Bioindicators of Sustainable Development Strategies in Subtropical Climates

EPA Grant Number: SU833542
Title: Bioindicators of Sustainable Development Strategies in Subtropical Climates
Investigators: Hertler, Heidi , Ramirez, Graciela
Current Investigators: Hertler, Heidi , Beltran, Eric Acevedo , Feliciano, Pedro , Leon, Keyla Pacheco , McAfee, Stephanie , Ortiz-Rodriguez, Stevenson , Portalatin, Sue Gonzalez , Ramirez, Graciela , Rivera, Vanessa , Torres, Joycette
Institution: Inter American Univ of Puerto Rico - San German , Center for Environmental Education Conservation and Research
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: October 31, 2008 through August 31, 2009
Project Amount: $9,900
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2007) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Water , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Escalating development in Puerto Rico is out-pacing the ability of existing upland, salt flats, and mangroves to intercept sediment and nutrient runoff flowing toward the adjacent marine system. Elevated concentrations of chlorophyll-a and total suspended solids have been correlated with land development; however, a direct cause and effect relationship often can not be established between anthoropogenic sources and ecosystem health. The fitness of suspension-feeding bivalves is regarded as one of the most powerful bioindicators of aquatic community health. Our hypothesis is that increased anthropogenic impacts from land development impair the population size and heath of the flat tree oyster, Isognomon alatus, in the receiving coastal system. In this study, water quality samples and adult oysters will be collected from areas in the vicinity of varying stages of land development from around Puerto Rico. Water samples will be analyzed for suspended solids, chlorophyll a and nutrient concentration and oyster health analyzed using various physiological metrics. Statistical procedures will be used to differentiate whether parameters of oyster fitness differ among development impacted and unimpacted waters. Student generated results will be presented at workshop to educate local community members. Data generated is expected to help guide sustainable land use planning since the quality of the natural resources in coastal areas is the primary attraction fueling new development and awareness of land use impacts may warrant further protection of these fragile systems.


Challenge Area: By working towards developing a marine biological indicator of ecosystem health as it relates to development, this project contributes to environmental protection, economic prosperity and social benefit today and in the future in Puerto Rico. Furthermore, this project has applications to other sub-tropical and tropical areas. Social benefits include greater awareness and stewardship by students and local communities of the impact of development on the environment. Local user groups will benefit from better policy stemming from decisions based on data collection. Resources are being threatened by land use change. The use of an indicator to relate these changes to ecosystem health will be invaluable to those trying to preserve the resource for future sustainability. Long term environmental monitoring programs are costly and time consuming. The use of a biological indicator can produce rapid, efficient, and economical results which can be used to educate local user groups and policy makers. The development of a biological indicator will directly benefit environments without exhausting or degrading to local environment or shifting the impact to other localities.

Supplemental Keywords:

land use change, estuary, ecosystem protection, public policy, habitat, decision making, community-based, survey, public good, conservation, environmental assets, environmental chemistry, marine science, biology, ecology, monitoring, measurement methods, Caribbean, EPA Region 2,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report