A portion of the west and the entire eastern end of the island is administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, comprising 18,000 acres—about 14,900 acres on the eastern end and 3,100 acres on the west—making it the biggest protected natural reserve in Puerto Rico. The 900-acre bombing range is permanently closed off, a consequence of its contamination by the ammunition shot over its 60-year existence. But most of the
rest of eastern Vieques is pristine nature, astonishingly beautiful and well-forested, with a hilly center region overlooking powder-white sandy beaches and a coral-ringed coastline; it served mainly as a buffer zone between the military maneuvers and civilian population. The vast majority of this acreage remains off-limits to visitors as authorities carry out a search for unexploded munitions and contaminants. Nonetheless, many of the beaches on the northern and southern coasts are open to the public; in 2009 a new asphalt road opened up six southern beaches.