The National Park Service (NPS) South Atlantic-Gulf Region has announced the award of seven cooperative agreements totaling $3.28 million to address the impacts of hurricanes Irma and Maria on coral reefs, mangroves and shorelines at four park sites in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Those parks are Virgin Islands National Park, Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument, Buck Island Reef National Monument, and Salt River National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve.
“These imperative restoration efforts assist the National Park Service with the conservation of threatened natural resources and shoreline resiliency on St. Croix and St. John,” said Charles Borders, regional storm recovery program manager, National Park Service. “We are grateful for the collaboration with our partners as we work to increase our understanding of coastal science and climate change adaption strategies.”
An expert team comprised of federal and non-governmental entities developed a restoration plan for restoring coral reefs, treating coral disease, rebuilding mangrove forests and stabilizing shorelines at four USVI parks. The following organizations will receive NPS funding to make that work possible:
Caribbean Oceanic Restoration and Education Foundation
Coral World and Ocean Reef Initiative
Iowa State University
The Nature Conservancy
University of Miami
University of the Virgin Islands
The recipients will construct and expand existing in-water and land-based nurseries to rear a variety of coral species and grow mangroves, buttonwood and sea-grapes for planting within selected park restoration sites. They will also treat corals infected with stony coral tissue loss disease in all four park area waters. Data collected on coral treatment and intervention efforts, disease distribution, rate of spread and corals impacted is shared publicly on www.vicoraldisease.org.
Coral reefs and mangroves provide essential shoreline protection from storm surge, habitats for plants and animals and value to the local tourism-based economy in the U.S.V.I. The reefs also provide recreational and educational services for thousands of annual visitors. Indeed, they are highly valuable to the local tourism-based economy in the US Virgin Islands. According to the 2020 National Park Service Visitor Spending Effects report, visitor spending and economic contributions to local V.I. economies equated to more than $96 million in 2020.
Future work will be awarded to implement next steps in the restoration process, such as site preparation as well as planting of vegetation and corals. These agreements, and over 100 other projects and agreements administered by NPS across the Caribbean and southeastern United States, are supported by $207 million in supplemental funds allocated through Public Law 115-123 for national park units significantly impacted by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.