Another Look at the Impact of Hurricane Hugo on the Shelf and Coastal Resources of Puerto Rico, U.S.A.


  • R. W. Rodriguez
  • R. M. T. Webb
  • D. M. Bush


Puerto Rico, barns, shoreline erosion, beach profile, coastal flooding


Hurricane Hugo struck Puerto Rico on 18 September 1989. Coastal zone resources as diverse as offshore sand deposits, recreational beaches and coral reefs were affected. Initial observations made during the week of the storm and subsequent observations are part of an ongoing shelf and coastal resources monitoring project. Cores and aerial photographs reveal that at least 100,000 m3 of sand was removed from the Escollo de Arenas, a large offshore sand deposit (90 x 106 m3). The berms of the beaches along the eastern and northern coast of the island were severely eroded. Wave impact and coastal flooding were augmented by a 0.6 m high tide and a 0.7 m storm surge in San Juan. Overwash fans containing about 5 x 105 m3 of sand were deposited behind the frontal dune line in Pinones (east of San Juan). Approximately 90%, of this material is considered to be unrecoverable, deposited in mangrove swamp or removed as part of street clearing efforts. At other sites, material lost from the berm was moved offshore and deposited in the nearshore zone. Follow-up profiling shows that Hugo provided only a minor perturbation in the seasonal cycle of beach changes at most sites. In areas where a large volume of sand was deposited inland or below the seasonal wave-base, the recovery has been slow. Reconnaissance surveys in eastern Culebra show almost total destruction of the shallow coral, Acropora palmata whereas only partial destruction occurred to the corals off western Culebra and in Vieques Passage. Tens of square kilometers of highly productive seagrass meadows were destroyed by the formation of large sediment "blowouts."