VI Reef Response

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Integrating science and community to promote healthy coral reefs

The mission of VI Reef Response is to stimulate coral reef ecosystem health through coral restoration, promote community involvement through citizen science, and ensure best practices through scientific research.

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About

VI Reef Response is a citizen science program in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) centered on coral restoration that was created to increase the health and diversity of coral reefs around the Virgin Islands while empowering the local community to cope with changing environmental conditions.

Why is VI Reef Response needed in the Virgin Islands?

The US Virgin Islands’ economy, well-being, and culture are all connected to coral reef ecosystems. Tourism and fisheries, the two main drivers of the local economy, are both highly reliant on coral reefs. Coral reefs provide habitat for commercially important fish and other marine organisms; and diverse coral and fish communities attract tourists. Coral reefs also protect the islands’ shorelines from strong waves generated by hurricanes and tropical storms. Finally, the marine environment is an important part of the local culture. Conch and whelk are traditional foods served at Carnival, and ….

Reef corals in the USVI are declining at a rapid rate, due to a number of natural and human-caused threats including hurricanes and other severe storms, the warming of sea surface temperatures, coral diseases, overfishing, and pollution. In the 2000s, the coral cover on shallow reefs in the USVI declined from nearly 20% to less than 10% (Baker et al. 2008)

 

What are the goals of VI Reef Response?

VI Reef Response has three primary goals:

  1. Increase the cover and diversity of reef corals in the USVI.

  2. Increase community involvement in coral reef conservation and research.

  3. Collect scientific data that can be used to improve the efficacy of coral restoration practices.

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How does VI Reef Response work?

VI Reef Response is centered around coral restoration. Coral fragments are grown in underwater nurseries and planted on natural reefs to increase coral cover and diversity. VI Reef Response partners with local dive shops to offer the opportunity for citizen scientists to dive at the coral nurseries and at coral out-plant sites.

How do citizen scientists help the program to meet those goals?

Citizen scientists provide the program with the manpower to grow, plant, and monitor large numbers of corals. They assist with the maintenance of the nurseries and the out-planting of corals. They also collect scientific data about the health and growth of coral fragments both while they are in the nurseries and after they are out-planted. The data they collect is used to determine the best practices for growing and out-planting corals and to improve the program’s efficacy.

What do citizen scientists gain from the program?

Citizen scientists learn how scientific research is conducted and why it is important. They also learn about coral reef ecology and why coral reefs are valuable to the community. Participants are able to directly contribute to the health and growth of the USVI community by conserving a resource that provides important ecological, economical, and social services for the islands.