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Scientist Guardedly Optimistic About Future of World's Oceans

Nov. 1, 2006 — "We are in a crisis mode. We need to stop the bleeding," said National Park Service scientist Gary Davis, who was the featured speaker at Wednesday's kickoff of the Science in the Park conference. Despite this comment, Davis said he was guardedly optimistic about the future of the world's oceans.
"We still have most of the pieces of the system left," he said to those gathered in a large tent at the V.I. Environmental Resource Station (VIERS) at Lameshur, St. John.
Davis, who said the first step in preserving the natural resources comes with restoring what's left, called for the development of a "sea ethic" that recognizes humans are part of the system.
He said that merely stopping fishing is not the answer because there are no big fish left.
The Washington, D.C.-based Davis started his National Park Service career in 1968 as a ranger at Cinnamon Bay Campground in V.I. National Park. He now works as visiting chief scientist in the Park Service's ocean programs.
The conference, which runs through Friday, celebrates the park's 50th anniversary as well as VIERS' 40th anniversary and the 30th anniversary of the park's designation as a biosphere reserve.
Davis noted, however, that he was preaching to the choir since nearly all the approximately 60 people gathered for the conference were scientists or St. John residents with a strong interest in preserving the environment.
"We have to get outside the tent," he said, calling on those in the audience to engage the public in the quest to preserve the world's resources.
St. John-based scientist Gary Ray added that by enlisting public support for scientific projects, the budget for those projects might be increased.
Davis said his job as a park ranger led to a post with the Tektite underwater habitat team.
The Department of the Navy, NASA, General Electric, the Interior Department, UVI and others initially operated the submerged habitat to determine the physiological, biomedical and behavioral effects of extended stays underwater.
This project was initially geared toward 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.
He said he took government officials on a tour of St. John to look for a location. Davis said they had looked at other spots, but they had rough seas or were not in U.S. waters. He said they picked Lameshur because it had enough flat land to build a base camp.
"When I showed them Lameshur, they said 'This is the place,'" Davis noted.
That base camp, used by the Tektite project in 1969 and 1970, remains in use by VIERS, a UVI facility located within the national park.
Davis said that one of the most important things to come out of that research was the knowledge that scientists could live underwater in a nitrogen-saturated environment.
Noting that he belonged to the first generation of scientists who were able to spend time in the water doing research, he said that the advent of SCUBA diving and neoprene rubber used in wet suits helped further this type of scientific activity.
"We could get in the water and look around," he said.
In speaking about the changes that have happened to St. John and the national park in the nearly four decades since he first worked on the island, Davis said that it's often hard to see those changes when people are there everyday.
Davis said that there are 75 ocean parks within the National Park system, which registers 76 million visitors a year.
VIERS Administrator Randy Brown said that Friday the conference will include a dedication ceremony for the recently rehabilitated VIERS lab, located seaside at Lameshur Bay.
Brown said the lab took hits from hurricanes in 1999 and 2000, which severely damaged the facility's electrical system. The refurbishment also included increasing office space.
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