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Environmental Conference to Highlight Research Breakthroughs

Sept. 19, 2006 – A trio of anniversaries has prompted the V.I. Environmental Resource Station on St. John to hold "Science in the Park, the V.I. National Park's 50th Anniversary Conference on Marine and Terrestrial Scientific Research." The conference will be held Nov. 1 through 3 at the VIERS facility in Lameshur Bay.
This fall, the park celebrates its 50th anniversary, VIERS celebrates its 40th anniversary and the UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve on St. John has its 30th anniversary.
The conference's first two days are devoted to reviewing scientific research studies conducted in the past 50 years by researchers who have worked in the park.
"It's a good way to get a real good spectrum of knowledge about scientific studies over the past years. Some go back to the '60s and '70s," VIERS administrator Randy Brown said.
The conference will provide scientists the opportunity to share their research results with peers and the public. Scientists have studied a wide variety of conditions affecting many areas, including corals, sea grass, parrot fish, turtles, sharks, termites, insects, lizards, bats, and air quality. Presentations will cover both marine and terrestrial areas of the park and will focus on longer-term projects.
According to Brown, the keynote speaker will be Gary Davis, a visiting scientist with the National Park Service, who started his park career on St. John and was on the site-selection committee when VIERS was developed.
Other speakers are from off island and the Virgin Islands.
Presentations on the historical activities of the park, Project Tektite and VIERS are also planned.
The third day of the conference will celebrate accomplishments at VIERS. It includes dedication of the recently renovated waterside laboratory and the establishment of the Tektite Underwater Habitat Museum to be located at VIERS.
The conference provides an opportunity to showcase the facility for future use by researchers and students and will include a tour of VIERS and the new waterside lab.
Project Tektite was a research project conducted in 1969 and 1970. The Department of the Navy, NASA, General Electric, the Interior Department, the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), and others initially operated the submerged habitat to determine the physiological, biomedical and behavioral effects of extended stays underwater.
This project was geared initially towards understanding the effects of future planned space flights on astronauts. In the second program, the focus of the underwater habitat project was as a research base for a large number of marine research projects, specifically understanding the ecology of coral reefs and their inhabitants. Such noted scientists as Sylvia Earle, Bruce Colette and others published many significant research results from these missions.
The park is the site of some of the longest-term underwater biological and ecological research in the world. Well-known researchers, such as John Randall and Earle, started their careers at VIERS.
Established in 1966, VIERS has a long history of hosting researchers studying terrestrial, coastal ecology and marine scientific studies. The facility also provides environmental education opportunities for V.I. youth, stateside high school and university students.
Brown said that during the past 50 years, St. John has undergone considerable changes. Visitation to the island and park has increased from a few thousand per year in the 1950s to nearly one million people annually.
The increase in visitors and development has produced considerable impacts on the natural resources of St. John and the park. Many of the early studies in the park serve as baselines against which to measure the changes to the natural ecosystems of the park brought about by the increase in visitors.
"It is important to contrast these early studies with present-day ones and determine protocols that will enable sound comparisons and trends. The results of this conference will assist in providing a basis for guiding future scientific research in the park," Rafe Boulon, the park's chief of resources management, said.
VIERS, a partnership between UVI and the park, is operated by Clean Islands International, a nonprofit environmental education organization.
The conference is sponsored by the park, UVI, U.S. Geological Survey, Friends of the Park, The Ocean Conservancy, Clean Islands International and others.
The cost runs $100 for the three days if you register before Oct. 23. After that date, the fee is $120. The one-day fee is $50 for registration before Oct. 23 and $60 after that date. Space is limited.
For more information about the conference and registration forms, please contact Brown at 340-776-6721 or via e-mail. You can also visit the Web site.
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