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Grounded low profile drug running vessel in the water.
Grounded low profile drug running vessel Mona Island, PR. (Photo credit: DNER)

Emergency Restoration Protects Sea Turtles and Corals from a Drug Runner Semi-submersible Grounded in Mona Island, Puerto Rico

April 9, 2024

On August 31, 2023, while monitoring an active hawksbill and green sea turtle nesting beach, the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) found and reported a 40-foot drug runner sailboat modified to operate as a semi-submersible (low profile vessel) grounded on Mona Island, Puerto Rico. The vessel was leaking diesel fuel posing an imminent danger to threatened and endangered sea turtles and corals, and their habitat. Emergency restoration actions were needed to avoid irreversible loss of natural resources and to prevent any continuing danger to natural resources related to the submersible drug runner pollution event.

The remote location of Mona Island, more than 50 miles from the main island of Puerto Rico, necessitated close collaboration among the natural resource Trustees, Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI). DNER was instrumental in getting proposals from local contractors that described a range of removal options and ultimately the Trustees selected a proposal that protected natural resources, had flexibility with changing site conditions, and was as cost effective as practicable given the remote location. All agencies coordinated their efforts to ensure that pre-removal in-water and shoreside surveys were conducted to mark and protect threatened and endangered corals and identify locations on the land where vessel debris could be temporarily placed during the extraction process. On October 2, 2023, the Natural Resource Trust submitted a claim to the National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC) to fund an Emergency Restoration action to remove the vessel to avoid further impacts to natural resources. 

On October 19th, the NPFC adjudicated the Trustees’ claim and provided funds to conduct the Emergency Restoration actions. After a weather delay, the Trustees’ contractors successfully removed the vessel the first week in November, thereby eliminating future discharges of oil and the continuing danger to natural resources. Further information can be found through the public notice.

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more images

Endangered Hawksbill turtles emerge from their nest and make their way to the water. A drug running vessel sits grounded at the point adjacent to the beach posing a danger to the ongoing turtle nesting.
Workers are pictured on the shoreline of Mona Island preparing cut up pieces of a drug running boat for transport back to the main island of Puerto Rico for disposal.
In the clear blue waters off Mona Island Puerto Rico, Divers secure lift bags to the lower portion of a grounded drug running vessel to prepare it for towing back to the main island for proper disposal.