The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office for Coastal Management is highlighting the use of its Nonpoint Source Pollution and Erosion Comparison Tool (OpenNSPECT) for protecting coral reefs from stormwater runoff. Sediment and other sources of land-based pollution are a primary threat to coral reefs in many island environments.

The tool applies broadly to investigations of the effects of land use changes and climate change on water quality. It can simulate the accumulation of sediment and pollution from overland flow. In this way, the tool is useful for analyzing land use change scenarios and helping planners assess development strategies and prioritize management strategies.

For example, OpenNSPECT was recently used to examine the effectiveness of an erosion control practice known as hydroseeding. In Guánica Bay, which is in the Rio Loco watershed of Puerto Rico, the practice reduced sediment in runoff by more than 80%.

Local officials also are using OpenNSPECT in Pelekane Bay on the island of Hawaii where coral reefs are threatened by high sediment loads. The tool helped identify the origin and volume of sediment transported into the bay. This information helped determine effective watershed management practices to reduce sediment yields from the most significant sources. In Saipan, in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the tool helped planners assess relative changes in sediment flux from different management scenarios, such as replanting trees and paving roads.