Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Community Resilience: Puerto Rico Sea Grant and CariCOOS Collaborate to Improve Resilience

Community Resilience: Puerto Rico Sea Grant and CariCOOS Collaborate to Improve Resilience

Monday, May 16, 2016

Written in Spanish by Cristina D. Olán Martínez, Communications Coordinator for Puerto Rico Sea Grant 
Translated by Wilmarie Cruz Franceschi, Translator and English Editor for Puerto Rico Sea Grant

Versión en español

The Caribbean is exposed to a multitude of coastal hazards. It is important to have access to a tool that helps measure such parameters like waves, currents, and winds that provides vital information to Caribbean communities.

The Caribbean Coastal and Oceanic Observation System (CariCOOS) is just such a tool. It measures waves, currents, and winds. Likewise, it offers important data regarding salinity, oceanic chlorophyll concentration, floating algae (sargassum), and water surface temperature. It also integrates information about water quality, coral bleaching alerts, oceanic acidification and carbon dioxide in the Caribbean, and storm surge flood maps.

CariCOOS serves as a network, incorporating information from sources like satellites, oceanic instruments (e.g. buoys), and numeric models. This important information helps improve weather forecasts and is of vital importance for maritime operations and recreational activities in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands. CariCOOS represents a trustworthy source of information for rescue operations and to support governmental agencies’ decision-making processes.

The system uses a series of buoys installed along the coasts of San Juan, Ponce and Rincón, and around St. John and St. Thomas islands. Since its inception, fishermen, ship operators, meteorologists, recreationists, and resource managers have benefitted from the data provided by CariCOOS.

Puerto Rico Sea Grant (PRSG) has worked closely with CariCOOS to promote resiliency development in coastal communities and coastal services. They have collaborated on several research projects and have shared objectives. This strong collaborative relationship  among NOAA entities has worked to protect coastal areas in the Caribbean for well over a decade.

 “The PRSG is the link between CariCOOS and these system users. Our Program, along with the Interdisciplinary Center for Coastal Studies (CIEL, by its Spanish acronym), underwent two needs assessments for CariCOOS. We have also collaborated with CariCOOS in developing a breaking wave model. We also interpret the information offered by CariCOOS and link their services with coastal communities, through our extension with Coastal Community Development component,” explained Ruperto Chaparro, PRSG Director and Chairman of the CariCOOS Board of Directors.

These needs assessments have guided the system’s design and evaluation so that the tools CariCOOS offers can be used by the most users possible. These studies are intended to understand the activities undertaken by CariCOOS stakeholders in Puerto Rico (e.g. scientists, technicians, resource managers, ship operators) and find ways in which CariCOOS can improve the information it offers, the understanding of said information, and its dissemination. Stemming from PRSG’s stakeholders needs assessments, several projects and workshops, which help coastal communities improve their resiliency, have been developed.

From 2012 to 2014, PRSG funded the project Development of the Puerto Rico Beach and Surfzone Currents Warning System, with competed through the Program’s Request for Proposals (RFP). This project had the objective of developing a website conveying real-time information and forecasts about potential risks and surf-induced currents. The website was developed and is currently improved and managed by CariCOOS. It can be accessed through http://www.caricoos.org/map/nearshore-breaker-model.

 “Currently, the CariCOOS-Sea Grant Nearshore Breaker Model includes 98 beaches and is being used by surfers, bathers, lifeguards, hotels, ship operators, and emergency responders,” indicated Dr. Miguel Canals, CariCOOS Technical Director.

Puerto Rico Sea Grant, CariCOOS, and the National Weather Service (NWS) have joined forces to educate emergency responders on how to use this model as well as the flood maps. Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency (PREMA) directors and officials participated in a workshop organized by the three previously mentioned entities.

 “Over 44 emergency management directors and officers from Puerto Rican coastal municipalities participated in the activity. The event participants had the chance to learn how to use the digital resources available in real-time through the CariCOOS and NWS websites,” stated Lillian Ramírez, Coastal Community Development Specialist.

By using the CariCOOS flood maps and real-time models, emergency managers can make sound decisions when evacuating areas for a tropical storm or a hurricane. Likewise, the wave and current models allow better decision-making in regards to beach use, alert bathers about the risks, and enrich the information offered by government agencies such as NWS.

Both the real-time models and the infrastructure and knowledge from CariCOOS are of vital importance to research projects submitted through PRSG’s Request for Proposals. Some of the projects which depend on CariCOOS information include:

·         Life Cycle Cost Analysis of Beach Restauration: Rincón, PR Testbed (RFP for period 2014-2016)

·         Natural Coastal Barriers at Risk: A First Assessment of Biogeochemical and Physical Stressors (RFP for period 2016-2018)

·         Towards Fast Response to Harmful Bacteria Levels Nearshore Waters: A Local Hydrodynamic Model and in Situ Biosensor (RFP for period 2016-2018)

All of these projects are directed, either directly or indirectly, to cope with climate change impacts and improve our coast’s conditions, taking into consideration their ecological, social, economic, and tourism value. The results obtained from these projects are used by PRSG’s extension program. The Center for the Education on Environmental Climate Change (CenECCA, by its Spanish acronym) is an example of how the information of PRSG-CariCOOS projects is used. This Center is based in the Morrillos Lighthouse, in Cabo Rojo, PR, located in the southwestern part of island.

CariCOOS installed one of their three high-frequency radars—used for measuring surface currents—and a weather station in the Center’s location. Both the radar and the weather station aid CenECCA in their educational efforts regarding climate change and are being used by ship operators, the United States Coast Guard, and the Rapid Action Forces of the Puerto Rico Police Department.

For CenECCA, the collaboration with CariCOOS is also crucially important when studying mangrove mortality. Near CenECCA’s location, in the intertidal area in Las Salinas and Playuela, Cabo Rojo, a serious mangrove die-off has been observed, which causes concern since this mangrove forest is part of the green infrastructure on which the coastal communities rely. The forest serves as habitat for several species and functions as a coastal barrier against storm surges. PRSG (through CenECCA) and CariCOOS have joined efforts in monitoring the mangrove and study its chemical and physical properties as well as the area’s water circulation.

The efforts undertaken by PRSG and CariCOOS are diverse, and there is still much work to be done.

 “We hope that the collaboration between PRSG and CariCOOS continues being useful, that the products and services rendered by both entities continue to increase the effectiveness in marine and coastal resource management. We hope to help NOAA collaborators be more efficient and increase community resilience through educational efforts on coastal hazards,” Chaparro emphasized.

The author would like to thank the following for the information they provided: Ruperto Chaparro (PRSG Director), Julio Morell (CariCOOS Executive Director), Dr. Miguel Canals (CariCOOS Technical Director), Dr. Sylvia Rodríguez (CariCOOS Assistant Director), Berliz Morales (PRSG Aquatic Safety Project Coordinator), Lillian Ramírez (PRSG Coastal Community Development Extension Agent and CenECCA Coordinator), and Yulissa García (PRSG Fiscal Officer).

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