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NOAA grants $2.9M for Vieques Bioluminescent Bay restoration

Two Puerto Rican community organizations, the Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust and the Society for the Marine Environment (SAM, in Spanish), along with the Ocean Foundation and Merello Marine Consulting, have received a $2.9 million grant from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for an ecological restoration project that will target the coastal marine habitats within Puerto Mosquito, also known as the Vieques Bioluminescent Bay.

The four-year project to be funded with Coastal Zone Management Habitat Protection and Restoration Grants will create living shorelines and expand the restoration of mangroves and coral reef habitat, which will improve ecosystem and community resilience.

“This project represents great news for Vieques and its bioluminescent bay. It has been designed and will be implemented by community members. It will create jobs,” said Lirio Márquez-D’Acunti, executive director of the Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust.

“Training will be provided to community members for mangrove, seagrass and coral reef restoration work. In addition, the project includes an outreach component aimed at local students, teachers, fishers, tour operators and community sectors,” he said.

Calling the comprehensive restoration approach to marine-coastal systems “an iconic moment for the Caribbean,” Samuel Suleimán-Ramos, CEO of the Society for the Marine Environment (SAM, in Spanish), said: “This is the first time that the ecological restoration of all three ecosystems is being addressed together, in a community-based project, with the support of the [Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER)] and NOAA.”

The area that will benefit from the project is the Vieques Bioluminescent Bay Nature Reserve, which is co-managed by the DNER and the conservation trust. The project’s objective is to restore the mangrove forest, seagrass beds and coral reefs of the bioluminescent bay.

This is one of 33 projects that have received grants to increase coastal resilience to climate change and extreme weather events. These grants are part of “Climate Ready Coasts”— one of the initiatives under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act.

NOAA cites this allocation of funds as “a transformational moment for the nation’s coasts, as this is an investment in resilience never seen before. The coast continues to face great challenges, which are expected to grow. These funds are being used to help communities implement projects designed to make the coast more resilient.”

Edwin A. Hernández-Delgado, principal research scientist at SAM and certified ecological restoration practitioner, emphasized that “this is the first time that a coastal restoration project focuses not just on the empirical natural science, but on the socioeconomic aspects, incorporating a traditionally underserved community in a diversity of jobs, activities, education and outreach.”

“We will integrate socio-ecology and marine restoration science. This will become a model community-based project for other Caribbean islands that will foster a participatory blue economy through hands-on coastal restoration,” he said.

“We are deeply honored and humbled by the support from NOAA and the Puerto Rico DNER for this groundbreaking ‘seascape’ restoration project at the Bioluminescent Bay,” said Ben Scheelk, program officer for the Blue Resilience Initiative of the Ocean Foundation.

“Community-led, this project will help make the world’s brightest bioluminescent bay a bright spot in the world of marine conservation by increasing the Bay’s climate resilience while creating local jobs and new opportunities for sustainable economic development in Vieques,” he said.

Finally, Manuel Merello-Peñalver, CEO of Merello Marine Consulting, said: “It is a privilege to be able to work with such great partners in one of the brightest bioluminescent bays in the world. Our seagrass, mangroves and coral restoration work will provide local communities with valuable ecotourism, many decades of valuable sustainable ecological services and the conservation of a National Natural Landmark.”

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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