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UVI Sea Grant & VINE to host Reef Fest 2011

In the US Virgin Islands, the Sea Grant Marine Outreach Program is busily preparing for the 2011 St. Thomas Reef Fest, scheduled for early November, come rain or shine.

As you probably guessed, Reef Fest is a festival to celebrate the reef.  More than that, it is about empowering the local community to protect coral reefs.  It is a day dedicated to learning about the bond between humans and the reef, and about what each person can do to cultivate that relationship in a positive way. As a progressive strategy for bridging Caribbean culture with environmental education, Reef Fest invites citizens to enjoy the recreational value of reefs and learn how activities on land can affect the health of the marine environment and, in turn, the economy, culture, and heritage.  By providing experiential outdoor (both land and sea) learning opportunities for entire families, Reef Fest is an inspiring way to garner appreciation and catalyze positive conservation practice at the grass roots level.

The fun lasts all day with educational and family-oriented activities!

  • Participants demonstrate what they know about reefs via the Reef Rap contest (cash prize!)
  • Show off your sculpturing skills and sand knowledge with the Sand Sculpture competition
  • Learn how to snorkel appropriately around coral
  • Borrow kayaks, paddles, snorkels, and other water activity gear to learn about reefs
  • Take a reef or coastal tour guided by local naturalists
  • Listen to environmental historians
  • Engage in family-friendly educational games (Human Ocean Bingo or Marine Jeopardy)
  • Visit booths decked out with take-home information about the unique island environment
  • Delicious local food and beverage paired with the rhythms of local musicians performing on stage makes Reef Fest an event not to be missed!!

The first Reef Fest kicked off in 2009 at the locally coveted Smith Bay Park of St. Thomas as a launch pad for the NOAA–sponsored “The Reef is Closer Than You Think” social marketing campaign still underway throughout the USVI. Through multi-media messaging and by enlisting community support, this campaign raised broad sector awareness for the value of coral reefs.

Youth and children learning and singing about the importance of reefs in Reef Fest 2009 (Photos: C. Settar, H. Hitt and L. Noori).

Since 2009, residents of the sister island, St. John, adopted the event as part of their own Earth Week celebrations.  Located at the National Park Service’s Hawksnest Beach, St. Johnians initiated Reef Fest in April 2010 with a repeat commemoration this past April.  Similarly, on the island of St. Croix, Crucians jammed out at their fourth annual Reef Jam on May 29, 2011 (

Reef Fest 2011 is coordinated by UVI Sea Grant and members of the Virgin Islands Network of Environmental Educators (VINE), which is a group of environmental volunteers and professionals ( ) that work to increase environmental stewardship within the USVI Territory.  Because the event is about community empowerment, Reef Fest coordinators spend many pre-event hours engaging the community to support the cause in various ways. Many generous people, businesses, agencies, and groups come forward with supplies, food, equipment, funds, talent, education, and almost anything that can be useful in preparing for the festival. In the spirit of the reef, islanders come together for a good cause and have a lot of fun together while learning how each person can make a difference in the future of coral reefs.

Please stay tuned for more details regarding the much-anticipated return of Reef Fest to St. Thomas and for a report on the “The Reef Is Closer than You Think Community Campaign”.  For more information, contact Christine Settar at or (340) 693-1392 and befriend the UVI Center for Marine and Environmental Studies on Facebook for updates!

Check out this short clip of the recent St. John Reef Fest!


Written by: Christine Settar, Marine Stewardship Coordinator, Sea Grant Marine Outreach Program, University of the Virgin Islands

Edited by: J. Seda – UPR Sea Grant

The Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service (VIMAS), a part of the University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant Program, is located within the Center for Marine and Environmental Studies (CMES) at the University of the Virgin Islands. VIMAS was established on the St. Thomas campus of UVI in 1984 and on St. Croix in 1990.

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Commerce and NOAA aim for sustainable domestic aquaculture

The Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently released new national policies aimed towards sustainable marine aquaculture practices to cope with the increasing demand for seafood production, to promote job creation associated with coastal communities, and to restore critical ecosystems (Read the full news article here.) Among the priorities set for developing sustainable practices, the administration hopes to initiate a partnership with the shellfish industry to increase production and improve water quality.

Interestingly, one of the comments that was frequently mentioned in our discussion session on sustainable mariculture practices in the Caribbean was to identify and prioritize the cultivation of important “filter feeders” (molluscan species  such as conch, oysters, clams, etc.) since they can help improve water quality and clean coastal waters, making for environmentally-friendly shellfish mariculture. However, a comprehensive aquaculture strategic plan was deemed necessary for its implementation along with the development of indices and standards that could help define what parameters are needed for sustainable, environmentally-friendly practices in Caribbean coastal waters.

In 2009, international efforts to engage governments for the development of a regional shellfish hatchery in the Caribbean was made by the Aquaculture Service (FIRA), Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (click here to read their report). Of the 21 countries assessed, 14 demonstrated interests in studying the cultivation of native molluscan species.

Contributed by: K. Grove and J. Seda

Photo: UPR Sea Grant archive

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More on history and mangroves…

The historical perspective on mangroves is becoming extremely important for understanding the so-called “natural history” of coastal ecosystems. The Martunnizi et al (2008) paper I discussed in the previous entry in this blog (click here to read about it) is an example of such a perspective.  Dahdouh-Guebas and Koedam (2008) published an interesting article on the need for a “transdisciplinary” approach to understand the natural and anthropogenic dynamics of mangroves.  Social and economic histories shape the contours and size of mangrove forests throughout the world (and all ecosystems, I might add), and following that line of thought, the authors make a strong case for the incorporation of a multi-tiered and transversal study of mangroves. That is, a research agenda that incorporates a number of fields in the human and life sciences that traverses boundaries among disciplines and charts the trends (both physical and social) of mangroves throughout time.

Different disciplines offer a variety of opportunities to increase our knowledge of mangroves at different temporal scales: the present and the recent past (forestry, ecology, remote sensing, landscape photography, interviews with the local population), the past (archival information, historical sources, archaeology, paleoethnobiological data) and the distant past (lichenometry, paleontology),  as well as other techniques that provide information on a wide spectrum of temporalities (substrate cores, isotope analyses, genetics, etc.).  The authors argue that scientists should go beyond the interdisciplinary approach (pairing two or three research techniques to calibrate the information or to solve a problem), and rather use a transdisciplinary approach. Many readers will find those definitions troublesome, but the authors make a great case for the use and sharing of information from an array of disciplines, expertise and techniques to understand the mangrove ecosystem, taking into account human history.  Indeed, they go as far as to argue that the knowledge of the mangrove’s spiritual heritage is invaluable to the analysis.  In the Caribbean, the mangrove is a place of important cultural and spiritual meanings, as this ecosystem is associated with maroon societies, deities and religious practices of African descent and heritage.  The mangrove is also a living metaphor of freedom, culture and resistance in the post-colonial literature of the region.

Finally, Dahdouh-Guebas and Koedam (2008) also suggest that researchers should take a hard look at the archives. Once in those depositories, scientists must scrutinize old maps and drawings as well as the undecipherable explanations, legends and scribbles inscribed in the maps.  The authors go as far as to suggest that “despite the valuable information contained in such historic archives, there is no evidence of their utilisation to study any aspect of the essential tropical coastal ecosystems” (2008:84), at least for the colonial world dominated by the Dutch.  The status of the use of archival data may be different for the English and Spanish domains. However, their point is well taken and should be underscored – researchers must invest more time in the archives, or incorporate historians, anthropologists and archeologists into the  understanding of the mangrove ecosystem.  To this, I add in a true transdisciplinary way, that is, that each researcher efface the contours and boundaries of their own disciplines, while engaging in the gaze and even the epistemologies of other fields, as if they were in their own.

Dahdouh-Guebas and Koedam (2008) use the example of a map from a coastal island in Senegal drawn in 1816 by the British. The authors draw the attention to the comments written in the map with information on the distances, tides, winds and directions, which was the standard information provided in a text form in the British maps. This information was “relevant for biological interpretation on mangrove ecosystem dynamics” (2008:85).  There is a wealth of cartographic information for Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean that remains unexplored, in terms of the “transdisciplinary” opportunities it may contain.  A clear example is the amount of data provided by the map below of the mangroves in the Guayama-Salinas coast (south shore), drawn by the Spanish military in 1884, and is accompanied by a textual description of the areas (not provided here). Documents and history await.

Contributed by: M. Valdés-Pizzini

Reference: Dahdouh-Guebas, F. and Koedam, N. 2008. Long-term retrospection on mangrove development using transdisciplinary approaches: A review. Aquatic Botany, 89, 80-92. (Click here for full text of this article in our database.)

Video: Mangroves commonly found in Puerto Rico (Spanish)

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Strategies for mangrove conservation in Puerto Rico

The debate on the amount of mangrove cover lost in Puerto Rico throughout the twentieth century continues unabated.  A recent article by Martinuzzi et al (2008) [1] revives the issue with new data, maps, remote sensing images, corrections of past estimates, and trend analyses of mangrove cover.  The paper, published in Forest Ecology and Management, also reviews critical research articles on the topic (Heatwole 1985, Cintrón et al 1978, Holdridge 1940, Lugo and Cintrón 1975, Murray Brunner 1919, all cited in the paper) as well as a handful of studies on the economic history of the island, shedding light to the processes that contribute to the reduction of mangrove cover.   This study also evaluates the impacts of urban encroachment, changes in the drainage system, agricultural activities, and natural events (hurricanes) on mangroves.  Following Cintrón et al (1978) [2], the authors characterize the mangrove ecosystem as encompassing “all salt-influenced wetlands that are part of the tidally driven coastal complex, including the community of mangrove trees, adjacent salt and mudflats, halophytic herbaceous and shrub vegetation, and saline lagoons often associated with mangrove trees.”

The key argument is that agriculture (mostly sugar cane cultivation in the coastal plains) depleted coastal forests since the early 1800’s until the 1940’s when only 6% of the original vegetation remained untouched.  Demise of agriculture and rapid coastal urbanization “led to a natural increase in forest cover equivalent to 44% of the island by 1992” (Martinuzzi et al 2009: 78, after Helmer et al 2002). After 1971, improvements in conservation policies and actions led, according to the study, to the protection of mangroves, and thus to an increase in cover in a number of sites throughout the island.  Most of the mangrove forests in Puerto Rico are located within protected areas and those outside these areas feature a pattern of cover reduction since the 1970’s.

Martinuzzi et al (2008) underscores the importance of protected areas and their role in protecting Puerto Rico’s mangrove ecosystem since the 1970’s, which contributed to an increase in forest cover, and protecting the remainder of the mangrove patches from depletion.  The paper calls for a new inventory of the mangrove ecosystem (the last one was in 1989) and the “development of standard methods for mapping and classification of the coastal areas” (2008:82).   The authors also recommend that an official mangrove monitoring program be put in place to support other management activities in the coastal zone such as zoning and developing effective regulations.

The suggestion after reading this paper is that there is an urgent need for a thorough historical analysis of mangrove forests that incorporates anthropology, historiographical methods and, perhaps, archaeology with an interest in the reconstruction of paleoenvironments (see Dahdouh-Guebas and Koedam 2008 [3]). For example, Martinuzzi et al indicate that the protection of mangrove forests started in 1919 (under U.S. ruling).  However, archival information and a number of historical studies provide evidence on the fact that the Spanish government and its forestry agency, La Inspección de Montes, had under protection a large portion of the mangrove forests throughout the island (including the Piñones forest in the northern coast, described by Martinuzzi et al as the largest mangrove patch).  In fact, municipalities and the central government regulated the cutting and filling of mangroves, and protected the associated habitats and wetlands (Giusti-Cordero 1994 [4], Domínguez-Cristóbal 2000, [5]). During the occupation, the U.S. authorities received nearly 300,000 acres of protected forests from the Spanish government, including large mangrove areas in Piñones, Jobos (southern coast), Boquerón (western coast) and La Parguera (southern coast).  While the U.S. government protected the forests inherited from the Spaniards and added land to extant protected areas, the sugar cane sector continued devouring the few coastal forests left as well as those in piedmont areas.

Another area that deserves attention is the occupation of marginal urban lands (in San Juan and elsewhere) by shantytowns from 1900 to 1971. The impact of the Land Law (Ley de Tierras) and urban renewal projects that eased the pressure exerted by the urban poor on mangrove areas near urban coastal settlements, which also served as important industrial and sugar production centers, also warrants interest. Following Dahdouh-Guebas and Koedam’s (2008:80) transdisciplinary approaches (“combination between basic and applied sciences on one hand, and social and human sciences on the other”) and a retrospective (historical) perspective may provide important insights and knowledge on the life history of mangroves.

[1] Martinuzzi, S., W. A. Gould, A. E. Lugo and E. Medina. 2008. Conversion and recovery of Puerto Rican mangroves: 200 years of change. Forest Ecology and Management, 257, 75-84. (Click here for free full-text available through our database)

[2] Cintrón, G., A. E. Lugo, D. J. Pool and G. Morris. 1978. Mangroves of arid environments in Puerto Rico and adjacent islands. Biotropica, 10, 110–121.

[3] Dahdouh-Guebas, F. and N. Koedam. 2008. Long-term retrospection on mangrove development using transdisciplinary approaches: A review.  Aquatic Botany, 89, 80-92.

[4] Domínguez-Cristóbal, C. M. 2000. Panorama histórico forestal de Puerto Rico. San Juan: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico.

[5] Giusti-Cordero, J. A. 1994. Labor, Ecology and History in a Caribbean Sugar Plantation Region: Piñones (Loiza), Puerto Rico, 1770-1950.  Ph.D. Dissertation, State University of New York, Binghamton.

Contributed by: M. Valdés-Pizzini

Video – Piñones Lagoon Mangrove Channel Restoration Project

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Assessing impacts of climate change, a long-term process – VII Congress of Caribbean Biodiversity

The term “biodiversity” has become a household name within the scientific community and has been used to describe habitats and organisms as varied and diverse as cacti in deserts to birds in mangrove coastlines. On February 1-4, 2011, the VII Congress of the Caribbean Biodiversity (sponsored by the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo) celebrated the importance of our biological corridors in sustaining our region’s biodiversity. In light of this, we surveyed several participants (n=11) at the conference, with the help of members from the Interdisciplinary Center for Coastal Studies (CIEL, in Spanish; http://amp-org/ciel), on the types of studies or information needed to improve conservation and management of our marine and coastal resources within a 5- or 10-year period. Impacts of climate change (e.g., seawater temperature, sea level rise, beach erosion, species migration), developing environmental indicators and environmental/biological standards for public health, and studies on the carrying capacity and the influence of visitors and local resources users on coastal areas were seen as requiring at least 10 years to obtain sufficient data for better management strategies. Habitat utilization, effects of toxic metals and other pollutants, and assessments on the economic impact of management on commercial and recreational marine/coastal organisms were considered achievable within 5 years. With regard to obstacles that may be hindering better management practices, insufficiently trained and skilled personnel was deemed the most common along with the lack of consistent and reliable monitoring of data collection.

For more information, please click here to read about CIEL’s contribution to this conference.

Video – Caribbean Coral Reef Biology and Ecology (Dominican Republic

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UNDP – Latin America and Caribbean, a Biodiversity Super Power

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently declared Latin America and the Caribbean as a Biodiversity Super Power, stated in their recently published report on the economic contribution of biodiversity and ecosystem services of the region (Bovarnick, A., F. Alpizar, C. Schnell, Editors. The Importance of Biodiversity and Ecosystems in Economic Growth and Equity in Latin America and the Caribbean: An economic valuation of ecosystem, United Nations Development Programme, 2010).

Interested in more information? Please click here to access UNDP’s webpage with the detailed report.

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Academia – Focus on conservation rather than only management

Several researchers from the academic sector have made efforts to understand the complexity of marine ecosystems and have contributed much to our scientific knowledge on the importance of conserving  these resources. However, there are pending issues that need to be addressed in order to efficiently manage and conserve our resources. On November 6 and December 4, 2010, we brought together 13 professors that are conducting (or have conducted) research from various universities in western and eastern Puerto Rico (UPR-Mayagüez, UPR-Aguadilla, Interamerican University-San German, UPR-Humacao, UPR-Bayamon, UPR-Medical Science Campus, University of Turabo, and Universidad del Este) to discuss their major concerns in regard to the studies needed to improve management and/or conservation of marine and coastal resources in Puerto Rico.

In general, more research that focused on the conservation, as opposed to solely management, of marine and coastal resources was highly encouraged. Emphasis was also given to collecting basic physical, chemical and biological data that could be used to develop models that help explain and predict coastal processes. Studies on the effects of anthropogenic activities on or near coastal habitats was considered a high-priority. Conducting scenarios of climate change and assessing their impacts on coastal habitats was also highly stressed. The role of microbes in marine ecosystems and their effect on reefs was another area of interest. As with other experts we have assessed, evaluating the effectiveness of management strategies was found to be particularly important. The participants also showed a large concern for long-term environmental and anthropogenic effects on important coastal organisms (i.e., dinoflagellates, crabs).  They also emphasized the importance of identifying and assessing potential areas of contamination (e.g., fecal contamination) by human activities and its effect on public safety. Another interest was to determine habitat connectivity of coastal vertebrates and invertebrates (e.g., birds) and the flow of essential nutrients (e.g., carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus) between adjacent areas.

Regarding short- and long-term research needed for resource management included topics such as:

  • Declines in aerial coverage of coral reefs should be examined (subaerial and submarine) to determine reefs at risk and those that are influenced by coastal land use.
  • Studies that monitor the rates of loss in reef shoreline (coastal erosion), which may be related to changes in land use, and can be used to show trends.
  • Recompilation of historical data and compare with prehistoric data from coral growth bands/cores to detect changes or trends, which can be used to make predictions for the future of the reefs and the coast. Evaluate past and current conditions – what measures can be taken to reverse detrimental trends. This information should be complemented with knowledge from coastal resource users.
  • Characterizing the biological complexity (macro and micro) of coastal habitats and watersheds and identify anthropogenic impacts, which requires long-term monitoring of these areas.
  • Quantifying the impacts that sediments have on coral reefs and other important coastal habitats with the use of physical/transport models as well as consistent measurements (e.g., turbidity, light penetration, stratification, changes in bathymetry/topography, precipitation, runoff). Evaluate and model suspended sediment transport on a short and long term scale in order to determine distribution mechanisms and develop strategies for mitigation.
  • Determine the role of microbial ecology in marine ecosystems and how they may be involved in the transmission of coral reef diseases. Evaluate the effect of microbes/pathogens from wastewaters on coastal habitats and what hydrologic processes may influence its distribution.
  • Quantifying sediment transport, modeling of suspended and bedload processes that can help explain geomorphologic changes occurring in the coastal zone. Identify specific mechanisms (e.g., grain size, sediment composition, contaminants, dynamics of sediment transport).
  • Impacts of climate change, particularly how it will affect storm frequency, sea level, coastal erosion, flooding patterns, global warming, ocean acidification, increasing water temperatures, coral diseases, calcification, reef accretion, and bleaching. Need research that focuses on scenarios of climate change and their effect on coastal habitats (e.g., eutrophication, sedimentation, acidification)  by using models.
  • Studies on processes associated with rivers, watersheds, soil erosion, wetlands, extent of floods, temperatures, precipitation, and evapo-transportation. Develop models that can best describe the mechanisms associated with these processes and can provide effective information for watershed/coastal management.
  • Evaluate effectiveness of habitat mitigation strategies and the public’s perception of such efforts.
  • Studies that assess the development and enforcement of policies regarding environmental management and conservation.
  • Projects that systematically evaluate the impacts of marine debris, including environmental and socio-cultural aspects. Some information has been collected, but has not been used to change public policy with respect to waste management.
  • Species inventory and monitoring of the dinoflagellate population of the bioluminescent bays of Fajardo, Vieques and Parguera. Assess long-term environmental and anthropogenic effects (light contamination, boating, nutrient input, sediment load) on the bioluminescence of these areas.
  • Studies related to habitat connectivity; studies on how coastal vertebrates (birds) and invertebrates co-exist and their behavior.

Obstacles that are currently delaying the advancement of academic research included:

  • Lack of standardized formats for data gathering and collections.
  • Lack of communication between resource users and researchers that could help explain the present environmental and resource conditions, which could help predict future changes.
  • Promote more symposiums and networking among experts and resource users.
  • Lack of interdisciplinary approach for studying the complexity of marine and coastal processes and ecosystems.
  • Lack of efforts to incorporate and empower local communities with coastal resource management.
  • Lack of integration and collaboration between federal agencies.
  • Lack of agreement between federal and state agencies in regard to regulations and permits.
  • Insufficient personnel (faculty), funds, and lack of infrastructure, which is directly related to the lack of time to do full-time research as an academic professor.
  • Lack of projects that address information/data that would be useful for local agencies and that should be considered with equal importance/priority for funding (e.g., data collection).

To read more about the comments made by the eastern group, please download the report here. For comments from the western group, please click here.

More information:

Video – How learning about fossil corals and environmental changes in the past may help us to understand the impacts of more recent climate changes (Dominican Republic

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Aquaculture strategic plan & indices needed, say experts

Based on the current needs for sustainable resource use of fisheries, we find that environmentally-friendly practices of aquaculture are important issues that should be addressed in the Caribbean.  With this in mind, we carried out a discussion session on December 9, 2010 with local stakeholders and experts to share their insights on novel research and to identify the type of information that is needed to better current aquaculture methods that promote sustainable, environmentally-friendly practices. The obstacles that are frequently encountered in the development and/or process of aquaculture practices were also discussed.

In general, most participants were extremely displeased with the process of obtaining permits to practice aquaculture from federal agencies. Interagency communication and collaboration was recommended to improve the process of evaluation and approval of aquaculture projects. Re-evaluation of past projects that were unsuccessful was also suggested to identify the problems that were encountered. Emphasis was also made to establish specific parameters, indices and standards for sustainable, environmentally-friendly aquaculture practices.

Some critical areas of research and information needed for establishing aquaculture practices in Puerto Rico were suggested:

  • Identify and optimize local coastal areas for offshore aquaculture (marine spatial planning) that should be pre-designated using information from the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources.
  • Determine oceanographic requisites for installations and environmental characteristics particular for aquaculture practices around the island.
  • Inventory of all the species for aquaculture based on experience or need and stress more research on these species.
  • Research should be conducted on the parasites and diseases affecting commercially important species.
  • Impacts of marine aquaculture on benthic habitats and how to mitigate the effects.
  • Assess why aquaculture projects have been rejected and what research is needed to address the issues.
  • Studies on the socio-economic impacts of aquaculture species on local communities.
  • Studies that evaluate the viability of aquaculture methods, especially on an economic level.
  • Identify/prioritize important molluscan species (conch, oysters, clams, etc.) since these filter and clean coastal waters, shellfish mariculture is environmentally friendly.
  • Develop an information network/portal to share critical data/information among stakeholders
  • Develop an aquaculture strategic plan.

Obstacles that are frequently encountered in aquaculture practices:

  • Industry helps define research needs. Without an active industry, we are limited in our understanding of problems that research could help resolve.
  • The absence of a list for culturing native species.
  • The large amount of effort/funds needed to obtain permits is one of the biggest obstacles.
  • Not identifying past errors in aquaculture projects that were unsuccessful and using that information to improve future projects.
  • Resistance from some stakeholders towards designating potential areas for aquaculture (mostly due to personal interests).
  • Lack of communication between stakeholders about the latest projects.

For more details on the comments made by this group, please download our full report here.

For more information about aquaculture practices, check out the links below:

Status Report on Caribbean Aquaculture (1993) – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Latin America and Caribbean Chapter World Aquaculture Society – an international non-profit organization that aims “to strengthen and facilitate communication and information exchange on high priority topics and emerging issues within the diverse global aquaculture community”.

Hernández-Rodríguez, A., Alceste-Oliviero, C., Sanchez, R., Jory, D., Vidal, L. & Constain-Franco, L.-F. 2001. Aquaculture development trends in Latin America and the Caribbean. In R.P. Subasinghe, P. Bueno, M.J. Phillips, C. Hough, S.E. McGladdery & J.R. Arthur, eds. Aquaculture in the Third Millennium. Technical Proceedings of the Conference on Aquaculture in the Third Millennium, Bangkok, Thailand, 20-25 February 2000. pp. 317-340. NACA, Bangkok and FAO, Rome.

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Assess socioeconomic impacts of marine resources – USVI

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 (, 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:

University of the Virgin Islands – Center for Marine and Environmental Studies

US Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources

DPNR USVI Division of Fish and Wildlife

The Nature Conservancy – US Virgin Islands

Video – Buck Island Reef National Monument

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Better models for predicting climate change, hydrologists say

Coastal and marine resources are coupled. Upland precipitation that produces runoff and carries sediment and chemical contaminants often has detrimental effects on coastal marine habitats. Coral reefs, beaches, mangrove forests and seagrass beds are among the most affected and provide essential habitat for important marine species. Therefore, surveying the community of water resource users, including watershed and coastal experts, is essential to an effective assessment of research needs.  With this in mind, we carried out a discussion session on September 16, 2010 with 13 specialists in watershed and coastal hydrology from several governmental agencies (Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, Army Corp. of Engineers, US Geological Survey, San Juan Bay Estuary Program, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Environmental Protection Agency), academic and research institutions (University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez Campus (Geology Dept., Agricultural Engineering Dept., Marine Sciences Dept.), Water Resources and Environmental Research Institute), and private agencies (RMA Environmental, Corp.). Each participant has over 10 years of experience in their field of expertise.

In regard to studies that are needed for improving watershed management and understanding hydrologic processes in Puerto Rico, most of the participants agreed with the lack of historical and actual data necessary for moderating water quality, developing better models for flooding events and for predicting events due to climate change. The group also highly emphasized the need for an independent water authority that would help manage the implementation and regulation of local water resources. This entity would also be responsible for evaluating data quality and distributing this information via an online data portal, which would be freely available to managers, scientists and experts. UPR-Sea Grant hopes to continue serving as a liaison for establishing collaborations between governmental agencies and private sectors in order to improve water resource management in Puerto Rico.

Several suggestions for short- and long-term research for watershed and coastal/hydrology management included:

  • Indexes for watershed management; current data and indexes on river water quality
  • Development of sustainable management and alternative use of abandoned agricultural lands
  • Studies on the drainage patterns through the karst region of northern Puerto Rico. The areas has experienced increases of flooding events
  • Study and evaluation of “brown” fields, toxic metals and pesticides (over 70 brown fields in 8 municipalities have been identified in Puerto Rico
  • Studies on the implementation and effectiveness of risk management
  • Studies concerning upland and marine sources of sand and how river and marine transport influence this resource
  • Better bathymetric data, particularly coastline and sand sources; Dam and watershed modeling
  • Studies on sediment bedload within the watershed and its transport; characterize coarse and fine sediment transport in watersheds with and without reservoirs; no data available for the tropics
  • Studies on the effects of dredging
  • Studies on groundwater transport to the coast and interaction with the marine environment
  • Develop environmental indicators and environmental/biological standards for public health tailored for the Caribbean
  • Create a data portal for Puerto Rico – a website where all water resource data can be found (however, data must be analyzed for quality prior to submitting)

For more details, please download the full report here.

Efforts for enhancing watershed and coastal management can be difficult when obstacles hinder such improvements. The participants listed the most commonly encountered problems:

  • Need for standard formats when reporting data
  • Lack of communication and unwillingness to share critical information between agencies on projects that are presently being conducted
  • Need for teaching tools that help communicate a deeper understanding watershed and marine processes need to be developed and shared with lawmakers and resource managers
  • Lack of data availability and quality
  • Need for more water quality stations in order to obtain more data
  • Lack of implementation of regulations (mostly due to lack of funds or political will)
  • Lack of clear mandates and continuity of priorities from executive branches to the governmental agencies (mostly due to political influences)
  • Lack of looking for long-term solutions to the water resource crisis, instead of just short-term solutions
  • Difficulties in obtaining freely available information from agencies
  • Missing data (e.g., nutrient levels from water quality data, microbial content)
  • Difficulty in accessing information through websites; most agencies do not have data easily accessible from their websites
  • Few sample stations, unknown detection limits, poor data quality, insufficient sediment data or other important characteristics make many data sets useless

More information:

Puerto Rico Seismic Network

USGS – Water Resources of the Caribbean

Puerto Rico Water Resources and Environmental Research Institute (UPR – Mayaguez)

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