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Emergency Restoration Protects Sea Turtles and Corals from a Drug Runner Semi-submersible Grounded in Mona Island, Puerto Rico

APRIL 15, 2024 — On August 31, 2023, while monitoring an active hawksbill and green sea turtle nesting beach, the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (PRDNER) found and reported a 40-foot drug runner sailboat modified to operate as a semi-submersible (low profile vessel) grounded on Mona Island, Puerto Rico. The vessel was leaking diesel fuel posing an imminent danger to threatened and endangered sea turtles and corals, and their habitat. Emergency restoration actions were needed to avoid irreversible loss of natural resources and to prevent any continuing danger to natural resources related to the submersible drug runner pollution event.

Grounded low profile drug running vessel off Mona Island, PR.
Grounded low profile drug running vessel Mona Island, PR. (Photo credit: PRDNER)

Remote and pristine, Mona Island is located approximately 50 miles west of the main island. Puerto Rico has designated Mona a Natural Reserve, managed by PRDNER, and the National Park Service designated Mona a U.S. Natural Landmark. With critical nesting beaches for sea turtles, critical habitat for endangered corals, a significant endemic biota, and important seabird rookery areas, Mona is perhaps the most environmentally sensitive area in Puerto Rico and considered the “the Galapagos of the Caribbean.”

On October 2, 2023, the natural resource Trustees PRDNER, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) submitted a claim to the National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC) to fund an Emergency Restoration action to remove the vessel to avoid irreversible loss of natural resources or prevent continuing danger of natural resources related to the submersible drug runner pollution event.

On October 19th, the NPFC adjudicated the Trustees’ claim, providing funding for the Trustees to conduct the Emergency Restoration actions. After a weather delay, the Trustees’ contractors successfully removed the vessel the first week in November, thereby eliminating future discharges of oil and the continuing danger to natural resources. Further information can be found through the public notice, recently published early in 2024.

Last updated Friday, April 19, 2024 2:07pm PDT