2000, EPA made an agreement with the Government of Puerto Rico, which allowed the Commonwealth another 20 years to come into “voluntary” compliance with Clean Water Act standards. By 2006 EPA took action against the Government of Puerto Rico, involving multiple waste and potable water treatment facilities. While in the press release, it appeared that EPA was really cracking down, the agreement made with Puerto Rico actually removed monitoring requirement for the problem parameters in a resulting consent decree! While this should have brought these outdated plants into compliance on paper, it didn’t. In any event these actions are clearly not protecting resource and public health from the toxic discharge. The consent decree did however eliminate CWA citizen suits based on EPAs discharge data. It also continues to place the burden on the citizens to document environmental harm, which is expensive and increasingly dangerous from a public health perspective. TODAY’S PROBLEM In Puerto Rico, there are still five outfalls from six regional, public, primary, waste-water treatment plants (POTWs) now discharging into our coastal waters at limits we believe could be double what their initial 1982 Clean Water Act Waiver applications. Despite a recent inquiry to confirm, EPA did not, or could not convey which of these primary plants are still are pending waivers. In any event, the legality of this discharge certainly does not rectify the impacts to the coastal resources being destroyed or the resulting public health concerns. While the Puerto Rico Commonwealth charges these coastal communities for these waste water treatment services, the primary plants consolidate, hyper-chlorinate and discharge waste at night, through in what most cases are shallow, near shore diffusers. Since chlorine is so reactive, it’s likely there are more reaction products discharged that could be dangerous and that also go without oversight. We simply don’t believe the environmental contractors conclusions, as the economic incentive of the contractors is to be re-hired for future evaluations. As sea surface temperatures continue to warm, these areas will proliferate micro-organisms pathogenic to humans and corals and other marine life. This will make it increasingly more difficult to restore these coastal ecosystems. When pushing for upgrades to waste water treatment facilities in Puerto Rico, we noticed that


the government had one legitimate argument – which was they could not afford to replace these primaries with better facilities. However, this economic argument is always based on the standard industrial information associated with constructing brand new facilities. We believe the current administration of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to be progressive and that they may be open to less construction driven solutions. We believe the solution lies in re-tooling existing primary plants with new technologies (e.g. UV light vs chlorination), and installing, where possible, constructed wetlands to finish the waste water to reclaim the fresh water resources, now lost to the sea. Waste Water and Communities We have heard agency implications that local wastewater problems are due to a lack of community education. I can absolutely assure you that our coastal communities know not to swim in their toilets. We do, however, depend on Government to provide adequate wastewater treatment and proper hook ups. Recently on Culebra, a contractor confronted a new shoreline business owner regarding a modest ocean discharge. I have solicited comments from the community of Culebra, and found that while in some cases the financial burden is relevant, I was surprised to learn that the majority of hook up problems stem from access to municipal sewer lines. Problems include obtaining permission to pass connections through private property of adjacent land owners, and construction limitations presented by old shore-line buildings. We have developed a collaborative relationship with this community, and believe the only way to address these issues is to work with the community in a more collaborative, and less confrontational fashion. Many of these folks are not litigable and sewing community does not make for more collaborative stakeholders going forward. -----------------------Enforcement of Planning and Erosion Control We depend on government to regulate and enforce coastal development practices. We depend on government to respond in a timely fashion and enforce erosion control measures. We depend on the same agency reps to report illegal development practices when discovered, to the proper agencies and then we depend on these authorities to take action to stop those illegal projects. What good are additional management plans, when laws go unenforced? Unfortunately, lack of this oversight over the past decade, and what we believe to be intentional jurisdictional over lap creating valuable “loop holes” in policy and planning, has contributed to the on-going collapse of our coral reefs and sea grass, as unplanned and often times illegal projects create chronic and cumulative impacts for dwindling green space and coastal water quality. We have seen agency, and or inter-agency jurisdictional redundancies result in less, as opposed to more meaningful oversight at the public's expense. When federal oversight is triggered for NPDES storm water violations, the agency often times uncovers illegal projects, but then proper authorities take no action. Lack of enforcement personnel means NPDES actions have enormous turn around times, rendering the action moot in terms of environmental protection. We have seen letters from EPA to Army Corps substantiating our concerns regarding wetlands being filled, and then Army Corps taking no action.


-------------------------US CORPS of ENGINEERS and Crown Bay Marina Project St Thomas and St. Croix We depend, for example, on the US. Army Corps of Engineers, to recognize that for projects proposed to impact acres of benthic habitat, and in waters listed as critical habitat for corals, they must require an environmental impact study, and public hearing. The St. Thomas’ Crown Bay Marina project # SAJ-1997-03682 (SP-EWG), currently soliciting public comments through the 20th of November, sees the Corps even failing to identify the project as taking place in waters listed as Critical Habitat for acroporid corals (2008.) This project further threatens to impact St. Croix with spoils, and without benefit of procedural details. -------------------------US FWS National Refuges - Culebra We depend on USFWS to recognize that if the cruise ships have to drop anchor in Critical Habitat waters littered with Unexploded Ordinance, they should not issue permits for the Sea Dream Cruise Ships to disembark passengers on Culebrita, our National Refuge Cay. The protection of our critical habitat sea grass, endangered corals and sea turtles do not have time to be lobbed about in an agency game of jurisdictional accountability hot potato. In this case there is no economic argument for Culebra to defend this blatant impact and destruction of these critical habitat resources, since the ship does not spend a sent with the community while anchored on Culebrita reefs. -----------------------NOAA and TNC - Conflicts of Interest in Allocation of Federal Funds We depend on agencies to recognize that it may be a serious conflict of interest for local communities and states to have to apply for federal funds for management of endangered species including corals, in support of restoration projects to the Nature Conservancy, while competing with reef restoration proposals from The Nature Conservancy. Multiple groups in Puerto Rico have requested copies of the agreement between NOAA and TNC, to no avail. -------------------------Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and Coastal Zone Management We depend on Government to restore and defend public access to beaches, now being systematically stolen from the people of Puerto Rico. This no matter how rich and powerful the violator sees himself, or in which Foundation's board rooms these violator's sit. The Coastal Zone Management Act indicates there should be pubic comment on state compliance every two years. I cannot remember when the last two-year meeting was coordinated for Puerto Rico. We depend on the United States and the Government of Puerto Rico to transfer and protect federal lands and public facilities promised to the people of Puerto Rico. Key points agreed upon in The Joint Report regarding Culebra, were actually codified in the seventies (PR Ley 66, 1975) Public lands and facilities are now being privatized by private interests along our coasts and we our concerns that our written concerns regarding this issue on Culebra, has failed to illicit a response from our Governor, or the Dept. of Interior to date.


---------------------------Watering Washington Contractors for “community-based” projects in Puerto Rico. Finally, “Community based” is clearly today’s RFP -proposal buzz-word. It is used by new and emerging contractors and NGOs recently incorporated in, or around Washington D.C. area. In this way desperately needed funds for community empowerment initiatives are being spent on one or two preferred contractors. Good people within the NOAA office are apparently unaware of potential conflicts of interest in creating sub-contracting firms and NGOs to fit the bill of the RFPs that we suspect they enjoy inside information on the creation of. Community has never been so important to these resources, because given our well-documented enforcement limitations, the community is all our resources have to protect them. We ask the agencies to please take care when collaborating with the big NGOs and awarding contracts, not to displace local community based orgs in the process. We question when NOAA and NMFS will wake up the failure and expense of balanced fishery management legislation? This failure is causing irreparable harm to communities and their resources. While we see some progress inside the constraints of recent litigation with NMFS, and moving towards assessing fisheries based on biological indictors, it is absurd to keep drafting fishing regs. without an idea of direct and/or incidental takes. --------------------No Take MPAs Critical – but must be developed with communities: Based on the accomplishments of local groups that typically don't enjoy much agency funding, the great opportunity in our region is clearly the designation of No Take Marine Protected Areas, and the expansion of coral nursery and other restoration projects. However, we are concerned that current trends toward approaching the designation of protected areas from the top down, as opposed to the bottom up - and here we mean truly community based approaches that meaningfully engage the public at more than just the "welcome stakeholder" power point presentation. A top down approach here threatens to put the creation of truly protected areas, back in time – time the resources no longer have. Both agency and big NGO incentives are towards the quick and dirty designations of huge paper reserves. Financial needs place those with money as opposed to experience in leadership roles at our regional management tables. Not only will this not protect the resource, it can cause more damage by attracting more stress to areas with no management or oversight. More importantly these can also frighten off key people like fishermen, from moving, and then defending small no take areas designed to produce more fish – which is actually a powerful common goal shared by both environmentalists and exploiters. We believe that the data supporting the designations of these reserves, should less depend on even biodiversity markers, given extent of current impacts, and should rather depend on social commitment as well as the potential for the physical oceanography of the location to restore the area. This should be considered in relation to other existing or potential reserves. While this is obvious a need for special planning we believe it is not at all in alignment with current direction the agency is heading with multiple planning projects, and that without better focus both money and time will be lost. -------------------------Conch as Species of Concern: Conch, play a key role in the ecosystem grazing epiphytic algae from sea grass blades. In shallow sea grass increasingly impacted by sedimentation, the lack of grazing from conch


over-fishing is resulting in serious sea grass mortality. The epiphytes growing on the blades cup and hold the sediment next to the blade. We are observing a collapse of sea grass as a result of the removal of conch from the ecosystem. We believe this species has to be protected immediately and more effectively, or the continued collapse of the sea grass will likely result in the irreparable collapse of coral reef. Recent data from Australia indicates that sea grass beds may actually buffer the impacts of acidification to coral reefs. In closing we would like to congratulate the UPR student society CESAM, for their welldeserved US Executive Coral Reef Task Force award. We hope that we can collaborate in the future with agencies as well as communities to better protect and restore these critical resources for future generations. Sincerely,

Mary Ann Lucking Director


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