Natural Resources declares environmental emergency due to invasive species that affects corals

The secretary of Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DRNA), Anais Rodriguez Vegadeclared an emergency for marine ecosystems, Coral reefs and species protected before the arrival of the octocorales species, from the family Xeniidaewhich could cause economic and environmental damage in Puerto Rico and constitute an environmental and ecological disaster.

Through Administrative Order Number 2024-03, signed on May 10, Rodríguez Vega also declared this species of octocorals or octocoralarios invasive (Octocorallia), also known as alcyonians (Alcyonaria), of the family Xeniidae. The presence of this organism was confirmed in a reef with grooves and spurs in the area of Slabs to Guanica, in February, 75 feet deep. Subsequently, three additional patches were identified in Guayanilla, Guanica and Dead Boxin Ponce.

“Declaring an emergency and placing these octocoralaria on the list of invasive species allows us to implement a rapid and comprehensive response to preserve the diversity and ecological integrity of the marine ecosystems of Puerto Rico”the owner said in a press release this Tuesday.

In accordance with the above, the export or sale of organisms removed from the family is prohibited. Xeniidae (invasive pulsating coral). Additionally, the implementation of best management practices for the discharge of ballast water from ships will be encouraged to help prevent the transmission of pathogens, invasive species and pollution. In addition, Collaboration with entities and volunteers will be a priority in the implementation of strategies and their disseminationamong other measures that the DRNA will take, assured Rodríguez Vega.

Between 2000 and 2005, he explained, the intentional introduction by people associated with the aquarium industry of a species of octocoral from the Indo Pacific was reported, in Venezuela. This octocoral was later identified as Unomia stoloniferaof the family Xeniidae. This species, like others within the family, proliferates quickly and easily asexually, in addition to its sexual reproduction.

These octocorals, he added, They grow on all types of marine ecosystems, at different depths, suffocating organisms. sessile and displacing those that have motile capacity, causing changes such as, for example, a decrease in the diversity and density of species and coral cover. Despite this, actions to control the species in Venezuela did not begin until 2021.

At present, it has been identified that these disperse quickly and uncontrolled in a new region, covering large areas, which led to an alert being issued to other countries about the possibility of the organism spreading.

“It is the governor's public policy Pedro R. Pierluisi the protection, preservation and conservation of coral reefs in our territorial waters for the benefit and enjoyment of this and future generations. In addition, “It is urgent to avoid and prevent the continuous and irreparable damage to coral reefs and the marine life associated with them”pointed out Rodríguez Vega.