The invasive seagrass Halophila stipulacea continues to thrive in the Caribbean. Don't be surprised if you haven’t heard of it, this is a recent plant to colonize the USVI and it hasn't received a lot of attention from the public. H. stipulate is tenacious and competes efficiently for space with native seagrasses which struggle with man-made threats (anchor dredges, pollution, nutrient run-off). Adding to the problem, few species in the Territory consume it.
UVI CONTRIBUTES TO LARGE SCALE
NATIONAL CORAL REEF MONITORING PROGRAM SURVEYS
It has been a very busy summer for faculty, staff, and students at Center for Marine and Environmental Studies (CMES) at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) as focus on coral reef health in the Territory continues.
Participants from CMES are contributing to the large scale operations of the National Coral Reef Monitoring Program in the territory. Dr. Marilyn Brandt, a Research Associate Professor at CMES, is leading the UVI efforts, which include performing fish and coral surveys at hundreds of sites across the territory. Beginning this week and continuing into next week, four CMES staff and twelve UVI graduate students in the Masters of Marine and Environmental Science (MMES) program are joining with staff from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Park Service, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the University of Miami, and the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) to perform surveys at over 400 coral reef sites around St. Thomas and St. John.
Every two years, the National Coral Reef Monitoring Program (NCRMP) performs wide-scale surveys of coral reefs in the USVI to gauge general reef conditions for reef fishes, corals, and benthic habitat. The objective is to determine status, trends, and changes in reef fish populations and benthic communities within the USVI territories. Data collection occurs at sites across a range of coral reef habitat types and depths. NCRMP surveys are also performed in Puerto Rico and the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Texas. Because the data collection techniques are identical across all regions, data on these critical habitats from the US Virgin Islands can be compared with data sets from other regions.
In May, Dr. Brandt helped to coordinate training operations for this year’s mission which occurred on the UVI St. Thomas campus. In June, the trained UVI staff and students joined with over 25 other staff from the different agencies to perform NCRMP surveys at over 200 sites on St. Croix. Current surveys around St. Thomas and St. John will be completed by August 4th, but UVI staff and students may continue to collect data from deeper coral reef habitats in the fall.
"The National Coral Reef Monitoring Program allows UVI staff and students to contribute to a very important national database on the condition of coral reefs that will be used to make important management decisions at the federal level. We are proud that UVI is one of only a few universities where our students have the background, training, and scientific SCUBA diving experience necessary to contribute to a national program like NCRMP."
Despite all odds, coral reefs are thriving at depths of 100 – 300 feet right here in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Recent discoveries by scientists at the University of the Virgin Islands have shown that there are a great number of magnificent deep coral reefs in the area, particularly at the south side of St. Thomas on the Grammanik Bank and reaching out toward Culebra. It is estimated these reefs cover between 100 – 230 square kilometers and are home to over two hundred million corals!
Great Salt Pond Bay on St. Croix’s south-east coast is a salt pond located within the St. Croix East End Marine Park, and one of just a few mangrove ecosystems on the island. Alarmingly, it supports the only remaining juvenile fish mangrove habitat on the south side of the island! While all mangrove nurseries are essential, St. Croix’s remote location makes this one particularly important.
As an NSF funded program designed to stimulate research within the US Virgin Islands Territory, VI-EPSCoR provided funding for five mini-grants in 2017. The current VI-EPSCoR program, Mare Nostrum Caribbean: Stewardship through Strategic Research and Workforce Development, funds research within the USVI that fosters collaborative ties among researchers from UVI, territorial and federal agencies and local businesses. Projects considered for funding were in the following Mare Nostrum research focus areas (1) Coral Reef and Fish Ecology (demographics, disease and dynamics); (2) Coastal Oceanography (3) Watershed Processes, and (4) Human Dimensions. Favored proposals included interdisciplinary research and links with the Brewer’s Bay Ecosystem Analysis Project.
One woman's research into the macroalgae Dictyota spp. may help save coral reefs in the Territory.
One of VI-EPSCoR’s primary goals is to grow a USVI community that is scientifically and mathematically literate and engaged in issues that are scientific and environmental in nature. Our goal is realized when local scientists are able to stay in the USVI and work in their field because the employment opportunities exist.
Dr. Sennai Habtes, Research Assistant Professor of Biological Oceanography at The University of the Virgin Islands is an accidental role model and success story of VI-EPSCoR’s efforts.