Ecosystem Connectivity is Key for JBNERR

The National Estuarine Research Reserve (JBNERR) in Jobos Bay is the second largest estuarine in Puerto Rico and is representative of an estuarine area that consists of a complex ecological system in the Caribbean region. The Reserve focuses mostly on environmental monitoring, coastal training and educating local communities.

On February 24, 2010, we carried out a discussion session with the staff of JBNERR (http://jbnerr.org/english). This activity took place at the Visitors Center with six participants that specialize in coastal research/monitoring and outreach/education. During this session, we asked questions regarding the research and information needs specific for improving the management and conservation of the reserve:

  • What type of research or information is needed on a short (less than 5 years) or long (more than 5 years) term for effective management and conservation of the JBNERR?
  • What obstacles are presently hindering the development of research needed for the effective management and conservation of the JBNERR?

With regard to research needed on a short or long-term, one of their main concerns is developing a large-scale management program that includes the harmful effects caused by the use of adjacent lands and coasts. A strategic plan for better management was also recommended, but requires the development of accurate models with critical areas identified. To date, there is no critical analysis on the status of JBNERR. Studies on the connectivity among adjacent areas were heavily emphasized, including the condition and management of adjacent bays, particularly on the eastern side of the Reserve. Hydrologic studies, specifically water budget, are needed to determine the water flow from the north to the bay. Little importance has been given to the impact of nearby lands, bays and coral reefs associated with the area. Information on the carrying capacity of the area and the influence of tourism is also absent and should be evaluated due to the flow of visitors and local resource users (e.g., fishermen). Studies on the socio-economic benefit of the Estuarine and the socio-economic impact of the local resource users are needed to complement the development of accurate models of JBNERR.

Visitor’s Center at the National Estuarine Research Reserve (JBNERR) in Jobos Bay, Puerto Rico.

Outreach and education is an important component of the JBNERR, which receives frequent on-site visits and inquiries from local schools and communities about the estuaries’ ecosystem. These visitors are shown the importance of managing and conserving the bay and how they can contribute to its conservation. However, studies on the benefits of resource management within JBNERR that may provide a socio-economic value to the area have not been made. Another major concern is community resilience to climate change, which is presently lacking in preparation to deal with the impacts.

Video clip about JBNERR Aventureros del Mar (Sea Grant Puerto Rico) (Spanish audio with English subtitles)

Obstacles that are impeding the development of research included the lack of communication between users and managers in layman’s terms, limited skilled and trained personnel resulting in insufficient time to work on research projects, the lack of application of research to resource management and how it would benefit managers, the lack of a multidisciplinary approach in management regarding planning and development, the lack of teaching students about management and conservation in local universities, and the lack of easy-to-read, user-friendly maps and tools.

Each participant was also encouraged to recommend three (3) research projects that they considered urgent and that would improve management and conservation of the Bay. These included:

  • Prepare local communities surrounding JBNERR to understand the impacts of climate change on an economic, social and environmental level. In other words, evaluate community resilience.
  • Studies on health effects brought about consumption of contaminated fish and the possible association with local industries (active and non-operating such as thermoelectric, sugar cane and coal plants).
  • The effect of recreational activities on the coral reefs of JBNERR. How can user’s attitudes about resource conservation be changed (such as inappropriate use of boats and the destruction of seagrasses, mangroves and corals)?
  • Environmental education tools and resources to encourage changes in user’s attitudes towards coastal resources.
  • Determine socio-economic impacts on the local community based on the co-management of the Reserve and adjacent ecosystems.
  • Determine the level of knowledge regarding aquaculture and pesticides, particularly their impacts on the Reserve.
  • Integrated hydrologic management plan that identifies land use and changes, different water sources, water discharge zones, and possible contaminant agents that reach the Reserve.
  • Studies about fisheries using heuristic information and the actual status of the fisheries industry, which includes contemplating alternatives such as species restoration and/or mariculture as a sustainable source. Possible re-introduction of keystone species.
  • Monitoring studies on seagrasses and their restoration, including an educational aspect dedicated to minimizing the impact of recreational activities, while identifying areas for this particular use and protecting more sensitive areas. Controlling the amount of invasive and/or exotic species. Long-term monitoring of temperature, acidification, migratory species, water quality and socio-economic impacts.
  • Habitat restoration and reforestation including seagrasses, wetlands, hydrographic basins, maritime and terrestrial zone.
  • Co-management and dissemination of information among the major reserves in PR. Promoting projects that encourage communication among the local communities and managers.

Photos courtesy of: JBNERR Photo Gallery

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