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Barge Berman

Oil Spill | San Juan, PR | January 7, 1994

What Happened?

On January 7, 1994, the T/B Morris J. Berman—a 302-foot-long barge loaded with 1.5 million gallons of fuel oilbroke away from its tow line and drifted around near San Juan, Puerto Rico. The barge grounded on a nearby coral reef, rupturing seven fuel holding tanks and released approximately 800,000 gallons of fuel oil into nearshore waters.

What Were the Impacts?

The grounding and oil spill adversely affected natural resources, including surface waters, sediments, seagrasses, reefs, rocky shorelines, beaches, invertebrates, fish, and birds. The grounding and spill also impacted coastal protection provided by the reef, recreational beach use, and visits to the San Juan National Historic Site.

What’s Happening Now?

In 2007, the trusteesGovernment officials acting on behalf of the public when there is injury to, destruction of, loss of, or threat to natural resources. finalized the restoration plan to compensate for injuries caused by the spill. With extensive input from the public, we selected a suite of restoration projects to restore injured reef resources, lost recreational beach use, and lost visitor use of National Historic Sites. All projects were completed in 2014.

  • Condado Lagoon Coral Reef Trail Project: Thirty pre-fabricated cement reef-replication modules were placed to create reef habitat similar to that lost as a result of the grounding.
  • San Miguel Natural Reserve: 422 acres of land was acquired, with the assistance of the Trust for Public Land, to create the San Miguel Natural Reserve under the protection of the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources. This land acquisition helps to compensate the public for lost reef services and lost recreational beach use. Acquiring these lands protects a mosaic of coastal habitats, including more than a mile of beachfront, nearshore coral reefs, wetlands, mangroves and coastal dry forest.
  • El Morro Coastal Promenade:The Promenade, a National Recreational Trail, provides access to part of the historic El Morro fort along the coast. This project extended the length of the Promenade, completed an overlook at the Water Battery, and applied a non-slip treatment to the walkways.
  • El Morro Water Battery Restoration: The interior and exterior surfaces of the historic Water Battery and adjacent walls were stabilized and preserved to protect against deterioration caused by the tropical climate, wind and wave erosion.
The San Miguel Natural Reserve was acquired with settlement funds to compensate the public for lost recreational use of the beaches impacted by the spill.
The San Miguel Natural Reserve was acquired with settlement funds to compensate the public for lost recreational use of the beaches impacted by the spill.

“The spill was a tragedy to the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The restoration projects compensate the public for the injuries to natural resources, and continue to protect the local environment while providing multiple recreational benefits for the community.” 

Daphne Boothe
NOAA Marine Habitat Resource Specialist


Leslie Craig
NOAA Restoration Center
St. Petersburg, FL
(727) 551-5786

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Last updated August 17, 2020