Turtles under Attack
If you have been to Vieques and enjoy water sports, you have most likely snorkeled or gone diving at Mosquito Pier (Rompeolas).
If you have done so you know this site as a habitat for a large variety of endangered and protected species. Hawksbill and Green turtles have made this area their home. Nassau groupers, Nurse sharks and Goliath groupers frequent its waters, Elkhorn coral grows on its edges. The variety and number of reef and pelagic fishes is extraordinary for Caribbean marine environments.
It has been able to develop into such a diverse habitat, in part because the pier at the end of the mile long breakwater until recently was fenced off from public access and guarded 24 hours a day. With fishing thus restricted to the occasional recreational boater or spear fisher and pollution held in check, the area was a de-facto reserve.
As a consequence the location has become a famous destination for snorkelers and scuba divers. Some operators estimate that over 90% of their clientele have snorkeled or dived Mosquito Pier over the last years–accessing it from the water. As such this location is one of Vieques’ priceless natural resources, creating countless hours of enjoyment for marine enthusiasts, aiding in the education of future conservationists and generating significant revenues every year.
As of two weeks ago and without any notice the Municipality of Vieques has withdrawn the security service from this location, and as a result it is now open to the public around the clock.
Before access was disallowed about 7 years ago, the pier had been a popular location for recreational fishermen. Now that it is open once again, they have quickly returned to their favorite spot. Especially on weekends, but any day of the week, there are many people fishing off the pier. There are no amenities such as garbage cans or monofilament recycling boxes in place, so much refuse ends up in the water. In particular a great many lengths of fishing line, which easily get caught on the many cracks and crevices of the aging pylons, are discarded into the ocean.
Fishing lines thrown from the pier are a hazard to divers and snorkelers passing below, but worse put in serious jeopardy the many turtles that live directly below. Just in the first week after the opening, we have witnessed and had to free a Hawksbill turtle injured by a fishing hook and entangled in its line and found a young turtle dead, quite possibly from ingesting plastic garbage.
In addition, there is little information available to recreational fishermen as to which species can be taken and at what sizes. We have witnessed somebody taking a nurse shark, and have heard accounts of Nassau and Goliath groupers being taken.
We have formed an interest group with Black Beard Sports and TiCaToVe and are asking other operators, organizations and private lovers of the Pier to join us in trying to halt the impending destruction of this priceless marine habitat.
We need to provide garbage cans, monofilament recycling boxes and information posters on protected species and general fishing regulations on the banks of the breakwater. We will ask the Department of Natural Resources (DRNA) that the pier itself be excluded from fishing to reduce the danger of injury and entanglement to the turtles. Thus we hope to be able to re-instate a guard. Our ultimate goal is to make the area an official sanctuary.
We are planning an event at the site, to raise awareness, provide information and install necessary amenities. We are also working on appealing to the Municipal Office, the DRNA, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Vieques and the EPA for help.
To these ends we need statements from people who know the site as to the exceptionally diverse sea life encountered here, problems they may have witnessed stemming from marine debris in general and monofilament in particular and appeals for protection.
We also need funds to print informational posters and receptacles for garbage and line, and bodies to put them up and to help organize the big event.
If you would like to get involved in any way, contact Isla Nena Scuba at firstname.lastname@example.org or 787-718-7607 or Black Beard Sports at email@example.com or 787-741-1892 or use the button below to donate whatever amount you would like us to use towards these goals.
Thank you for whatever you can do.