||Pait, A.S., D.R. Whitall, C.F.G. Jeffrey, C. Caldow, A.L. Mason, J.D. Christensen, Mark E. Monaco, and J. Ramirez
||Coral reefs are among the most productive and diverse ecosystems in the world (Bryant et al., 1998). They occur in tropical and semitropical oceans and are home to thousands of species of fish, corals, crustaceans and molluscs. Coral reefs provide a variety of goods and services ranging from commercial and subsistence fi sheries, tourism and recreation, sources of new medicines, to natural protection against storms for communities and ports. The global value of coral reefs has been estimated at $375 billion/year (Costanza et al., 1997). Worldwide, however, coral reefs are experiencing significant degradation, much of it thought to be related to human activities. Pollution, disease, sedimentation, overfi shing, global climate change, invasive species, ship groundings (Waddell et al., 2005), and possibly ocean acidifi cation (Kleypas et al., 2006), are some of the threats currently faced by coral reefs worldwide. In their report entitled “America's Living Oceans”, the Pew Oceans Commission cited both point and nonpoint sources of pollution as major threats to the oceans (Pew Oceans Commission, 2003). Waddell et al. (2005) have described some of the threats posed by pollution to coral reefs of the U.S. and Freely Associated States. Bryant et al. (1998) estimated that 58 percent of the world's reefs are at risk from human disturbance. The World Resources Institute (Burke and Maidens, 2004) noted that nearly two-thirds of the coral reefs in the Caribbean are threatened by human activities. Gardner et al. (2003) estimated that coral cover in the Caribbean has been reduced by 80 percent. In 2002, the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force (USCRTF) adopted the “Puerto Rico Resolution”, which called for the development of Local Action Strategies (LAS) to identify and implement priority actions needed to reduce key threats to valuable coral reef resources (FDEP, 2004). Pollution was identified as a focus area for priority action in the LAS for Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Southeast Florida. Although pollution is frequently cited as impacting coral reef health, the concentration of chemical contaminants present in coral reefs is not well characterized, and typically even less is known regarding linkages between contaminants and coral condition. Downs et al. (2005) concluded that coral decline in a section of the northern Florida Keys is likely related to chemical contaminant exposure, and noted that an analysis of contaminants present would greatly increase the power of determining the impact of this stressor. Developing an understanding of how and to what extent contaminants affect the health of corals and coral reefs would help focus management efforts and optimize the use of finite resources (funds and personnel) to conserve and restore coral reef habitats. Project Goals. To address these needs, NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), in partnership with the University of Puerto Rico - Mayaguez, conducted a project to asses chemical contamination in the coral reefs in southwest Puerto Rico, and to develop a better understanding of the relationships between chemical contaminants and coral condition. Objectives were to: 1) characterize both organic (e.g., petroleum hydrocarbons) and inorganic (e.g., metals) contaminants in the study area; 2) map and determine coral distribution/species richness (biogeography); 3) characterize the presence of bacterial pathogens that have been associated with coral disease; and 4) develop and implement an assessment framework that can be applied throughout the Caribbean and elsewhere. This project directly responds to the USCRTF's call for an improved understanding of the effects of chemical contaminants on coral reefs. Because there is an overall lack of information available on contaminant effects, and even contaminant concentrations in coral reefs, management efforts may be missing an important and, in some locations, a critical information need for the sustained management of these valuable resources. Knowing how, where, and to what extent chemical contaminants are impacting coral reefs would provide managers and policy makers with the knowledge needed to make better informed decisions regarding both land-use and coastal resource management.