Prioritizing Sites for Coral Reef Conservation in the U.S. Virgin Islands
Project Status: This project began in October 2013 and is projected to be completed in October 2015
We are using existing and newly collected data, including local expert knowledge, to develop a map-based decision support tool to identify and prioritize the most important coral reefs for conservation consideration in the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as to determine the relative resiliency of particular coral reefs.
Why We Care
Coral reef ecosystems in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) have deteriorated dramatically in the past few decades, reducing the value and sustainability of ecosystem services to society. The problem is geographically widespread, but not all coral reefs have declined equally. Local resource managers, operating with limited funds, require reliable, spatially explicit, and easily interpretable data to help prioritize coral reef sites for management action. However, USVI currently does not have an objective decision-support framework to prioritize management sites. In order to undertake strategic planning in the future, as well as to enable efficient investment of conservation dollars, a way to synthesize and evaluate information is needed so that managers may identify and rank priority management areas, assess threats to those areas, and determine associated resilience. This framework will support the USVI government in: ocean planning, coastal development risk assessment, education and outreach, evaluation and design of marine protected areas, climate change adaptation strategy, and conservation investment decisions.
What We Are Doing
Our goal is to produce an objective, data driven, decision support framework to help resource managers prioritize coral reef ecosystems for conservation investment in the USVI. The framework will integrate spatial information on resource distributions, biodiversity, resiliency, and human use values related to coral reefs in the territory. Using techniques from landscape ecology, we will use ecological criteria to map and rank coral reefs based on physical and biological complexity, ecological connectivity, and other important features, such as presence of endangered species, spawning sites, biodiversity hotspots, and connected seascapes. Our local knowledge partners—referred to as our “eyes on the ocean”—will use sociological criteria from interviews with professional SCUBA (industry & scientific) divers in the USVI to identify and quantify human use values for coral reefs across the territory. Using participatory GIS, we will collect site-specific information from divers. We will incorporate the local knowledge and ecological mapping data into a decision support tool with sufficient flexibility to allow future additions of data and to allow managers to vary weightings according to their specific questions.
With the USVI Reef Resilience Committee, we will develop metrics and spatially explicit weightings to create a locally relevant index of resilience that integrates archived data from NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and satellite products for the region. Investigators will conduct analytical site prioritization and resiliency mapping by applying and refining the decision support framework designed and populated with data consolidated and collected as a part of the project.
Our partners on this project include The Nature Conservancy, the USVI Reef Resilience Committee, and other NOAA researchers working on reef resilience around the world.
Products from this project will include:
A USVI BioMapper decision support tool, to identify priority reefs with flexibility for users to adjust weightings depending on local priorities.
A spatial database derived from this project for the USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources and the University of the Virgin Islands Institute for Geocomputational Analysis and Statistics that will help territorial managers answer the following questions:
- Where are the best examples of healthy coral reefs?
- Where are the most resilient reefs?
- Which reefs will respond best to management actions?
A report outlining methods and Journal articles.
Compile and integrate existing data into a weighted spatial matrix.
Conduct predictive mapping of resilience indicators (e.g., herbivore richness, coral diversity).
Develop BioMapper decision support tool for USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
Related Regions of Study: Caribbean Sea, US Virgin Islands
Primary Contacts: Chris Jeffrey, Chris Caldow, Simon Pittman, Theresa Goedeke
Science for Coastal Ecosystem Management (Ecological Forecasts and Tools, Seafloor Mapping, Biogeographic Assessment, Marine Spatial Planning, Protected Species, Seagrasses, Coral, Human Dimensions)
Related NCCOS Center: CCMA
Websites and Data Pages