You are here: Skip Navigation LinksHomeEcosystemsCoral ReefsBaseline Assessment of Guanica Bay, Puerto Rico in Support of Watershed Restoration

Baseline Assessment of Guanica Bay, Puerto Rico in Support of Watershed Restoration

Quick Link to Products


To develop a baseline assessment of biological resources (e.g. fish, corals), chemical contaminants, nutrients and sedimentation rates, prior to proposed restoration activities. This baseline information will then be utilized to evaluate the subsequent effectiveness of restoration efforts.

Clark Sherman installing a sediment trap.
Clark Sherman, from the University of Puerto Rico, installing a sediment trap.

Project Summary

Partnership Overview

Aerial view of study area
Aerial view of study area

This project represents a core component of a larger collaborative effort to restore the Guanica Bay watershed and improve the condition of the neighboring coral reef ecosystem. The baseline assessment will be led by NOAA’s Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment (CCMA) and the Restoration Center (RC), along with the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). Efforts to identify, design and implement appropriate watershed restoration activities will be lead by the Center for Watershed Protection (CWP) and the U.S Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). These agencies will work with RC and other partnering entities to improve the water quality of Guanica Bay and downstream coral reef ecosystems.

This project is designed to meet the management and conservation objectives of NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program. The project also directly addresses goals and objectives of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force concerning land based sources of pollution (LBSP) and increasing partnerships for coral reef conservation. Funding for this project is provided by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program.

Contaminant, Sediment, and Nutrient Assessment

Taking a coral plug for analysis
Taking a coral plug for analysis

UPR will conduct monthly surface water quality sampling for nutrients, as well as sediment trap sampling. Nutrients will be monitored monthly at 23 sites to assess the flux of nutrients from the watershed and from the wastewater treatment facility. Additional samples will be collected after extreme rainfall events. Eleven sediment traps will be used to determine sedimentation rates at fore reef sites as well as inside the Bay. CCMA also conducted a one-time contaminant sampling mission at 33 sites in and around Guanica Bay where sediments were collected, and 16 sites where coral tissue was sampled. Samples will be analyzed for a suite of approximately 150 organic and inorganic contaminants. A stratified random approach was taken to determine sampling locations. Strata consisted of areas upstream and downstream, as well as inside and directly outside the Bay. This spatial stratification will be used to quantify the extent and distribution of contaminants within the Bay and the nearby coral reef ecosystems. Sampling locations for coral and sediment contaminants were further constrained by the availability of hard and soft bottom, respectively. These habitats were delineated using the NOAA Benthic Habitat Map product available at:

Biological Assessment

Examining Van Veen bottom grab.
Examining Van Veen bottom grab.

There are two components to the biological assessment. The first involves a refinement of the existing NOAA benthic habitat maps for the study area. Two major improvements include a reduced minimum mapping unit from one acre to one quarter acre and increased coverage into areas formerly classified as unknown. The digital map product will be produced using a technique known as heads-up digitizing where digital satellite imagery will be visually interpreted and habitats delineated in a hierarchical classification scheme. In addition to forming the framework for subsequent biological surveys, the maps will permit a level of change detection that is a result of the restoration activities, for example, in the extent of seagrass.

The second component of the biological assessment is the in situ biological surveys for fish, corals and macro-invertebrates. Using ArcView GIS software, the new benthic habitat map product will be stratified to select sampling stations. Sites are randomly selected within these strata to ensure coverage of the entire study region, and not just a particular reef or seagrass area. At each site, information for fishes, macro‐invertebrates, and habitat are then quantified following standardized protocols (see By relating the data collected in the field back to the habitat maps and bathymetric models, we are able to model and map species level and community level information. These protocols are standardized throughout the U.S. Caribbean to enable quantification and comparison of reef fish abundance and distribution trends between locations. Knowledge of the current status of fish, coral and macro‐invertebrate communities coupled with longer-term monitoring will support the evaluation of management efficacy.

Andrew Mason collecting a sediment sample.
Andrew Mason of CCMA collecting a sediment sample.


Future -

  • Report(s), including assessments of coral and sediment contaminants, nutrients and sedimentation rates, along with a biological characterization of corals, fishes and macro-invertebrates.
  • GIS map of benthic habitats of Guanica Bay area (¼ acre minimum mapping unit)
  • Data from the above assessments


Relevant Links

Time Frame

Ongoing; Spring 2009 – Fall 2012

For More Information

Project Manager: (COAST)
1305 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
301-713-3028 x138

Project Manager: (BioGeo)
1305 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
301-713-3028 x236