The M/V Jireh grounded June 21 at the Mona Island Natural Reserve and threatens marine habitats and natural resources of the largest marine protected area in Puerto Rico. The vessel lodged on the rocky shores of Mona Island poses a long-lasting environmental disaster to endangered species and coral reefs and wildlife. Although efforts are currently underway to remove oil, fuel and cargo the vessel itself is poses a significant menace that requires prompt extrication due to the increased costs of restoring the environmental damage to fragile marine ecosystem. Nearby some of the best-developed coral reefs (up to 55% live coral cover), various types of essential fish habitats and critical habitats for endangered sea turtles are at risk. Mona Island is considered the largest island rookery for the endangered hawksbill sea turtle in the Caribbean producing over 1,000 nests per season on beaches that are within the reach of the M/V Jireh. During the next few months hundreds of adult sea turtles are expected to congregate to mate along the coral reefs and shallow habitats adjacent to the grounding site, therefore it is urgent to remove it as soon as feasible.
Various shipwrecks have occurred on the coral reefs at Mona Island, some are considered historic artifacts, however more recent wrecks are causing irreparable damage to these important marine ecosystems. The debris of at least two groundings still contaminates Mona Island’s coral reefs (Alborada 1978 and A. Regina 1985) and the removal of a third (Fortuna Reefer 1997) impacted the shallow coral reefs beyond repair despite costly habitat restoration efforts by NOAA. The lessons learned from past groundings urges the federal and local agencies to expedite the removal of the M/V Jireh before the vessel is further damaged or dislodged by storms and imminent hurricanes. Delays in removing this vessel will significantly increase the chances of the potential destruction to marine habitats that would increase the costs of mitigation of an avoidable environmental disaster. Most shipwrecks are trash and should be removed to prevent ocean pollution, not to mention their impending threat to endangered species and critical habitats in this unique area.
I strongly oppose any further delays to the complete removal of the M/V Jireh grounded at the Mona Island Natural Reserve, Puerto Rico. This vessel lodged on the shore is threatening endangered hawksbill sea turtles during the beginning of their reproductive season as well as some of the most important coral reefs in the US Caribbean. The prompt actions of the USCG-Unified Command are critical to avoid the need to mitigate the environmental disaster if the M/V Jireh is dislodged by imminent tropical storms and hurricanes. The goal of the Coast Guard's marine protected species program is to assist the NMFS and the FWS in the development and enforcement of those regulations necessary to help recover and maintain the country’s marine protected species and their marine ecosystems. The efforts that have been conducted at Mona during the past weeks have been extremely costly and haven't minimized the long-term risks this grounding poses to the environment. I am convinced that the environmental impacts from this potential disaster can be avoided if the M/V Jireh is completely extricated from Mona's shallow waters immediately.
Coral reefs have thrived at this natural reserve for millions of years before the devastating impacts of vessel groundings. I care deeply about what happens to these magnificent ecosystems and will not stand by and watch as they are jeopardized by the vessel's debris if it is not removed immediately. I am very disappointed that the agencies involved in decision-making have neglected the impacts this vessel poses on the critical habitats of endangered hawksbill sea turtles as well as other essential fish habitats such as coral reefs. I ask that you consider the legal, ethical, and environmental consequences of allowing this accident waiting to happen to remain on the shores of Mona Island, and that you make the right choice to reduce, not increase, the impacts of vessel groundings on these fragile marine habitats.