Scientists from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science recently integrated 10 years of baseline monitoring data (2001 -2009) to characterize the spatial and temporal patterns in coral reefs and seafloor communities within and around the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument and Virgin Islands National Park. The new report also documents how these marine resources have been affected by natural events and human disturbances.
The team found that coral reefs in St. John are very different today when compared to 30 years ago. Live coral cover has declined severely, possibly from increased prevalence of coral diseases, and reef fish assemblages have changed because of habitat degradation and fishing pressure. The team also found that several hotspots of biological diversity still exist within the island’s marine waters. The report provides valuable information for the monument’sfirst ever general management plan and also will help local managers make informed decisions to protect these resources. Managers are using awareness campaigns and also enforcing fishing and boating regulations to curb habitat degradation and overfishing, however additional strategies are needed to curtail these problems in adjacent areas.
Funding for the study was provided by NCCOS, NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, and the National Park Service. Data collection partners included the National Park Service, the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources, the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of the Virgin Islands, and the University of Hawaii.
For more information, contact Chris.Jeffrey@noaa.gov.