Oil spill science for healthy island communities

In partnership with the Caribbean Regional Response Team and the University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant College Program, the Gulf Sea Grant Oil Spill Science Outreach Program offered two workshops for the Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands region. Members of our team shared lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, focusing on spill impacts relevant to island life, such as science about coral, beaches, sea turtles, birds, fish, fishermen, seafood, and tourism.  Partner organizations addressed planning, response, and community perspectives from past Caribbean spills and ship groundings. After presentations, team members facilitated discussions between stakeholder groups about oil spill preparedness for island communities.

Steve Sempier discusses the formation of the oil spill science outreach team after Deepwater Horizon.

Thursday’s workshop in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, was held in conjunction with the biannual meeting of the Caribbean Regional Response Team (CRRT).  Participants were largely from the emergency response community locally and off-island, including the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, University of the Virgin Islands, Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service, Oil Spill Response Limited, and many more.  Sea Grant Oil Spill team members Steve Sempier and Chris Hale gave presentations about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill’s impact on people and wildlife, as well as the development of Sea Grant’s oil spill science outreach program.  Open discussion followed the presentations.

Event organizers from Puerto Rico and Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant programs assemble in San Juan. Pictured left to right: Kurt Grove,  Steve Sempier, Monica Wilson, Chris Hale, Ruperto Chaparro, René F. Esteves Amador, and Cristina Olán

Friday’s workshop in San Juan, Puerto Rico drew stakeholders from across the island. Folks from the Office of Emergency Management, Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, Environmental Quality Board of Puerto Rico, Environmental and Developmental Sustainability, University of Puerto Rico, Caribbean Coastal and Ocean Observing System, Municipality of San Juan, Puma Energy, and many more came together to learn about the history of spill and incident response in their island territory. They also learned key lessons from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill research going on in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Ruperto Chaparro, Director of UPR Sea Grant, welcomed the participants to the workshop held in the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Dr. Steve Sempier, Deputy Director of Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, explained the evolution of Sea Grant’s role in oil spills and the development of the Sea Grant Oil Spill Science Outreach Program, which he manages. View a video of Steve’s presentation here.

Dr. Monica Wilson, Oil Spill Science Extension Specialist with Florida Sea Grant, described the Deepwater Horizon oil spill event and what scientists have learned about where the oil went. Watch a video of Monica’s talk here.

Chris Hale, Oil Spill Science Outreach Specialist with Texas Sea Grant, discussed the impacts that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill had on wildlife and humans. See a video of Chris’ presentation here.

Dr. Maximo Cerame-Vivas, professor of Marine Sciences and Public Health, discussed the history of power generation in Puerto Rico, and some of his experiences related to incident response. To see Dr. Cerame-Vivas’ slides, click here. To read a paper he prepared on the subject, click here.

Pedro Gelabert, currently board of Directors with the Corporation for the Conservation of the San Juan Bay Estuary, reviewed his life-long experience dealing with oil spills and environmental law in Puerto Rico. To see Dr. Gelabert’s slides, click here.

Gilberto Cintron, retired from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, reviewed the issues related to ship groundings and ship wrecks in Puerto Rico. View Dr. Cintron’s presentation slides here.

Following the presentations, the audience broke out into two groups so that Sea Grant staff could hear from the participants about their questions, concerns, issues, and other ideas relevant to oil spills and other incidents in their island communities.  With the help of UPR Sea Grant, these discussion sessions were translated into Spanish so that all participants could be included in the conversation. Thank you, UPR Sea Grant! A summary report of this regional workshop will be made publicly available from this website soon.