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.