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EPA to Study Puerto Rico Waters and Marine Habitat

Release Date: 02/11/2009
Contact Information: John Senn (212) 637-3667, senn.john@epa.gov or Carl Soderberg (787) 977-5865, soderberg.carl@epa.gov

(San Juan, P.R.) For nearly two weeks, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will study water, reefs and marine habitats in the Caribbean Sea around Puerto Rico.

Starting today, EPA’s ocean survey vessel, the OSV BOLD, will conduct a series of scientific studies aimed at protecting and improving the Caribbean environment in and around the San Juan Bay Estuary, Jobos Bay, La Parguera and other marine areas around Puerto Rico. The ship will also be open to the public when it docks in San Juan on Feb. 12 and in Mayaguez on Feb. 19. On Feb. 23, the OSV BOLD will sail to the U.S. Virgin Islands, where its crew will study coral reefs for three weeks.

“The waters around Puerto Rico are some of the most ecologically-significant in the world, so protecting their health is a priority for EPA,” said EPA Acting Regional Administrator George Pavlou. “The state-of-the-art OSV BOLD represents EPA’s commitment to scientific research at the highest level, and allows our scientists to collect valuable data that supports the conservation efforts of our partners in the region.”

Outside San Juan Harbor, EPA scientists will use sonar scanning to establish patterns of where and when dredged materials were discharged to a site at the ocean floor. The San Juan Bay Estuary is the only tropical estuary included in the EPA’s National Estuary Program, established in 1987 to help local communities identify, restore, and protect nationally significant estuaries of the United States.

At several locations around Puerto Rico, EPA scientists, joined by researchers from the University of Puerto Rico at Aguadilla, will monitor and analyze marine debris like plastic, Styrofoam and other common trash. In Jobos Bay, off Puerto Rico’s southern coast, EPA will again use sonar scanning to refine reef maps of the bay. Further west, in reefs off La Parguera, EPA will continue a 2007 study to sample sea bottom, or benthic sediments, which help gauge the reefs’ health.

At an observation station some 25 nautical miles off Puerto Rico’s southwestern coast, EPA will test sea water to determine its temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen levels, all of which are indicators of water quality. Scientists from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez will work alongside EPA scientists throughout the voyage.

At stops in San Juan and Mayaguez, the public will be able to tour the OSV BOLD to learn about how EPA scientists conduct their research. On Feb. 12, the ship will be docked at the San Juan Harbor Navy Frontier Pier in Old San Juan and will be open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. On Feb. 19, the ship will be docked at the Mayaguez Port Authority Dock and will be open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Yesterday, at the request of the Puerto Rico government, the OSV BOLD participated in search and recovery efforts related to the recent plane crash off Puerto Rico’s northwest coast.

The 224-foot-long, 43-foot-wide OSV BOLD is equipped with state-of-the-art sampling, mapping, and analytic equipment including side scan sonar, underwater video, water sampling instruments, and sediment sampling devices, which scientists use in a wide variety of ocean monitoring activities. The ship is a converted U.S. Navy tactical auxiliary general ocean surveillance ships (T-AGOS 1) class vessel. It can house up to 18 scientists, 19 crew members and remain at sea for weeks as they collect water quality and sediment samples, fish and other organisms. EPA divers working off the OSV BOLD monitor coral reefs, and other sensitive habitats for impacts from pollution. The OSV BOLD operates in the waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.

EPA scientists will detail their research and experiences living at sea on EPA’s blog at http://blog.epa.gov/blog/. For more information on the OSV BOLD, visit: http://www.epa.gov/bold. To learn more about the San Juan Bay Estuary Program, visit: http://www.epa.gov/owow/estuaries/programs/sjb.htm.

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