Corals Exposed to Navy Explosives Found to be in Surprisingly Good Shape

shells near vieques

Image from ScienceNOW

Bombed out reefs might not immediately come to mind as areas that could harbor large aggregations of healthy corals. Yet that's exactly what Bernhard Riegl, a scientist at Florida's Nova Southeastern University, found in the waters off Puerto Rico's Vieques island, which has been used as a U.S. Navy training ground for the past 6 decades.

As he told ScienceNOW's David Malakoff, the results of his survey weren't "quite what some people expected". Indeed, his study, published in the Journal of Coastal Research, found that the coral reefs found in these waters were in slightly better condition than corals found in adjoining marine protected areas (MPAs).

corals near vieques

Image from blucolt
Hurricanes and diseases vs. bombs and munitions
Natural disasters, such as hurricanes and diseases, have actually done more harm to the reefs over the last 60 years than has past military activity, Riegl and his colleagues concluded. While the reefs weren't exactly in pristine conditions -- with some practically pulverized -- Riegl did find that a majority of the 24 plots he studied were doing relatively well. In a few cases, the Navy's activities may have helped the reefs, by closing the island to urban and tourist development -- which negated the impact of pollution and sediment run-off.

Conflicting evidence?
Riegl's survey isn't meant to encourage, or otherwise sanction the continuation of military exercises, however. As other studies have noted, the impact of explosions and live-fire activity can be devastating to the corals and surrounding marine life. More importantly, Riegl's study is one of the few, if not the only one, to have shown that bombed out reefs can harbor healthy coral assemblages. As such, much more research will be needed (here and in other regions) before its findings can be accorded much weight.

Via ::ScienceNOW: U.S. Military No Match for Caribbean Coral (news website)

Our troubled coral reefs
::Military Disassemble 'Coral-Destruction Machine'
::NOAA Report Finds Half of U.S. Corals Are in Poor or Fair Condition
::Coral Reefs Dense With Unusual Wildlife Discovered in Brazil

Related Content on