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More Than 250 Tires, Other Debris Removed From Coral Reef

Best known by recreational divers for their exquisite beauty, corals reefs—both animals and ecosystems—serve as habitat for thousands of other species, act as nurseries for fish, protect shorelines from storms, and contain compounds that might someday be the basis of new life-saving medications. They are, however, extremely sensitive to environmental changes. Frequently referred to as the "canaries of the ocean," reefs have the ability to signal us to early environmental degradation of the seas.

The Reserva Marina Tres Palmas, the first marine reserve on the mainland of Puerto Rico, hosts an important coral reef ecosystem. The 215-acre reserve supports populations of both elkhorn and staghorn corals, which were recently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, the health of the corals in this reserve is plagued by accumulated marine debris and land-based pollution.

In 2006, the NOAA Restoration Center's Community-based Restoration Program, through its partnership with the Gulf of Mexico Foundation, awarded $30,000 to the Surfrider Foundation to begin removing marine debris from the reserve. The project first focused on the removal of discarded tires within the boundaries of the marine reserve. A team conducted site surveys using GPS technology. Divers then removed more than 250 tires and other items of marine debris, ranging from car batteries to anchors and even clothing.

Surfrider staff and the leadership of the local commercial fishermen's group spearheaded these efforts along with local groups and volunteers. Surfrider has also implemented a variety of innovative community-based educational campaigns, workshops, meetings, presentations, and media outreach throughout the region to help preserve the local marine environment.