The US Virgin Islands is known for its richness in marine biodiversity, which is one of the main attractions for visiting tourists. However, conservation of the mangrove coastlines, seagrasses, coral reefs, and fishes are essential to sustaining these ecosystems. To date, we continue to search for more information on the best strategies needed for the management and conservation of our marine resources. On October 14, 2010, we carried out a discussion session with several faculty members of the College of Science and Mathematics at the University of the Virgin Islands, who additionally serve as faculty within the Master of Marine and Environmental Science Program (http://mmes.uvi.edu/), and representatives from The Nature Conservancy (St. Thomas) and USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ Division of Fish & Wildlife (DFW) with the goal of identifying research and information needs to improve measures for management and conservation of marine and coastal resources in the US Virgin Islands.
Overall, most participants emphasized the need for research that is focused on the connectivity among biological/ecological processes and ecosystem-based management, including assessment and optimization of human interactions with the environment. The group also highly stressed the need to evaluate socioeconomic aspects of communities that depend on marine resources for their livelihood. Also, studies focused on the effects of climate change on local communities and identifying the basis or aspects of their resilience. More efforts on education and outreach were also expressed.
What research is needed to better management and conservation in the USVI?
- Short-term studies that demonstrate the social importance of rebuilding relationships with the community in order to change their perception on environmental conservation (e.g., coastal cleanups).
- Projects that deal with socioeconomic aspects of coral reefs, including its role as a essential habitat for fisheries and an attractive habitat for ecotourism.
- Long-term efforts that focus on effectively communicating with user groups – understanding the language of local users and how resources are used will facilitate the transfer of science-based information and increase trust between users and managers.
- Evaluations that assess the risks of climate change – Detailed elevation models need to be improved (particularly, accuracy) and combined with recent demographic information for improved public safety and evaluation of community resilience.
- Focus on studies focused on socioeconomic parameters and their importance on local fisheries – impacts of regulations, stock assessments (obtain independent fisheries data).
- Evaluate effectiveness of watershed management for improvements in storm water control and water budget modeling (considering the impacts of climate change); studies on pollution brought about by poor watershed management and land-use practices; encourage multidisciplinary research on synergistic conditions (watersheds and climate change).
For more details, please download our full report here.
As commented by other experts and resources users, obstacles can hinder the development of better management and conservation strategies. The following list consists of frequently encountered problems by this group:
- Lack of standard formats for data gathering and collections (quality assurance, credibility and public access to the data are also major concerns).
- Lack of basin-wide scale studies, which are important for understanding regional processes.
- Lack of taxonomic experts and very few local expertise on species identification.
- Unregulated harvest of fisheries and unregistered fishermen.
- Lack of collaboration and coordination between agencies on neighboring islands (e.g., USVI and BVI), which is needed for effective management and to identify gaps in research.
- Loss and lack of qualified personnel (chronic problem), which results in increased workload for existing personnel (e.g., DFW).
- Lack of base (local government) funding (e.g., DFW) – most federal operational funds are distributed for personnel, not to monitoring and interpretation of important data.
- Lack of studies that are applicable to management; need research that develops management tools rather than solely data
- Lack of reports from off-island visiting researchers that conduct studies on USVI
- Limited capacity and infrastructure for research and outreach/education efforts.
- Limited expertise in marine conservation and management.
- High cost for obtaining supplies and transportation for materials/equipment; should rely more collaboration between institutions/agencies.
- General disconnect between applied management and basic research.
- Lack of financial assistance for graduate students conducting research that is relevant to management or conservation.
We would like to thank this group for their helpful comments.
For more information, visit these websites:
Video – Buck Island Reef National Monument