The Center for Marine and Environmental Science (CMES) at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) has assumed responsibility for the two branching coral nurseries on St. Thomas. These nurseries were established and maintained by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to ensure the survival of endangered branching corals, the elkhorn and the staghorn, in the territory. This historic transfer continues the ambitious work of TNC, which will significantly impact the research taking place at UVI.
CMES is perfectly positioned for a task of this magnitude. Its greatest strength is found in the collective knowledge of the research team and an ever-growing foundation of data. Possibly no other coral monitoring program has the level of knowledge found here. Teams currently monitor 33 sites across of the territory, and they have an intimate knowledge of these reefs both deep and shallow.
Fifteen years of data on coral reefs has been collected. The team’s background knowledge of the area, its issues and data makes UVI CMES the ideal facility for this endeavor. Student’s research projects are designed to add to this body of information. Nine graduate students have centered their theses on this work.
Elkhorn and stag horn corals are critically endangered after facing significant decline because of disease and human impact. Aside from providing important refuge for reef fish, the branching corals protect shorelines from erosion by hurricanes and other storm events. Their hope for survival rests in nursery and out-planting operations such as these.
The success of this program will be realized when there can be seen multiple species of coral being out-planted every year to a point when measurable change can be documented on the reef. Researchers hope to see reef fish numbers and diversity increase, and out-planted populations spawning. Ideally, other corals would recruit as well and shorelines will once again receive the storm protection branching corals offer.
Community support and citizen science participation are essential to the success of this program. The community is encouraged to follow Virgin Islands Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for upcoming opportunities to participate. The Web site and blog also provide ongoing information: www.viepscor.org.