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VI-EPSCoR is a Territorial program of the
National Science Foundation hosted by
the University of the Virgin Islands

 

The Virgin Islands Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (VI-EPSCoR) was awarded $20,000,000 by the National Science Foundation to implement the project Mare Nostrum Caribbean: Stewardship through Strategic Research and Workforce Development. The project period is August, 2014 – July, 2019.

This grant presents a unique opportunity to address the implications of climate change for insular social-ecological systems. Small island communities suffer from a suite of similar problems: limited natural resources, narrow economic base, emigration of young professionals seeking better economic opportunities, heavy reliance on outside entities for goods and services, and the ever-increasing threat of global climate change. 

In the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), nearshore marine ecosystems, especially coral reefs, are key to its economic viability, but they are also especially vulnerable to both land- and water- based human activities and oceanographic-climatic disturbances. To address this vulnerability, VI-EPSCoR focuses on developing both human and infrastructure capacity to conduct marine research to improve both management and stewardship of these ecosystems. 

areas of Research

Among our different research areas, the primary goal of our coral reef research program is to integrate physical, biological and human factors to explain the process of ecosystem dynamics, disease, and demographics (the 3Ds).  An integral component of this research is our investment in emerging areas of research (oceanography, watershed dynamics, and human dimensions). This allows the USVI to synthesize knowledge about the various factors (including those affected by climate change and human impact) that control degradation, tolerance, and resilience of Caribbean coral reef ecosystems, so that the best management strategies can be identified. Additionally, as we capitalize on the unique human, and natural resources and the location of the USVI, we will create a world class research destination producing innovative exploratory approaches and global leadership in environmental research.

Hurricane Impact

This has been our goals and objectives over the course of the first three years of our grant. Early in year 4, in September of 2017, the Territory was devastated by two Category 5 hurricanes (Irma on September 6th; Maria on September 20th). The economic impacts of these storms are estimated to be in the billions and the recovery is still underway with an estimated $8 billion in federal aid allocated to the effort. 

The University of the Virgin Islands experienced over $80 million in damages, primarily to the St. Thomas campus. VI-EPSCoR investments were significantly impacted primarily by the loss of the MacLean Marine Science Center (21 offices, meeting spaces and labs), the loss of the GeoCas computing facilities, and moderate damage to the Environmental Analysis Laboratory. VI-EPSCoR administrative offices experienced moderate damages as well. Fortunately, no loss of life nor injuries were reported for the VI-EPSCoR staff and researchers, although several lost their homes and two of our staff lost parents in work-related accidents as part of the post hurricane cleanup and repair efforts. 

The recovery will take years. Every community and every sector in the Territory has been significantly affected, including UVI. Comparatively speaking, the impacts of the storms on the various components of the Mare Nostrum project are remarkably modest- in large part due to the pre-storm preparation, the dedication and resilience of the VI-EPSCoR team, and in some instances just random luck. The aftermath of the storms has forced us to adapt and adjust at multiple scales- from personal to project level as we reconsider how we can best meet the needs of the Territory while continuing to meet the objectives of the Mare Nostrum project.