Public Comment Period Opens for Two Coral Restoration Plans in Puerto Rico

Port Stewart being assisted by tug boats in Puerto Rico after grounding in 2009. (Photo: USCG)
Port Stewart being assisted by tug boats in Puerto Rico after grounding in 2009. (Photo: USCG)

Public Comment Period Opens for Two Coral Restoration Plans in Puerto Rico

January 6, 2017

January 6, 2017 - The public comment period begins today for two important coral habitat restoration plans in Puerto Rico. NOAA and the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources prepared Draft Restoration Plans and Environmental Assessments for the Tanker Vessel Port Stewart and the Liquid Natural Gas Carrier Matthew ship groundings. The plans outline our injury assessment and restoration planning process related to these cases that occurred in Puerto Rico. The plans also describe the restoration actions we are proposing. The documents are available for public review and comment until February 10, 2017. Following the public review period, we will finalize the plan and move forward to implement restoration.

On or about October 27, 2009, the Port Stewart, a 176-meter tanker vessel carrying seven million gallons of oil, grounded in coral reef habitat on the southeast coast of Puerto Rico near the entrance to Yabucoa Channel in waters approximately 10 meters (30 ft) in depth. It was freed and removed from the reef the same day it grounded. During extraction of the vessel, another reef area approximately 200 meters to the south of the initial grounding site was impacted, when, on December 15, 2009, the 289-meter Carrier Matthew struck coral reef habitat off the south coast of Puerto Rico near Guayanilla. The vessel was freed with assistance of local tug boats but, during extraction, the vessel was pushed at the bow and swung from side-to-side causing additional damage to the reef before finally being extracted. While there was no release of oil, the groundings and subsequent actions undertaken to remove the vessels to prevent a significant oil spill, injured and destroyed coral species and impacted the coral reef structure and ecosystem. The Port Stewart incident directly destroyed about 512 square meters of the living coral reef. The Carrier Matthew incident directly destroyed over 3,000 square meters of the living coral reef.